Six Years Later – Part 2

After waiting six years to tackle interior updates at Tett House, Trevor & I were both excited (and a little nervous) to get started! As our big washroom reno kicked into gear, we began sourcing fixtures, washroom accessories, and other pieces to fit out our new bathroom.

When the yucky old shower enclosure was in the hallway…

and this was on our lawn…

… I knew it was time to get serious and start designing! I drew on all my education, instinct and resources.

Our idea was to introduce a contemporary spa-style shower design into the space without compromising the integrity of the 130-year-old century home. We didn’t want an obscenely modern washroom, but neither did we want a cutesy “granny” bathroom. It had to be consistent with the spirit of the house.

We began with the basics: washroom accessories. Trevor & I fell hard for this shower suite by Delta in a “Champagne Bronze” finish. This how it looked in the showroom… It was warm without being too brassy and we felt it would lend itself well to Tett House’s age and aesthetic.

I love the look of penny tile in old washrooms from the early 1900s. But it’s a royal pain – and therefore expensive – to install. We were lucky to find this hexagon tile in convenient sheets that gave us the vintage look we wanted without a hefty price tag. For the shower walls, we went with a classic 3″ x 6″ warm white subway tile and chose “Raven” grout for all. Dark grout repels stains better and also delineates the tiles, creating visual interest.

Trevor & I didn’t see any vanities we liked for the space we envisioned… they all seemed too white or too glossy and Tett House is not glossy. In the end, we decided to repurpose an antique dresser we’d bought for our son’s room when he was born. He’d outgrown it, but we still loved the piece for its sentimental value. Our contractor is an up-cycling wizard, and he promised to make it work.

The dresser was slightly higher than a traditional vanity, so we found a very low, oblong sink to fit along the top. I loved the uniqueness of it, and it suited the dresser/vanity perfectly. Our contractor called it a “puddle” and he’s exactly right!

As we pieced together the materials and finishes, it was sometimes hard to imagine how all of these seemingly random elements would come together in the end. We had to revise our design several times in the middle of the project, based on space, cost, and various considerations arising in the moment. As the renovation waged on, life at Tett House became more and more chaotic… and dusty!

Essentially, the four stages of the project were: Excitement, Dismay, Resignation, and Cautious Optimism. You can match them to the image of your choosing below.

After a few hiccups (chipped tiles, damaged sconce shades, a wonky hand-held shower device, and toilet paper holder with no place to go) in July, we finally found ourselves waiting on the last piece of the puzzle: installation of the ShowerGuard® glass. It was a large piece – 48″W x 88″H – and would ultimately be the defining feature of the space. Would it split the room awkwardly in half, or give us that open, airy spa-like atmosphere?

I feel like we achieved our goal.

In the absence of a few decorative details to complete the look, we are very happy with the way everything turned out!

The repurposed dresser makes a beautiful vanity, especially when paired with our “puddle” sink and vintage-style accessories. And I really dig the black & white floor tile and subway tile finished with dark grout.

The Champagne Bronze finish of our faucets and knobs looks a bit like antique brass in certain lights, and almost coppery in others. I love that it changes depending on the mood of the day.

In a renovation like this, when you’re blending modern amenities with a century home aesthetic, it’s important to find the right balance. The details are everything. For example, the old baseboards in this room were in rough shape and sections had been cut and removed in its previous incarnation. We were hoping to reuse it, but there wasn’t enough to go around the perimeter of the new layout. Instead, our contractor recreated baseboards to match the rest of the main floor, using oak planks, custom ogee and quarter-round. Continuity in design goes a long way.

Another important detail: colour! The paint we chose is Benjamin Moore’s Boreal Forest, and its rich depth works with both the cinnamon tones of the woodwork and our lovely “Champagne Bronze” accessories. The original cabinetry is now a showstopper! Also, Tett House has large windows throughout, lending us beautiful views of the surrounding trees. Besides being my favourite (and most under-rated) neutral, green also brings in the leafy element of nature from the outdoors.

