Creative Habit No.01: Photo Canvas Project

No. 01creativehabits

Nearly 6 months ago, I drafted this big bad list of creative projects I planned to undertake in 2013 toward the completion of The Nest – our new home.

Since sharing is caring, I am posting a few of these projects that seem to reflect this “creative habit” I have cultivated. At different points in my life, this has manifested in different ways. These days if I am not “creating”, I’m “curating” or “producing” or “inventing”.

The photo above was taken on a sleepy morning in Fall 2012 as the sun rose on Sturgeon Lake in Fenelon Falls, Ontario. I was wandering the dock with Khailee (trying to ensure she didn’t eat duck poo, naturally) and I turned my attention to my surroundings. Good thing I did.

Believe it or not, this photo was taken with my iPhone and filtered using Instagram. I bought a Groupon voucher for Gallery Art and had it printed on a 24 x 36″ stretched canvas. It took quite a while to get to me but it was well worth the wait.

It now has a home on our master bedroom wall. The room itself is still in progress but I’m pretty happy with my lake view.


The Nest: Master Bathroom

Welcome to The Nest. Here it is – the first of many posts about the new house. I have been carefully (and slowly) organizing posts of various rooms/spaces in “the nest”. This has been a fruitful exercise in documenting and remembering all of the changes and decisions that were made to get from the “before” to the “after”. (I never realized how many steps go into these transformations until you actually sit down and take count.) I wanted to start small so this room seemed like the best fit.

[Before] Master Bathroom

Ou est la salle de bain? There is a funny story about this master bathroom. We actually put in an offer on our house within 12 hours of seeing it but despite a master bathroom appearing on the listing, we couldn’t find it when we saw the house. The house itself was an embarrassment of riches. There were so many rooms and doors we lost track of the details. Plus with 2 other bathrooms who cared about the master? When I finally saw it, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work that would need to go into it in order to make it usable.

[before] Master Bathroom2

A blue carpeted floor, rusted sink, extremely inefficient toilet and shower designed to induce claustrophobia were all beyond my tolerance.  My solution: lock the door and use the main bathroom instead. Somehow my husband managed to convince me that undertaking a bathroom reno while the second floor was being overhauled would make the most sense. Although at the time I felt it was a really low priority, I now appreciate the convenience of having a functional bathroom in our room and one that we only have to share with each another and no one else.

[after] Master Bathroom4

The little bathroom that could. We started fresh with a blank canvas and brought this little bathroom into the 21st century. The shower walls were demolished, the plumbing was relocated to the back wall and electrical was moved to a safer spot. We expanded the shower footprint and opted for a frame-less glass surround to make the space feel larger and brighter. It was possible to do this by replacing the 1974 baby blue extra-wide tank and toilet with a modern dual-flush. (Apologies to our neighbours for having to bear the sight of that awful toilet as it sat on our front drive way – for weeks.)

[after] Master Bathroom3

Fashion passes, style remains (Coco Chanel). I find modern tile and pattern really intriguing but if there is anything my 1970s bathroom taught me, it is that trends fade quickly. We decided on marble (various sized tiles) because we felt it would be seamless, classic and stand the test of time. We mixed the tile with silver grey grout instead of white. (By the way, there is more to grout than what they sell at Home Depot.)  Because the tile is cool in colour, we installed a dark wood vanity and mirror to add warmth. We opted for a transitional sink top instead of the usual oval shape or uber-modern rectangular sinks. Finally, after an exhaustive search, we found the perfect shower system which included a ceiling-mounted rainfall shower head with the handheld and adjustable bar.

[after] Master Bathroom2

A low maintenance bathroom for a high maintenance gal. I have always been the one who cleans the bathroom. Even as a kid, that was my job (along with dusting all of the furniture). In recent years, I absolutely loathed the task. Dirty doesn’t even begin to describe what I was dealing with. The worst of it was cleaning the bathtub and keeping the grout around the tile surround mildew-free and white. But our new bathroom has no bathtub and best of all, no white grout!

I have never had such an easy time cleaning a bathroom. The one thing that requires a bit of effort and time is keeping the glass shower surround spotless. Once a week, I get out my Lainnir Shower Glass Cleaner, a damp sponge and a squeegee to clean both sides of the glass of water marks and soap scum. Every second day or so, I spritz a little Method Bathroom Cleaner on the actual shower tile/grout and done! And once a year, we will need to treat the marble tile to keep it sparkling.

