Friday, November 19, 2010

Goodbye Ferns, Hello Winter Urns

tropical upright fern/winter urn
I bid a reluctant goodbye to my three tropical upright ferns that had performed so spectacularly all summer and fall.  I brought one of them inside, but their gigantism forced me to send the other two to the compost heap, where they look very forlorn.  Even a Victorian home can only handle so many ferns on stands. In their place are three berry laden Blue Princess Hollies, well insulated with extra soil and lots of cedar and dogwood boughs.  With luck they'll survive the winter and join the far less showy Blue Prince holly in the garden in the spring.  The lovely brown of the underside of the magnolia leaves makes a nice compliment to my rusty iron urns (rust initially from neglect, now turned purposeful strategy). 

Blue Princess holly, cedar boughs, red osier dogwood twigs, magnolia leaves

For the two concrete urns at the top of the stairs I impaled two moss balls on dogwood stakes and thrust them into into my existing pots of ivy with some white pine and salal.  For all of the violence of their making, they have a calm formal look and the moss balls echo the size and shape of the ball finials on the newel posts at the base of the stairs--another subconscious design coup (I'm that good).  So, that's the fun part of putting the garden to bed, I really must get back to the real chores before the final deep freeze.

The impaled moss ball topiary (slightly askew from this angle)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Half a Bath

A schematic rendering of our basement half-bath, by N using SketchUp

One of the reasons we've taken so long to get to the cabinet ordering stage is that in commandeering space for the kitchen, we eliminated a full main floor bathroom. Then, unwilling to live without a useable bathtub (our existing bathroom had a broken down jacuzzi that we use only for showers), we appropriated an upstairs bedroom for our new master bathroom (a process I plan to recap shortly). Now we have two upstairs bathrooms: the new one and the original, mostly redundant one (original to the time of purchase, but not to the house). But for now we have no main floor bathroom--nowhere to dash quickly when in midst of dinner preparations, or to offer to an unexpected guest. To solve this pressing need for an accessible and less personal bathroom, we had first planned to put a tiny powder room under the stairs in the front hall. But we eventually decided that to confiscate the only possible spot for a front hall closet would be foolish, and so we began to scout for territory elsewhere.
The basement, with its newly soaring ceiling of 6'4" (gained in the replacement of the sagging kitchen floor joists), became the obvious choice for a two-piece bathroom. The new half bath will be just down the stairs and to the left, beside the laundry room, and en route to the wine cellar. As with everything in an old house, this half bathroom presented some real technical hurdles for us to overcome. In particular, the toilet, being lower than our ancient sewer connection, requires a pump to propel the sewage up to the sewer line. Fascinating, eh? 
The Liberty "Low Pro System"

At the recommendation of our plumber, we chose a Liberty "low pro system". In a typical installation, you could set the "low-pro" directly on the concrete floor and build the finished floor up to meet it, but we couldn't afford any loss of height, so to set the pump reservoir  flush with the floor (pardon the pun), we had to excavate a 26" x 44" hole in the concrete floor of the basement to a depth of about 8". Then we levelled the pump and set it in concrete. And we did a beautiful job too, but you'll have to accept my word because the photos have gone astray. 
Toto Drake
We are getting the pump appropriate toilet, a Toto Drake (not nearly as sleek as the Toto Nexus we have upstairs), next week, and if the plumber can come by to install it, we should have a report on how our gravity defying system works very soon. We laboured hard to create a layout that would allow access to the pump in the future should anything go wrong.

The half bath plan, rendered in 3-d by N using SketchUp

You'll notice in the floor plan above that the area between the bathroom and the stairs, and into which we will put a removable pull-out pantry, is strategically located to provide a narrow access route that a plumber (or an unfortunate apprentice) could squeeze through to get to the pump in emergencies.

Fixtures and Finishes
In keeping with its humble location in the basement, we decided to clad the half-bath walls in tongue and groove boards, both for the slightly rustic yet still period feel, and also to avoid the drywall taping and sanding. We found these bargain boards in 6' foot lengths at the Home Depot.
Tongue and Groove boards--great price for 6' lengths

N and my dad made a beautiful door using the same tongue in groove boards.  The 'z' support and general style is the same design as the original basement doors.

The lovely simple new door, and a glimpse at the tongue and groove paneling in the background

Two of our original cellar doors
The new door turned out beautifully and has stayed remarkably true despite the fairly wet wood. The hinges are from Lee Valley tools. We haven't yet decided whether we'll paint them or leave them black (but I'm leaning towards paint).

Most of the bathroom fixtures we chose are from Restoration Hardware, including the vanity:
The Weathered Oak Single Console Sink from Restoration Hardware

the faucet ( a less expensive alternative to the Waterworks Easton we have in the main bathroom):
The Bistro Faucet from Restoration Hardware

two sconces:
The 1920s Factory Sconce from Restoration Hardware

We are still looking for a mirror.  The small recessed cupboard over the toilet will have a door cut from the original door to the small pantry that was demolished in the kitchen renovation.