And… after 3+ months of bathing in a tub, of course the shower was immediately called into action.

It was glorious.

Click here to read Part 1 of this renovation, in case you missed it.

Throughout this project, Trevor and I got to meet and consult with many lovely and helpful people.

Special thanks to: Shelli at Bathworks Kingston, Desi from Westport Flooring, tile specialists Scott Weber and Ben Beasley, our McNichols Electrical & Plumbing family, Matt, Curtis, and Jason from Burchell Glass, Miranda at Mountain Mouldings, the staff at Design On Kingston, and most of all to our supremely gifted contractor S.M., who is a delight, but prefers not to be mentioned on the inter-webs. ❤️

A special blessing on the contractors who endured my chatter and witnessed my work-from-home pyjama couture, yet remained consequently unfazed.

Here’s one last quick little video showing 360° views, Before & After:

Six Years Later – Part 1

When we first bought Tett House, we had big plans to renovate and restore it.

As someone who studied Visual Design and Interior Decorating, I couldn’t wait to get started! I love old houses, and it was my dream to one day live in one and make it my own. Tett House, in its relaxed and somewhat shabby elegance, seemed like the perfect fit. Our goal was to retain and repair the home’s original features and add modern conveniences to improve it, but not compromise its integrity or ambience. We knew it would probably be a lifelong project, especially given that we are not DIY-ers and could not do the work ourselves.

Photo by Trevor Connell Photography

If you’ve been following this blog, you already know our story: the day we got the key to Tett House, we discovered that someone had vandalized the well. Since we knew no one in the area, it was likely done out of spite directed at the previous owners, who had not been (*ahem*) popular locally. It was a hugely stressful and expensive problem to correct, and delayed our moving in by almost two months. A year later, the new septic system which had been improperly completed (again – thank you, former owners) backed up onto our property, resulting in Stressful & Expensive Experience No. 2, pun very much intended.

As you can imagine, our interior renovation budget was completely drained. We could not make any of the exciting updates we’d planned, necessary or aesthetic. It was a bitter blow..

Consequently, for the last six years, we’ve been living in a house that has some raw, unfinished spaces and rooms that don’t function as well as we need them to. Among other challenges, this has made Tett House hard to organize and difficult to clean. We still have damaged sections of original hardwood floor, stacked storage bins, patched walls. Sometimes I can accept this for what it is; at other times, it drives me crazy.

This year, after six years in the house, we were finally able to start on some updates!

The room we needed to renovate the most was our main floor washroom. Tett House has two washrooms, one up, one down. The upstairs bath is just that… it’s a sweet Bed & Breakfast-style bathroom, with a toilet, sink, and tub. It’s totally charming and was newly updated when we moved in, so we didn’t need to renovate it. But… it has no shower.

Our only shower was in the downstairs washroom, which badly needed an overhaul. The tile was cracking and there were pieces missing. The baseboards were falling off. The vanity was old and cheap and smelled funny, with cupboard doors that sagged crookedly on their hinges. A hideous light fixture, bargain-basement washroom accessories, and dubiously plumbed toilet were the icing on this very ugly urinal cake. But the biggest problem was the shower – our only one, remember. It was an iron-stained enclosure that felt like a dark cave, and was impossible to keep clean. Trevor, who is 6’4″, couldn’t even fit in it. The water from the shower head hit him right at chest-level, and he had to stoop and bend like a pretzel to use it.

He’s been doing that for six years, my friends. SIX YEARS.

The main floor washroom had some redeeming features however: 1) It was a good-sized space with a high ceiling, so there was some flexibility in layout and design, and, 2) It had an original built-in corner cabinet, which adds warmth and a nice architectural detail. (Because the room used to be adjoined with the dining room, we believe it was once a library or office, which would account for the woodwork.)

