Hannah's room: wallpaper removal & paint

The first time we walked through this house, we knew this room would be Hannah's. It was the only room with its own secret hideout after all...

We're re-using most of the furniture from her old bedroom, but Hannah is old enough to have opinions about how she'd like her room to look, and has repeatedly requested a "rainbow room". It's not clear exactly what she means, but I'm interpreting it as a request for lots of colour. She was adamant that her walls be either pink or purple, so I picked out several paint chips and she chose Behr's 'Blowing Kisses', a pretty pastel pink. Before we could start painting though, we had a wall of wallpaper to remove.

Hannah, my mom and I ripped the paper off using a spackle knife to get it started; it came off pretty easily in mostly large strips. I took the picture below just after we finished, with the backing paper and glue still to go.

My mom took Hannah to her house for the night, and I removed the rest of the paper and glue using this method. The directions weren't clear on how much of each ingredient to use, but I combined around 1.5L of hot water, 1 cup of vinegar, a generous squirt of dish soap, and a good shake of baking soda (I'd guess around 2 tablespoons?), and that worked well for me.

I wet the wall in sections with a rag, then used my spackle knife to scrape the paper off the wall. The top left-hand picture is of the glue + backing after I started wetting it, and the top right-hand picture is of that same section removed. I was surprised by how easily the paper came off, and after an hour or so I was done. Of course, there was still glue residue on the wall, so I wiped it down - twice - before painting.

I used CIL Premium paint + primer in a satin sheen (this one) colour-matched to Behr's 'Blowing Kisses'. It's definitely pink, but that's what Hannah wanted, and it's surprisingly soothing in person.

After the painting was done, I went to Patch Halifax to find some curtain fabric. The fabric I chose is from Sarah Watts' August collection for Cotton + Steel and I can't wait to see it in the room.

I'm pretty thrilled with my weekend progress - it feels good to be DIY-ing again!


Kitchen: Before

Introducing, our new kitchen:

We really like that it's spacious, the layout is good, and the cupboards are in great shape. Actually, everything is in great shape (just not our style). Oh, and that Thermador dishwasher? The previous homeowner won it in a Saltscapes Magazine recipe contest! After five years of living without a dishwasher, we got one serious upgrade.

I'm planning to paint the cabinets and replace the hardware; a new sink, faucet, countertops and backsplash are also on my list.

There's a large, open space to the right of the kitchen and a small dining room to the left. We're not really formal dining room people, so we're using the dining room as a playroom, and this space as our dining room. The door you see in the photo above leads to a small pantry closet. We're thinking about getting rid of the closet and opening up the wall to create an entrance into the living room.

We really loved the open shelving in our previous kitchen, so I'd like to add a couple of shelves for our everyday dishes, and update the light fixtures too.

We're also planning to replace the flooring and paint, paint, paint.

I have lots of ideas in mind, but I'm trying to be patient and spend more time planning this time around. My goal is to make changes that we'll love for years to come, while staying true to our house's style. I rounded up a few images of 70s kitchens for inspiration, and I've been pinning ideas for the new house here.

70s kitchens via House Beautiful


Our new house

As I mentioned in my last post, we're pretty excited about the new house. Surfing real estate listings is one of my favourite pastimes, but I started thinking about moving in earnest late last summer, when I stumbled across a fixer-upper in a great location, at a great price. We went to see it a couple of times, brought our go-to contractor in for a look, and even had a real estate agent walk through our house, but ultimately decided the fixer-upper was too big a renovation at not a great enough price.

A few weeks later, we turned down a new-to-me street a few blocks from our house and I fell in love. I think it was the tall, leafy trees lining the street that did me in. Anyway, I remember turning to Adam and saying, "I would love to live here."

In early October, our future house came on the market. It had everything we were looking for: 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a finished basement, great deck, mature landscaping (and virtually no lawn to mow!), a paved driveway, and a kitchen we could work with. Sure, it was in need of updating, but did I mention the huge laundry room on the second floor? I convinced Adam that we should at least go see it in early November. We agreed that we both really liked the house, but we were nowhere near having our house ready to put on the market. So we waited.

