We are well practised in destruction. I remember a few years ago when Ryan first moved in he really wanted to redo our bedroom. It was tired looking and cold. He was getting ready for work one day and I asked him, "what would you say if when you get home the ceiling is gone?" He looked back at me maniacally, I could see the chaotic excitement.. 8 months later I said the same thing early on a Saturday morning about our dining room. It's always exciting doing demolition, maybe less so if its a newer house, but you're always wondering if you'll find some treasures.
When it came time to deal with our kitchen I was pretty prepared for the mess and the hard work of demolition. We arranged for our friend, BJ to spend the weekend to help (he also helped us bag the old attic insulation.. What a good friend), we lined up my parents to come as well as our friend Tim. We had a good team and got through it all pretty efficiently.
Before the winter we thought it'd be wise to take the water supply lines out of the old kitchen, just in case they froze and ended up leaking. We cut through the first (of 6) layer of floor and immediately cut through the line. Someone thought it was a good idea to run the water to the kitchen directly under the subfloor.. This led to a minor disaster as there was only the main water shutoff that would stop the leak. We traced the lines back as far as we could and found that the plumbing monster from the basement had invaded the upper levels of the house. The water lines to the kitchen started in the basement, went to the upstairs washroom, came down a wall, under the main level floor and went to the sink. omg..
We decided to investigate the upstairs bathroom. We took the pedestal sink off and cut the floor open (carefully).. This little demo really helped solidify the fact that the additions had to come off. The floor had decayed to the point that it had become compost. it was disgusting. I had fun removing the old cast iron tub with the full force of the sledgehammer. Demolition sure helps to ease one's frustration!
Our skills went to good use last month as we prepared for the house to come off. You may remember from my previous posts that we decided to lop off the additions of the house due to structural problems. Now it's all feeling pretty real :P
We salvaged what we could. It turns out our house was made almost entirely out of cedar. Many of the old studs and joists were usable for future projects, so we took the nails out and stacked them up in the basement.
We were told that the less weight the better when it comes to taking the pieces of the house away, so we chose to take down what we could. Ryan and Ryan (aka Red) spent 3 days on our old bedroom, taking the roof and walls down. My parents came and took the wood away to burn. Initially this was a little bit fun, until they got to the floor.. I won't get in to details, but they decided to stop it there..
We had a list of what to accomplish before the house came off.
In the rad pipe removal the boys discovered an old cistern. Naturally, Ryan had to investigate. We got out our makeshift spelunking gear in the form of a winch and some ratchet straps.. He got strapped in and descended.
It was only about 6 and a half feet deep, so I guess all that prep wasn't really necessary, but you cant be too safe. Ryan said it was cool, but all he found was an earthworm.
The boys got back to work and cut the house off.
Darren the excavator was very fun to watch. He gained an audience that day (he says he's used to it). A couple passers by came and admired his work as he delicately picked apart the house. The neighbours a couple houses down had their laundry hanging out, and they said it wasn't even a little dusty.
I waited for the big moment when the roof came down. I stood there ready with the camera to get a good video. Unfortunately I wasn't paying enough attention to my surroundings as my foot was directly in the line of fire of our dog's (Max) pee stream. I ran inside to clean my foot and shoe, and to swear a little, when I came back outside the dust was settling. A neighbour made sure to inform me that I had missed the big moment.
We're so glad to be moving forward with construction now. It'll be a long haul, but with proper scheduling, lots of help, and the use of our family's showers we think our marriage will survive. :P
Since beginning our project we dreamt of all the amazing things we wanted for the house. We pinterested like crazy. Of course, Ryan likes things bold and opulent. I on the other hand wanted to keep things timeless and "true to the house." I won. Perhaps with the exception of a basement tiki bar that Ryan clearly NEEDS.
With a mother-in-law (Anne of Rooms & Blooms) as an interior designer I really can't get away with bad taste in furnishings or finishes. I have always had an eye for the most expensive things though, as I am my mothers' daughter. However since getting older and paying my own way for the last 15 years or so I do think very conservatively and logically about what will have a good return on investment, and what will keep our options open in the event that we decide to sell down the road. Also, I have to mention.. My father-in-law, Rick is also great, but this post isn't about him! :P
We have used Anne's design expertise on a number of projects at home. She makes sure to identify your personal style, rather than projecting her wants into your home. I think that's one of the things that makes a great Designer. She's worked on some interesting projects- the black, white & red house, the 50's diner bar, the star-wars rec room- all with class, layers, and texture. We were also gifted with her design and floral skills for our wedding.
To see some of Anne & Rick's projects visit their website or their other social media on Instagram and Facebook
A few years ago, when we began our bedroom and dining room projects (RIP) they both started with a questionnaire asking, "How do you want the space to feel?" This began the discussion to help narrow down some ideas- because if you're at all like me, you have lots of things you like, and if I was left to my own devices I'd end up with an opulent medieval dining room, a fairy tree house bedroom, and a bold bathroom and kitchen.. and none of it would go together :P
Many people renovate, paint/redecorate on a room-by-room basis as needed. This is definitely a practical way of going about things and spreading the cost over a long period of time. We have the benefit of being able to plan the finishes of the entire house at once (although it is also very stressful to pick everything at once and stick to it). We are taking our inspiration from our surroundings in Paris, the original features of styles of the house, and our own personal styles.