Our plan was to install a spacious walk-in shower, with no curb or curtain, on one side of the washroom, and a new toilet and vanity on the other. These two zones would be separated by a large piece of shower glass with black grid. The idea was for the space to somehow feel like both a spa AND a powder room. We had no clue if it was going to work.

This was one of our inspiration photos, even though our bathroom space was a lot different in size, shape, and appearance:

Photo: Adam Albright, as featured on bhg.com

I was nervous about starting this washroom reno, even though I knew whatever we ended up with was going to be WAY better than what we had. Like every project we’ve tackled so far at Tett House, though, it wasn’t without its surprises. Anyone who’s read this blog knows how many “unsexy” reno’s and repairs we’ve done… there are no glamorous “Before & After” pics of a new water filtration system or septic drain field. *le sigh* You can read my salty “Renovation Reveal” for more.

SURPRISE #1: The washroom was built on top of a broken old cistern in the cellar. Before we could even begin the demo, we had to install additional support in the basement and shore up the main floor of the house. Turns out, there was a reason that old tile was cracking and breaking. Our contractor opened the floor up, repaired beams, added joists, and in some cases removed and repositioned stones in the foundation. He basically rebuilt the entire corner of the house.

SURPRISE #2: The crumbling tile had been laid on top of the original hardwood floor, not stuck down. Unfortunately, there was old water damage on a large section of the hardwood, so we couldn’t restore it. But we kept all the pieces for future projects!

SURPRISE #3: Three years ago, we discovered flying squirrels in our house and spent the winter of 2020 (humanely) evicting them. Now, as our contractor ripped out the walls down to the lath and plaster, he found the nest in the wall where they had been living. It was fully 3 ft. high. Beside it was a slightly smaller inactive mouse nest, and it may be presumed both families lived happily side by side until their human landlords kicked them out. (Hey, Disney, call me for the film rights to this super cute story. We could use a cool million.) The contractor said you could tell the difference in housing because flying squirrels import their building products whereas the mice use local materials. Evidently, when we had Tett House insulated, the spray foam guys missed a section.

We were not prepared for how long this renovation would take. I think our original expectation was around six weeks. Seems reasonable, right? The demolition began in earnest on April 12. We had one working washroom upstairs, and from that point on, we all took turns bathing in the freestanding tub. I didn’t mind it, but for my tree of a husband, and growing teenage son, it was a tight fit.

We ended up doing that for over three months.

Our renovation unfolds in Part 2, coming soon!

Finding Tett House, Part 6 – The Purge

By March of 2017, we had officially purchased Tett House, although there were a number of things that still needed to be ironed out. Aside from our immediate families, and one or two close friends, we told no one. Finances still needed to be confirmed, our current home needed to be sold, employment would have to be addressed. And there was still a chance everything could fall spectacularly apart. It had all happened so fast, and we decided there were too many uncertainties to share the news just yet.

Tett House was closing in May, so we needed to list our current home ASAP. Selling a house in the GTA is no small undertaking. The stakes are really high and so is the pressure to have your home looking like something from HGTV. I wish I was exaggerating.

Before we could even consider putting the house on the market, we needed to do some basic, but long-overdue renovations in a very short period of time. We also had a large basement that had accumulated a lot of STUFF over time, and desperately needed to purge. Tett House had very little storage. Anything that wasn’t necessary or used on a regular basis would have to go.

We had loved and enjoyed our home very much, but there were a few areas that  badly needed updating. We had approximately a month to accomplish the following:

1) Kitchen: Re-do backsplash, install new stove top and new fixtures, repair and paint kitchen ceiling

2) Bathroom:  Re-construct and re-tile shower, replace fixtures, partially re-wire lighting, repair and paint ceiling and walls

3) Entrances (Front & Side):  Re-construct side steps, repair walkway, paint doors and steps

4) Completely purge the basement, pare down furnishings, clean and stage the house

We were lucky to find a friendly contractor who came to our rescue and to whom I will always be indebted for his advice and good nature. A close friend of ours is a professional painter (Holla – Andrew Sharpe!) and he also jumped right in to generously help us prepare our home within such a tight time frame.

