Thursday, August 4, 2011

Renovating a Modest Home

The original Fixer-Upper
I have been doing a little painting lately.  The kind where you make the wall all one colour, not the kind where you create an image on canvas.  Anyway, it has got me thinking in the renovating mindset again.  We bought a fixer-upper in 1993 to be our starter home, with the plan to move to a larger home when children came along.  Well, in the meantime we tore walls down, moved doors, tiled, replaced windows, built cabinets, painted, carpeted, renovated to our hearts content.  Then we had 2 kids.  Raising 2 kids in a 2 bedroom house certainly can be done.  I have met the people who were raised in this house in the 1960's and they had 5 kids, so I don't know what I am whining about.  But we were starting to feel cramped.

The kitchen was approx 11' x 11' including cabinets and eating area.  We had a three foot round table that sat in the middle of the floor and there was space for 2 chairs to push under it.  The high chair we kept in the living room and moved in for each meal.  When we had company we wedged everyone in on stacking stools and when it was time to take the pie out of the oven, someone had to move.  As did the person leaning against the fridge.  But hey, we were a close family and we lived indoors and it was ours and it was paid for.

The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really LiveOnce our second child was out of a high chair we decided it was time to look for a new house.  So we looked around at the listings, and realized that the market was such that for what we could afford to spend over and above our equity, we were going to be buying a 3 bedroom... fixer-upper.  sigh.  We didn't have the heart to start all over with several years of scrimping and work just to get another bedroom for our home.  So we went back to the drawing board.  I was inspired by a book by Sarah Susanka, "The Not So Big House", an architect who designs interesting, useful, and thoughtful homes, not necessarily monster huge mansions.  Don't be fooled, this kind of craftsmanship and design would likely cost more than just building a massive box and covering the walls in gold leaf, and the floors in marble.  But where would you like to live?

I put my design education and experience to work and did an analysis of time spent by each member of the family and discovered that a) the room we spent the most time in was the kitchen, and b) the area of the house that caused the most stress was the back entry.  I decided that instead of spending a lot of money having a large house (OK even an average house would be a step up for us!), we were going to spend a modest amount of money and add on another 50% of the square feet of our home just in kitchen and entry!

Drilling piles for the addition
Mommy!  They're digging up Choc-ate!
So seven years ago we added on a large addition to the back of our house.  This makes our kitchen/dining area 23'x12' with a walk in pantry, dishwasher and 40' of cabinets, including 17' of windows. There is a back door into a porch area that includes space for lockers for the kids sports equipment, cabinets for crafting materials, a homework desk built-in under a window and a large closet for coats and boots.  It has made a huge difference in our home!  I can't say that it was easy, we completed a lot of the work ourselves, and even the part we hired didn't go as quickly as we had hoped.  We lived for 12 weeks without a functioning kitchen.  You really get to know your neighbours when you "redneck it" by bar-b-qing on the front lawn and eating on the front step all summer!

The old covered deck
The new back of the house
We removed the super sized deck we had on the west side of the "old house" and replaced it with a small, enclosed sun porch.  Our lot slopes off slightly to the back, and with the addition there wasn't room for a large deck.  To be honest, I don't miss it.  I spend more time on my sun porch, like an instant trip to the lake!  We have a lot of trees in our neighbourhood and the filtered sunlight is beautiful in the mid-day.  The sun porch is comfortable when the outdoor temp is about 10 degrees C in the sun so it really extends the season.  We designed the staircase to be wider with a large landing knowing that this is likely where I would be toting groceries into the house.  I hate trying to struggle into a doorway with parcels.  The doorways are 36" which is a little wider than standard in residential construction.  The landing at the top of the stairs is large enough to house the bar-b-q so that we can cook outside year round without running the stairs.

The New House (first day of school the next year)
We added exterior lighting above the windows on the addition for a wall washing affect and used various colours of siding and trim to create depth and interest on the house.  The only splurge was the windows, as Wayne was working for a glass company at the time and got us an amazing deal on the windows!  The rest of the house was built using very ordinary materials, but in a thoughtful way.  I really think that good design doesn't have to cost more, but it gives you more value year after year.

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