[after] Master Bathroom5

A few final touches. With such a small space, I opted not to mess around with too much colour so we went white on the walls and then new baseboards (and vent covers) were added. I decided on a midnight blue for the linens and mat. (It seemed suitable for our lake district digs and even though it is blue again, we steered clear of that lovely powder blue from the 1970s.) The space above the towel rod is begging for a couple of floating shelves like these (sometime in the future) and the door trim needs another coat of white (to be done sooner than later). The bench was intended as an addition for the shower itself. And I did add a bit of personal artwork to the blank walls. (I will share that in another post!)

One room down. Only eleven more to go. 😉

Source List: allen + roth  palencia vanity with matching mirror from Lowes; luxo mabre vanity top from Rona; aquabrass shower system from Taps; hammam stripe hand towels and fez bath mat from West Elm; aspen toilet paper holder from Moen; tile and grout from Olympia Tile.

A note about The Nest: In August 2012, we bought a house….with lots of rooms and lots of potential. Read: fixer upper. The Nest is a series of posts detailing the “before” and “after” of our work as we transform this house into a home.

The Nest

True story. After watching a million real estate shows, hubby and I pulled together our own “must have” and “want” lists for our future home. We drafted our lists independently and then shared them. This is what we came up with…

K’s Must-Haves

  • minimum 2 storey
  • in a quiet neighbourhood
  • 2+ bedrooms
  • lots of storage space/closets (mostly so that I can fit all of my suitcases and Mike’s army gear)
  • within walking distance to basic amenities (i.e. grocery store, flower shop, TTC, etc…)
  • 1+ bath with existing or sufficient space for a 4pc
  • office space
  • backyard/outdoor space (which is or could be fenced in)
  • proper laundry area
  • income generating unit (or the possibility of one)

K’s Wants

  • space for and/or rough-ins for 2nd bath
  • open concept kitchen/living room  (or possibility of)
  • near lake/waterfront

M’s Must-Haves

  • an additional unit
  • in a quiet neighbourhood
  • close to TTC
  • outdoor space
  • 2+ bedrooms
  • “good bones” (i.e. structurally sound)

M’s Wants

  • multiple units (i.e. 2+)
  • 2 bathrooms
  • large property
  • parking
  • en suite bath/large master bedroom
  • storage space
  • unique land

You almost never get everything you want. There are trade-offs. And well, that holds true with us too. We got everything on our must-have and want lists but it came with a slightly higher price tag.

Vintage tile floor

The Nest comes with about 3500 sq ft including 4 bedrooms, 2 + half baths, kitchen, living room, family room and sun porch. There is plenty of room for out-of-town visitors so I hope to fill this home with family and friends. The finishes are all “vintage”: the tile, the carpet, the 1974 blue toilet in the master ensuite. This is my dream come true! We didn’t want to pay for someone else’s idea of a renovation. We have our own vision for this home. (Plus, it means that we can still add value to the property.)

The lot is lovely and large – about 50 x 175 – complete with what looks like an original cow fence at the front. (We are keeping that for sure!) The backyard is big enough for Khailee and every canine she has ever met to run around freely.

But let’s be honest, the best part of the house is actually the basement and the garage. Why? Well the basement will be converted into a 2 bedroom apartment. With some flooring and serious upgrades to the existing barely-there bathroom and decent-sized kitchen, we will be able to transform this into a rental and share our abundance of space with others who need a place to live. The two-car garage boasts a loft area which will also be done up to the nines as a bachelor apartment for my brother-in-law. Everyone wins!

So when do we move into the Nest? Not until December as we offered a long closing to make things more convenient for the Seller.  But that’s ok because we have plenty to do in the interim. We’ve got measurements, mood boards, and photos to help us plan and a long list of materials to source and contractors to book. Let’s go!

Here comes the neighbourhood

After 3 years of house dreaming, 4 months of window shopping and 8 months of active house hunting, it is time to STOP!

Because….we found our home!

