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!

The Safe House

It will soon be three years since we moved into Tett House.

The first two were fraught with stress and unexpected challenges. Not only were we adjusting to a new home, new jobs, and new people in a new place, but things kept going wrong and the repairs were adding up. We were constantly on edge, waiting for the next unwelcome surprise. Early on, I realized that I had become afraid of the house I’d initially fallen in love with, and it took us a long time to feel safe and comfortable in our new lives.

But even the toughest times slowly make their way into the past. One by one, we tackled projects, and they were no longer major, urgent repairs, but little upgrades we wanted to do.

Last summer, with delight, I fitted out the screened in porch as a bright, fresh gathering space with rocking chairs, an alfresco dining table, and a vintage daybed, which I talked about in my last post.

I also picked a couple of new nightstands and bedside lamps. Little pieces, big impact!

We finally got around to cleaning out and painting the room we had earmarked for Trevor’s office.


During.

Colour: Beau Green by Benjamin Moore. I love the depth and contrast with the cinnamon-toned wood. The office isn’t quite finished yet, but at least it’s functional!

We wallpapered a feature wall in the Front Hall and loved it.

I even started painting the old grates, but this is still an ongoing project. The paint is fairly noxious and I can only do one or two at a time. What a difference, though!

My favourite thing this winter has been our brand new wood stove! Our propane furnace – which is also new – heats really well, but we wanted to cut down on fuel costs. Thanks to the removal of several large, dead trees on the property, we had a carriage house full of wood to burn, so there truly is no great loss without some small gain. Jim from Rideau Valley Hearth & Home installed a brand new J√łtul F500 for us and it’s a beauty.

I love that it looks as if it has been there, always. When you’re working with an old house, it’s so important to honour and not compromise the historical character. We try to find a balance between new and old.

We had to completely reconfigure our living room to accommodate the wood stove, but it was worth it! We’ve enjoyed many cozy nights around the fire this past winter.

We hosted a reunion of first cousins in September and a big family Thanksgiving dinner in October. Together with our improvement projects, these served to re-establish my original connection with the house, which has been growing stronger ever since. One day, I woke up realizing that Tett House had finally become my home and I didn’t need to be afraid of it anymore. I could embrace it, with open arms. I gave myself over to that feeling, and frankly, it’s the only place I ever really want to be now.

And it’s a good thing, too. Who could have foretold that the Spring of 2020 would bring with it a pandemic that meant we couldn’t leave our house even if we wanted to?

With the advent of the Coronavirus, the house I’d gotten used to fearing, suddenly became our safe place. Its aloofness and remote location made self-isolation easy, and we feel quite independent. We can go outside and wander our six acres of trees with no chance of encountering others or compromising anyone’s health, including our own.

Our family was at low-risk for COVID-19, but we sequestered ourselves in mid-March, willingly and gratefully. Since then, we’ve found solace and boundless inspiration in the beautiful natural landscape that surrounds us.


We miss our friends and family, but the deer enjoy the view, too, and have been keeping us company… while respecting social distancing recommendations, of course!

Life may have suddenly slowed down, and the Great Pause of the world is upon us, but every day at Tett House still brings something new: budding trees, flowers poking up out of the ground, and even snow! Trevor captured this bit of mid-April magic and made a short video out of it, just because he’s awesome that way.

I feel as if Tett House is rewarding us now, for all the blood, sweat, and tears we put into the property early on. This stately Victorian lady is taking us under her wing and offering shelter, a safe haven. Even when the news is scary and things are uncertain, we feel protected and comforted.

When we first moved in, I joked to Trevor about wanting the house to be a place where we could “survive a Zombie Apocalypse.”

Please don’t let there be any zombies!

To read the story of our move to Tett House from the beginning click here.