We are going to frame, or at least plaque-mount, a nautical chart of St Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia, to hang on one wall. N and I visit Nova Scotia every summer and spend hours kayaking and boating in this little part of the world. We'd like to find a library lamp with a short extension to illuminate the chart.

Library Picture Light from Elte, also available in polished nickel
I did find one I love at ELTE in Toronto, but at almost $400 for a single sconce it may be a little much for a modest half bath.
Tongue and groove paneling carefully scribed to the brick veneer wall
We covered one of the bathroom walls in brick veneer, a process I'll write about in detail in a future post. I know that fake brick sounds like it might look contrived or, well, fake, but since being mortared and patinized with a dilute paint paint solution, it looks surprisingly good and understated. We love how it plays against the texture of the tongue in groove panelling and adds some warmth and a sense of age to the basement space. I installed the brick myself, and even I can't believe it's not the real thing.
Pietra/2  'fiora' from Casa Dolce Casa

The floor was tiled by our tile setter with tile left over from our kitchen floor. It's a gorgeous Italian porcelain tile from Casa Dolce Casa in the colour fiora. It's meant to mimic limestone, but I think it's beautiful in its own right, and it's indestructible.
We've made good and, for us, quick progress on the little half bath. We've filled all the holes with wood filler, shellacked the knots, primed with a shellac-based primer, sanded and painted.  We used Farrow and Ball's shaded white on the walls and pointing on the ceiling--the same colours we've been trying out in our kitchen while the renovation is in progress.  We're still looking for an appropriate door trim molding and baseboard, but I should have some photos of the nearly completed half bath in the next week or two.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Cabinetry Bids Are In!

And after agonizing for several days, we have made our choice.  Next week we'll hand over our deposit and, with luck, our new kitchen will be installed early in the new year. It's taken so long to get to this point that we're astonished at how quickly things will move now that we've actually set the ball rolling.

Although we decided on the custom cabinetry route, we did seriously consider using IKEA cabinets, with some additional custom cabinets, especially after reading this excellent and informative post: "Why I Love IKEA Kitchens!" by Toronto interior designer Carol Reed, who offers up a wealth of design information on her blog.  Our temporary unfitted kitchen is all IKEA and we've grown to love the drawer hardware and spacious interiors. We have knocked down and set up our IKEA cabinets many times over the course of the renovation, and they are still going strong. In fact, we like them so much that we just purchased a bank of four IKEA base cabinets for our laundry/tool room.  In the end, though, it was apparent that our kitchen layout would require so much customization that IKEA would not necessarily be advantageous either economically or practically. 

Not to mention, we won't have to do nearly as much of this: 

N assembling base cabinets for the basement
So, fully custom it is. The small cabinetry company we've hired from Stratford, Ontario does beautiful work--as both their portfolio and extremely happy customers attest--and has the expertise to build and install the kitchen we've designed exactly as specified. The custom route is expensive, but possibly no moreso than the semi-custom options so widely available at the big box stores and larger kitchen cabinetry manufacturers, and we both the believe that the attention to detail will be worth it.  A kitchen is so seldom renovated that we plan to get it right this first and (we hope) only time. 

We had three very high quality bids from three small cabinetry shops. Although there was a bit of a price gap among the bids, price was not the determining factor in our decision. I believe that any of the three cabinetmakers could have built us a beautiful kitchen, and I wish we could've hired all three, but we chose the one that filled us with the most confidence because of excellent communication and amenability to our design requests. We designed the kitchen to have both face frame and frameless cabinets to get the look we want without compromising on space. Most of our base cabinets will have drawers and we believe that frameless constuction will make the best use of space. 

A detail of our bathroom vanity showing the sleek, stainless Blum tandembox and face frame construction
The cabinetmaker we have hired can build both frameless and faceframe and seems to like the idea of blending the two in the same kitchen. So the base cabinets will be frameless boxes with full overlay shaker style doors, Blum softclose hardware, and Blum's stainless tandembox drawers. Maple dovetail drawers are available for the same price or possibly a little less, but we like a little high-tech along with our tradition. The upper cabinets, and part of the island cabinets, will be faceframe with inset, glass-paneled, shaker style doors. 

A detail of our temporary IKEA cabinets showing frameless cabinet boxes and full overlay doors
--details we will duplicate on our new base cabinets
We far prefer to work directly with the builder of our cabinets than to coordinate things through a third party, which would be the case with most larger firms. The cabinetmaker will be here next week to confirm measurements and then things will begin!  It's an exciting, nervewracking time.