The view of downtown Toronto from the shoreline of Colonel Samuel Smith park.
The view of downtown Toronto from the shoreline of Colonel Samuel Smith park.
The house – which I will share more about in a couple million more posts – seems like it was almost designed with us in mind. It is a sprawling property, a block from the lake, a 10 minute walk from the beach, a short morning jog (with Khailee, of course) from gorgeous shoreline and greenspace, on a sleepy street in Toronto’s west end community of Long Branch.

The waterfront at Long Branch Park.

Eons ago, a fella named Colonel Samuel Smith of the Queen’s Rangers regiment (now known as Queen’s York Rangers), was gifted a large parcel of land  for his service to the cause (he was a loyalist).  In the 1880’s, James Eastwood purchased the land from Col Smith’s son and sold off a portion of it to a development group who envisioned it to become a summer resort with a sub-division of cottage properties. The hope was to offer a getaway for the many folks who didn’t own cottage properties north of present day Toronto. It eventually evolved into exactly that but under the ownership of the Wilkie Brothers in 1886 and was called Long Branch Park. Some accounts claiming that it was named after Long Branch, New Jersey which was apparently a very happening vacation spot.  Since at this time there were no major roads, highways or rail lines in place, cottage dwellers and other vacationers staying at the Long Branch Hotel would travel by steamboat from downtown Toronto to Long Branch Park.  Not long after this time a post office popped up to serve the summer resort community and slowly but surely, that large parcel of land was further sub-divided and was renamed a village in 1930.  Today, Long Branch covers the area of south Etobicoke from Lake Ontario north to the Canadian National railway with a western boundary of Marie Curtis Park and an eastern boundary of Twenty Third Street.

The area of Long Branch outlined with a dotted line.
There is plenty more to discover in our new community and a lovely Sunday bike ride was just the thing to get better acquainted with the tree-lined streets, businesses and people.  As for the house itself, it’s a project. But we are excited to be busy beavers and grow into the home of our dreams.

#14 Landscape the front yard

#14 Landscape the front yard

For as long as I have lived in Roncesvalles, I have hated the front yard of our house. Based on all of the constant weeding that needed to be done each spring/summer, clearly the previous owners never bothered to do any landscaping or maintenance. Can I blame them? Living adjacent to a public alley way on the other side of restaurants, bakeries, fresh markets, etc… has its obvious downside. People dump garbage, broken tvs, take out food leftovers, dog crap, etc… on your yard just because it’s there. But I hesitate to adopt the mentality that just because others don’t respect your property, you shouldn’t bother to maintain it.

So after this debacle earlier in the summer, both my brother-in-law and I proceeded to weed two more times before finally getting the yard done. We weeded. And tilled. Then dug down a few inches and peeled back layers of soil. We laid a mesh weed barrier. Poured new top soil over it. Covered that with cedar wood chips. And placed a few flagstones for a path to the main walkway.

Of course all of this was done BEFORE the roofer finally got around to completing his work. As a result, some of our efforts were undermined and the weeds fought back. Also, one of our Muskoka granite flagstones mysteriously went missing. Even still it is a great improvement. Mega props to Peter for his willingness to muck around in the dirt, dust and weeds for numerous hot and humid summer days.

Although I am crossing this goal off my list, I am looking forward to adding a few shrubs and plants along the perimeter of the yard come Spring for a little dressing.  In the meantime, I have my porch planters. Honestly, there is nothing better than a container garden. And these containers are ready for winter.

#14 is done!

#5 Buy ‘grown up’ chairs

#5 Buy ‘grown up’ chairs

After spending nearly a YEAR looking for a pair of slipper chairs to add seating to our living room, I decided that it was a do or die situation. You see, when you have lived your life with a student’s mentality, it can be a struggle to move beyond that…away from the embarrassing junky yet functional dorm room furniture….toward the grown-up furniture.

Over the course of a year, I looked at HUNDREDS of chairs. And invested plenty of hours in this endeavour. So many chairs. So many vetoed.  The last bit of seating we purchased was a couch. It was inexpensive and ideal…at first. But little did we know that it couldn’t actually get into the house through the front door and up the twisted staircase. Nope. Instead it took 4 people to hoist it up over the back balcony and onto the second floor.

Chairs are infinitely easier to move, I think. And these chairs  – I would be proud to have in my home for the next decade.