A few "before" pictures are posted below. Thankfully we are able to keep some of the original features of the house.
As we made our plans with the Architect we made sure to include Anne (MIL/Decorator/bringer of coffee and treats) in our discussions. She used the Architects' design to show a floor and furniture plan so we could envision the space once it was done. This is extremely beneficial as house plans don't always allow for the furniture you already have. Having a dining table that's too small, or a couch that's too big can really mess with the flow. She uses a program called Chief Architect which gives floor plans as well as 3D views of a space. This was especially helpful in planning our bathrooms, kitchen, and doors.
Bathroom design plans
Our most pressing project was to complete the main bathroom. When we took the additions off of the house we would only be left with a 2 piece guest bathroom. We also hadn't had laundry facilities for months. Anne Helped us through the layout (we went through many variations), and then the fixtures and finishes.
We decided to use a pocket door (to allow for room to get the washer and dryer in/out), a standard tub, and a closet where the washer and dryer will be stacked. We chose floor and wall tiles that mimic the marble look of our fireplace, and a warm grey for the cabinetry. The faucet is wall mounted for a dressier look (we're thinking of doing something extra-creative with this).
I'll be sure to post some pictures when we're all done!
Since the start of our journey we have moved our kitchen 4 times.
I've gotten a few concerned looks from tradespeople, family, friends, inspectors... Well pretty much everyone that sees our project. I've been told on multiple occasions, "I don't know how you do it." My response is always, "What else can I do?"
Living through a renovation is hard. Moving ourselves and our businesses out wasn't in our budget. We also didn't know how long it would take to get all the approvals we'd need seeing as our project was so involved (it has been one full year now). Being (somewhat) newlyweds we didn't want to move back in with Mom and Dad, though we did for a couple weeks when it was unbearably cold.
We rented a moving bin that now holds most of our belongings. We paired down to the bare essentials, which we try to keep organised in the two usable rooms we have left- the bedroom and office- which are full to the brim of tools, clothes, and other useful things. The biggest challenge has been the kitchen.
When we started the demo of the original kitchen (ie. what started this whole mess) we moved our appliances into the dining room (which was dubbed "Shitchen #1"). We had an apartment rented out upstairs at the time, so when our tenants moved out we used their old kitchen (pictured below). It seemed like an upgrade. It had cupboards whereas our Shitchen #1 did not. What you can't see is the bowl-like floor, you basically had to be tethered to the counter top to make sure you stayed put.
Our 3rd kitchen move was back to the dining room. Ryan built a little counter, installed a sink, and made a space for our freezer. It was ok for the most part, but it seemed like we never had any room on the counter for anything.
Our 4th kitchen will tide us over until the new part of the house is built. We made it as tolerable as we could because we didn't want to deal with the frustrations we had with the last 3. We "upgraded" to a borrowed induction cook-top so we didn't have to wire for a stove. We're cooking now with a toaster oven and the cook-top, and so far I've been able to make full meals without too much trouble.
All of the kitchen moves were done in order to allow for the demolition and rebuilding we needed to do to keep the house upright. With each move we got rid of, or stored more stuff. the more demo we did, the less I wanted to clean.
I have become a bit of an expert in cleaning post-demolition. To save you some pain in the future here is what I've learned:
The real scary stuff was the mess of plumbing (and spiders) left by years of reworking and making-do. We told our plumber that we just want it to be to code, and to prevent issues down the road. We had a big cast iron stack that had corroded over time, so the drainage space was much smaller than it should be.
Removing the drain pipe seemed simple in theory. In practice however it meant about a week of heavy manual labour (that we may not have actually finished yet.. its been about 5 months).
First we had to get through the layer of concrete on the floor. We rented a concrete saw from lowes. It worked, but was extremely slow and made so much dust. You can see in the picture that we put poly over our stuff in the basement. We also put poly over the entry to the basement, but somehow the dust still made it into the rest of the house. Eventually the technique was perfected. We used a sledge hammer and wrecking bar to loosen the concrete, and then we carried the concrete out by hand.
Nothing is easy in our house.. We assumed the drain went straight to the road. It did not. This meant we got to break up even more of the floor. Yay..
Did I mention our awesome basement stairs? They're really great. They're about 2.5 ft wide, and at the top of them you have to turn through an even narrower opening (without impacting the venting for the guest bathroom that is very much in the way). This was super fun to deal with wile carrying heavy loads of concrete and dirt out in buckets.
After all that work the basement floor was about 75% removed. We also had to dig down enough so that the new pipes could fit in without too much effort. We decided that we may as well just finish the job so we can gain a few inches of height down there.