The work started in the kitchen. Our contractor ripped out the kitschy ’80s backsplash and replaced it with marble “brick” tile…

… taking us from this:

… to this:

Even though our renovations were fairly simple ones, it was difficult not having a space to cook or gather or eat in. We became regulars at drive-thrus and local restaurants for several weeks while our kitchen was either shrink-wrapped or looked like a dumpster-dive:

What can I say? We got used to making toast in the powder room.

Meanwhile, a separate contractor started ripping out our side steps and walkway to build new ones.

Before the kitchen was completely finished, work started on our main upstairs bathroom.

Since we were partially re-constructing and fully re-tiling our only bathtub and shower, we mentally prepared to be a bit stinky for a few days. These are the sacrifices you make when renovating, am I right?

I wish I had photos of what that bathroom looked like when we first moved in. Or maybe I don’t, because it was pretty bad. It had super ugly honey-oak cabinetry and PEACH walls. The tiles were a corresponding pale peach with flowered accents, and an ’80s step-up tub. I called it my “Golden Girls” washroom, only without Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia, it was a real dud. Early on, Trevor & I had painted the cupboards and trim white, and the walls a pewter grey (this was before the grey trend and everyone thought I was crazy.) It worked to update the space somewhat, but we’d never had the chance to replace the worn out tile, with its stained and crumbling old grout.

The tub/shower also had awkward and unsafe recessed glass shelving that I was eager to get rid of. I re-designed the surround to accommodate a single full-length ledge with new waterproof lighting. Not being a fan of large wall tiles, I chose fresh, white beveled subway tile in a slightly elongated size.

Over the course of about 10 days, our Golden Girls grotto went from gross:

… to worse:                                                          … to full-on Helter Skelter:

               

… to amazeballs:

Of course we had the work inspected by only the finest of professionals.


While the dust was still settling, Trevor & I ruthlessly purged our belongings. We were  ashamed and alarmed by the useless amount of stuff we’d been holding onto that was just taking up space. All in all, we threw away 49 bags of garbage, 46 bags of recycling, sold Oliver’s old baby gear, donated almost 20 bags/boxes of clothes and toys, and then held a yard sale.

Oliver sold lemonade and and iced tea and cookies and his old toys. He turned a tidy profit, and then gave a bunch of it to charity.

In the middle of our massive purge, I met with a cleaning woman to help us prepare our house for staging. She was an older, no-nonsense Polish lady who let me know she was coming over to see exactly what she was getting into. The renovations had just been finished and the house was at its worst… full of drywall dust and tile dust, and strewn with boxes. I will never forget her expression of horror.

She clearly didn’t think we’d have the place ready in time for her to come back and clean. We were down to the 11th hour before the house had to be listed.  The real estate market had heated up to a fever pitch, and we had to act fast. I assured her we would be organized and ready, and practically begged her on bended knee to take the job. Finally, reluctantly, she agreed. If I’d have had time to breathe a sigh of relief, I would have.

A few days later, when she returned to clean, she was astounded. Trevor & I had worked day and night until all final traces of chaos and renovations were gone.  “You’ve been vorking very hart,” she told me admiringly, and I felt truly vindicated. There is no higher compliment than an Eastern European woman saying you’re a hard worker, believe me. We’d always flattered ourselves that our home usually looked pretty attractive (when it wasn’t a construction zone.) But by the time she worked her magic, it was positively sparkling.

 

It was all worth it. Somehow, almost overnight, it had become a seller’s market, and houses around us were being snapped up for $100,000 – $150,000 over asking price. Ours was ready to be listed, and our agent already had a potential buyer in her pocket. We were proud and anxious and terrified and excited.

See Part 7

(Previous posts:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)