Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Born to renovate

Some are born to renovate, some become renovators and some have renovation thrust upon them... That's us. We are the people who are taking on a big renovation project without ever having put up shelves before. It was a funny anecdote for the last year, now it is becoming a reality. And in this little corner of the blogosphere, I want to tell the story of how it unfolds. I sincerely hope it won't be like watching car crash TV but I have my doubts.... And my fears. Yes, I'm nervous and I'm wising up to why people prefer not to buy houses that 'have potential'. But I would be lying if I didn't also admit to an intense degree of excitement; excited to learn about the building process and how the houses we live in work, excited to be a part of a creative process that will (hopefully) transform ideas and design concepts (debated and discussed ad nauseum) into a reality. And, of course, I'm excited to try and build something that will be ours and a reflection of our lives.

So, how did we get here?  Just over a year ago in the time of the Polar Vortex, we moved from a utopian expat life in Copenhagen, Denmark to Toronto, Canada. Incidentally, the expat episode was an equally exciting chapter in our lives which I wrote about in my other blog These Sublime Days  (if you're at all interested). When those days ended, we landed here, in Toronto and chose a neighbourhood to call home for the next chapter.

We sold our little flat in London, England, and bought this house. Built around 1915, it is typical of the houses in our neighbourhood on the fringes of High Park, in the west end of the city. A solid house, with 'good bones' and having myself now lived through 14 months of the Toronto climate, any house that can survive 100 years of these hostile extremes (there's a reason Sorel, Nobis and Canadian Goose hail from this side of the ocean) is worthy of our respect. Besides the weather, this house has also survived a number of renovations so far: previous owners divided it up into a multiple unit boarding house, the basement has separate entry and each floor has its own bathroom and then it was re-renovated back into a single family dwelling where our predecessors raised a family of six children.

No doubt if they could speak, the walls would tell stories. It's already a home with a history. But it's not a tale I want to hear. I want to make our own story in this space. Maybe the rooms worked for others, they don't work for us. And here is the point: this house is not a 'fixer-upper' - it is not a preserved relic from a bygone era in desperate need of an upgrade (although the kitchen appliances are from a different age). It is simply an arrangement of walls that create rooms that do not make sense to us, with an ecclectic mix of fittings and trims that we dislike.

Maybe 3 years of living with Scandinavian design left their mark on us and we no longer have a tolerance for dark spaces, dark carpets and small windows. The picture above shows the back of the house - the south facing side of the house - yes, the side that faces the SUN and yet none of the light can enter the living spaces because there are too few windows and too many decks and stairs. Earlier additions have created tunnels and darkened the already gloomy living quarters. The Z-shaped kitchen is clumsy and makes cooking a workout of sprints from stove to fridge.

The land at the back of the house drops away from the front so that when one looks back up to the house, as in the photo above, the three storeys loom. This in turn makes the inside detached from the outside and there is no connection with the trees and the space that could be a garden for us to enjoy. 

And herein lies another problem with this house  - even if there was an indoor/outdoor connection - it is not an outdoor space anyone would want to look at or venture out to. This house has too many garages. Besides the single garage integrated into the basement, a two and a half car garage monstrosity consumes all the land that could be a play area for the children, a vegetable garden, a patio for outdoor dining or a combination of all three.

And so, our mission with this renovation is to create light, spaces that are intentional, in that they work for us and the way we live, to connect the indoor with the outdoor and, above all, to make it sublime. 

Surely that isn't too much to ask of one's home...

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