#5 is done!

Seeing stars

I am back from my blogging hiatus and am hoping to spread a little holiday cheer. The last two weeks have been rough. There is no doubt about that but life goes on… The holiday season is upon us and the snow has settled on the ground. What better time than this weekend to deck the halls (fa la la la la).

This year, Mike and I managed to put up the Christmas tree without arguing or cursing. Well done us! (I will share more photos of the tree once it is fully trimmed. I have a few more embellishments to add.) It smells divine, by the way. Even passers-by commented on the scent of our evergreen as Mike and I toted it up Roncesvalles Ave. 🙂

Tonight, Mike and I begin our holiday festivities with a family dinner. This year, we will be spending Christmas and Boxing Day on the blessed snowy prairies. So we are starting early to ensure we are able to spend time with friends and Toronto family before we leave.

In 2009, I spent hours preparing and posting two holiday gift guides: Inspired Holiday Gift Guide and Gifts for the Generations. That was fun but this year, I’ve decided that there are so many amazing gift guides online that I’m gonna sit this one out.  (One of my favourite sites for gift ideas is Instead, I will be participating in Reverb#10 to “reflect on this year & manifest what’s next”.  Stay tuned for that.


Now it is time to buckle down and get all that big bad work done before the holidays. This weekend will mark our 3rd annual Roncesvalles Village holiday food drive and we are busy preparing. If you can spare an hour to help out, we’d love to have you. Details can be found here.

Over and out.


Let there be light

Do you notice anything different in our living room?

No? How about now?

Yes! We have NEW light fixtures. After 2 years of skyrocketing hydro bills and generally contributing to the problem (versus the solution), we have finally gotten rid of our halogen light fixtures (see photo). Not to mention, we have increased our Style Quotient by at least 50 points. I love the simplicity of these drum fixtures. They are clean, minimalist and filter light all around. At first, all of the light was overwhelming until we realized we had become used to such concentrated light with the old fixtures. (Basically we had become accustomed to cave lighting.) Best of all, these new fixtures use an input of 26 watts to deliver an output of 120 watts in total. No one can deny that is amazing value.

Now check out the kitchen.

Cool huh? Now technically this fixture is designed for an island because it has a pot rack on which you can hang pots. But we did a bit of MacGyvering and made it into a shorter pendant fixture. Doesn’t it look wonderfully industrial? Mike picked it out and I think he did a marvelous job. Not to mention all of his amazing efforts as our unofficial resident electrician. Old wires in an old house can be frustrating (we learned) but everything got connected….eventually.

A colourful girl living in a beige world

It’s true, I’ve discovered. I am a colourful girl living in a beige world.

Last night, on my way home from a full-day of sprouting, I paused for a little shopping on Queen St W. Remember the other day how I mentioned that I have a home improvement list stretching back to almost two years? I am pursuing that list with a vengeance. It feels good to put some serious pow behind it. One of my BIG lingering to-dos includes finding rugs for various floor surfaces in the house.  Although we are minimalists, sometimes a great rug can make for a completed room and some really happy feet.

This rug from Urban Outfitters really spoke to me. Nevermind spoke – it sang a whole serenade to me in the store!

Well this rug may be the most hated rug that ever lived.

My husband arrived at home and within seconds of catching a glance at it, he took me by the hand on a tour of our living room to first show me the brilliant design choices I have made in the past. He basically said: you have great taste, even if eclectic, but this rug is horrible. Well boo-frickin’-hoo!

Maybe it isn’t your cup of tea but I like it because it is so bright and colourful. I also like that it is the ideal size for the space. And it doesn’t blend in. Everything in that room (and for that matter, the rest of the house) is neutral – beige, white, black or brown. My design aesthetic has always been – you either go for neutrals on the walls and colourful decor/furnishings or you go for colour on the walls and neutral decor/furnishings. I think the floor, walls and furnishings in the room above provide the perfect canvas for a pop of colour. This rug has colour. Just like the colourful spines of the books that contrast and pop against the black of the bookcase on which they sit.

I’m not sure what the fate of this rug is but I think my feelings about it are best summed up in this statement made by Mike. He said: “This isn’t a rug, it is a painting!”

Yes. Exactly.