I have been a bad, bad blogger. April has literally knocked me and my family on our collective butts. Not only has winter stuck around FOREVER but we have all been sick with colds, stomach flus, viruses. The works. I have had one or both children home from the cesspool/daycare multiple times a week. And I have been super sick too, catching all the said cesspool/daycare germs. This has meant that on the few days off from illness I’ve had, I’ve needed to work my ass off to catch up. So no time for writing or any other pleasure pursuits. But today: the kids are off to school, the snow has finally melted, I am avoiding doing my taxes, and I want to catch you up on the big advances to my Mile End Project.
There is almost nothing as exciting and as scary as the demolition portion of a renovation. On the one hand it means that you are starting, that you are soon going to see the space in a clearer way, that all those sketches and ideas and all the research is coming to fruition. On the other hand it is terrifying because YOU NEVER KNOW 100% WHAT IS HIDING BEHIND THOSE WALLS. In the case of the Mile End Project that I have been working on since the Fall, the demolition went better than I could ever have hoped for. Were there surprises? Absolutely. But in general they were good ones or easily fixable ones. Were there delays? Hell yes. But none of them were my crew’s doing: all the delays were on supplier’s ends and none of those delays were for more than a week. All told a pretty magical reno.
The goal here was to open up the majority of the ground floor. We were creating a mudroom, a powder room, and a laundry room but the remaining space was getting opened way up. To do so we needed to remove 25 feet of wall. Now you can’t remove the middle wall of a house without putting something in it’s place. In this case that was a 25 foot steel beam. A very heavy, massive beam. Boy do I love this beam. Some people would choose to cap it in gypsum but we are going to paint it a flat black.
Walls coming down.
One of the big surprises that came up was that the house’s existing structure was pretty shaky. Something you can’t know unless you open the ceilings and floors up. Because we were doing work in the basement/crawlspace and we were opening up the ceiling towards the second floor, we were able to see just how iffy the previous renovations were. Fixing these problems meant adding a couple more beams along the staircase ceiling. So yes, my clients had to invest more money into the project for the stair beams, BUT, and this is a big but, we were able to give them a way more solid & safe construction than they previously had.
The new beams around the stairwell. The plumbing stack you see in the centre was moved and tucked into the wall.
Once the beam was up and the walls were torn down it was time to build new walls and add new windows. The small former den window was becoming a 7 foot wide by 8 foot high patio door. The former kitchen window and backdoor were becoming an 8 foot wide by 5.5 foot high window (2/3 fixed and one openable 1/3). We wanted an industrial look for the patio door and the large dining room window. We went to Alumilex. They had the style we wanted, they very patiently put up with me changing the dimension of the patio door 3 times, and more importantly, they delivered on time.
Challenge# 1: the existing hardwood was different room to room which can be fine if you have a bunch of small rooms. Since we were tearing down walls to create a large open space, we would have had a hell of a job matching the different floor boards. Challenge #2: my clients wanted heated floors in the kitchen. You can’t put hardwood over top of radiant heating. Tile, cement, or engineered wood flooring is the only thing that can go on top of heated floors. I had been toying with concrete or even tile in the kitchen but as the space was so long (25′!!!) and as it was open to the dining and living rooms, the seam or connection between the spaces kept bothering me. How would one space blend into the other? It felt wrong to try to open up the whole ground floor and then to create such delineated and separate spaces with the flooring. And then we met Sébastien Boucher. Recommended to me by two trusted sources, I checked out his company Monticello Floors. I was worried that he only did fancy mansion style floors at first but when I showed him some Pinterest pinned floors that I loved, not only did he get it, it turns out that he actually had designed some of those pinned floors himself!
What we were going for:
Sébastien had a solution for our heated floor challenge, a solution I never thought I’d agree to. He proposed doing engineered flooring in the kitchen that he would match with hardwood in the rest of the spaces. He was sure he could match it but the hardwood was pretty expensive. And then through a contact of his, he found a lot of engineered flooring for the whole space that he thought would do the trick budget wise and look wise. Now if you’ve ever seen engineered wood out in the world, it can be ugly and cheap looking- kind of great for basements but no way would you put it on the main floor of your house. Well this version was nothing like that-it was perfect: rift cut white oak engineered wood in longish, wide-ish planks. This meant that we could put radiant heated floors throughout the ground floor, and no one would ever be able to tell it wasn’t hardwood. And, we’d be getting rid of all the base board heaters! AND, more importantly the wash/stain he was applying to the floor along with the mat varnish he was putting over top was going to give us exactly the Scandinavian look we were going for. I love working with people who know what they are doing. The floor was a total score.
The stairs were another big challenge going in to the project. We were not only removing the existing stairs but changing their orientation. We wanted something airy and open but industrial to match the look of the new windows. We couldn’t do floating stairs as the clients have two young children and they needed to be safe. Our inspirations were the following:
I liked the black mat steel which would work nicely with the windows. I loved the idea of a mesh guard that would protect little ones, let light through, and look cool. I liked the idea of bringing oak into the steps and hand rail to warm the thing up and tie in to the ground floor.
The demolition of the stairwell went something like this:
Based on some rough sketches I did and a compilation of our various inspirations, our draftsman Michel drew up these 3D sketches for our welder to work from:
The new staircase will look something like this…
I want the whole thing to be bright and airy and soft. I have chosen my beloved Oxford White for the ground floor open areas-kitchen, living, and dining. And I chose Horizon for the powder room and laundry room-which will look great with the floor tile and the pops of colour in each of those rooms. Both colours by Benjamin Moore.
Oxford White CC-30 and Horizon OC-53
The team is now busy plastering and sanding and painting away. I am looking at fabric for dining room and kitchen banquettes. We have chosen our lighting. The tiles are in. The kitchen gets installed next week and the stairs get installed by Monday, fingers crossed. The built-in cabinetry is being built off site as I write this. It is really full steam ahead. We are hoping to be almost totally done by the end of next week. Fingers crossed. It is so satisfying seeing this project come together. I feel like we are accomplishing everything we set out to do. There has been very little compromise, very few drawbacks, only teensy tiny blips, no tension. Kind of a dream come true. I will miss working for these lovely, design-concious, wonderful clients. I really really will. I need to convince them to let me tackle their cottage next…
May is looking way way up compared to horrible April. Can’t wait to show you all the finished project. And I can’t wait to see it all come together. Stay tuned!