This project was painstaking, and it was not without incident. One day I got trapped in my office after an appointment. All our hard work had undermined the posts in the basement, and the floor joists were impacted just enough that the door jamb shifted. This wasn't entirely our fault though. The combination of the concrete floor that was poured and the moisture of the basement meant that the bottom 4-6 inches of the posts had rotted.
The day or two after my escape from the office Ryan got back to work. He dug some more (I think he really likes digging!), poured new footings, and installed new posts, and all was well with the world again...
Until the next disaster.
They sure don't build them like they used to
- and it's a good thing they don't!
I think most people would just demolish the whole thing at this point. I don't think we ever considered that, perhaps we should have. Every bit of work we did was treacherous, and it always worked out that we had to do a whole bunch of background work before we could even start.
The solution for securing our exterior walls was not immediately apparent. Ryan, the engineer, and the architect spent a fair amount of time discussing what could be done. they arrived upon an idea that would solve all the issues:
This was so much work. I don't remember how long it took, but I'm pretty sure it was a matter of weeks. Scraping out the spray foam was miserable. It smelled like pee.
,We completed the wall system upstairs, and started working our way to the main level. We had a new set of stairs on order, so we were on a bit of a timeline.
We weren't planning on redoing any of the sub-floor on the main floor, but after some deliberation, Ryan insisted.
I think he likes levelling floors.
Ryan can be a little... excitable? He likes pretty things. In planning our renovation we discussed everything we wanted and for some reason he requested that we add a turret.
I was too weak to fight.
A turret makes the floorplan a little challenging.
Thankfully by this point we had started budgeting for the project, and he was convinced to dial it back.
We went through many variations of our home plan and eventually settled in September 2018 and proceeded with what we needed in order to get the necessary approvals. Part of the challenge was the fact that our house is so close to the neighbors.' We ended up having to apply for a variance with the county to allow us to rebuild on a slightly different footprint. The variance took extra long as it was delayed by a month as none of the counsellors were available. We got our variance in December 2018.
So tell me Ryan, what are we going to do?
You may remember our list from my last post. We have figured out a plan to address all the issues. Short version: We're lopping off the back of the house, digging a full basement, pouring a new foundation and rebuilding our additions with some minor modifications.
In reality it meant going through the fall and winter in utter misery. Here is what we accomplished! (listed in the order it was accomplished)
During the gut we discovered that the initial entrance of the addition of the home was done by literally removing all the bricks on the back wall of the house and not supporting them with anything. This means we have to install posts and a steel beam under the original house's roof so the whole thing doesn't fall down.
We discovered that the house is actually single brick.
Finally insulated. We have a new level subfloor and new interior walls. Life is good.
Or is it?
Our architect Gary helped us a lot in deciding what we should do with the house. He heavily suggested doing things that would save us money, which was very thoughtful, but we had a feeling the house needed more than just a kitchen demo/rebuild.
We had initially planned on knocking down the old kitchen and master bedroom (pictured below, in the middle).
House prices in Paris have gone up dramatically since our home was purchased. We spoke to two realtors, one gave us a valuation (thank you Kathy Smith!) which compared the value of our home (once whole) to others in the area. Our home value once complete would be almost double it's purchase price. Alternatively, if we decided to buy another house and sell ours we would have to first find a way to fix ours, and then buy something else at an inflated price. To buy something new would mean we'd just have new problems that we wouldn't yet know about.
In the end we figured we'd make our house work for us. We signed ourselves up for (likely) years of work.
We began making a list of all the maintenance and repairs our house would need in the near future. We also made sure to address some of the deficiencies the house had (no workshop for Ryan).
It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; its the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time.
- David Allan Coe
Don't buy a house because it's pretty.
I bought my/our house about 6 years ago. I loved it because of how it made me feel. The house had the added bonus of being in an ideal location and zoning for business. I worked in this building in my first year as an RMT. It always smelled good. It had so much character.
Fast forward to about 3 years ago, I was in need of some work on the house. I ended up getting a referral from a friend (it happened to also be a set-up, just so you don't all think it was unprofessional). Ryan put in a set of french doors and we started dating after I paid him :P
Ryan found lots of things that he wanted to work on in the house. The main bedroom was very poorly insulated, the dining room was sagging, and the kitchen was a wind-tunnel. We knew the kitchen would be expensive, so we decided to wait to renovate that room.
We shouldn't have done that.
We (mostly) finished fixing the bedroom and dining room, bought a few pieces of "forever furniture," and finally decided to take a look at the kitchen.
We discovered 4 layers of ceiling, 3 layers of wall, and 6 floors. The roof had apparently been leaking for some time. The exterior wall facing the street was not attached to anything except the floor.
Everything we had found was fixable until we discovered the foundation. It was composed of loose rubble and was covered with spray-foam on the outside to prevent further erosion. This discovery explained why the kitchen floor slanted so much.
I seem to remember Ryan having a very bad feeling before finding our foundation problems. I also seem to remember wanting to just leave everything alone and remain ignorant. We called our family friend Gary who is an Architect to help us decide what to do.
Our lives have been turned upside down by all this house business. We were told to document it because it's just so bad.
I'm very glad to bring you the story of our house :)