We went to see the house again in December, and I asked the real estate agent if the sellers would be open to an offer conditional on us selling our home. They were.

After the holidays, we got to work on a few lingering projects, and in late January we put our house on the market and made an offer on our future house. After some negotiation, our offer was accepted, and we had until mid-April to sell our house. It was stressful, especially after the first offer on our house fell through, but we tried to remind ourselves that if it didn't work out, it just wasn't meant to be.

In the end, the challenges we faced as sellers in a slow market became opportunities for us as buyers. Five years ago, we wouldn't have dreamed of making an offer conditional on the sale of our home. And we wouldn't have been able to buy our new house at our price, even with the amount of updating it requires.

In total, it took approximately six months from the time we first saw the house to the day we actually moved in (last Saturday!). In some ways, it feels like the process took forever. In other ways, it feels like it all happened very fast.

The sellers accompanied us on the final walk-through of the house, and we could tell it was an emotional experience for them. They built the house nearly 40 years ago, and it was a special experience to get to meet them and to hear some of their stories about the house. Their son left us a letter and a very nice bottle of scotch, and we opened the letter on move-in day. We feel very lucky to live in a house that meant so much to their family, and we're excited to make our own memories here over the next 40 years!


Home Ownership: Three things I've learned

Yes, we're moving!

After five years in our roughly 1,200 sq. ft. house, we're ready for a little more space. I'll share more about where we're going and how it happened in a future post, but first I wanted to talk about some of the things we've learned over the past five years of home ownership. We got some important things right, but there are also some things we plan to do differently the second time around.

Listing photo, dining room

1. A house isn't a great investment.

Obviously I can only speak to the housing market in Halifax, which has changed a lot since we bought our house. We bought when prices were high, and there was a sense that interest rates might go up any day. Now interest rates are even lower than when we bought, and many buyers are waiting to see how low prices will go. It's a buyer's market. The homes that are selling are not only priced right, they're move-in ready. We made sure that our house met both of these criteria when we listed, and we feel extremely lucky that we were able to sell as quickly as we did (especially in winter). We accepted an offer after less than a week on the market, and although it ultimately fell through (whomp, whomp), we happily accepted another (higher) offer a few weeks later. I think we'll recover the money we invested in the house (minus our labour), but it's not exactly the ROI we envisioned when we bought the house (ha, we were so naive!).

Listing photo, living room

Through this experience, I've learned that a lot of factors affect your ROI when it comes to selling your house, and many of them are outside your control. Maybe we would be in the same place financially if we had saved our money and continued renting for the past five years. Or maybe not. Of course, we definitely wouldn't have the DIY skills and knowledge we've developed over the past five years, or the same understanding of what we really want and need in a home (for example, it turns out we're deck/patio people, not yard people). The thing is, I never loved our current house; I viewed it as an investment that would eventually allow us to buy a house we love. I would never approach buying a house as an investment again.

We love our new house. It needs a ton of work (more on that later), but the size is right, we love the neighbourhood, and the house has everything - or at least the potential for everything - we're looking for in a home. Are we making a good investment? I hope so, but that's secondary to it being a house we're excited to call home.

Listing photo, kitchen

2. Buy less house than you can afford.

One of the things we did get right was buying a lot less house than we could afford. That meant our house needed a lot of work when we bought it, but we were young and full of energy, and I can honestly say I've enjoyed the process of fixing it up over the past 5 years. Buying less house than we could afford allowed us to pay for improvements as we made them, and still be able to take vacations, eat out, and do all of the other things we like to do along the way. And, when you're done making improvements, you're not stuck paying for them for the next 15 years - you can enjoy the perks of a low mortgage payment instead.

Even though we swore we weren't going to buy another fixer-upper, we accidentally fell in love with one, so it looks like we're going to do it all over again. Our new house is a one owner home, which in this case means it's outdated and well-maintained. Just what I like.

Listing photo, master bedroom

3. Good decorating takes a long time.

When we bought our current house, it was in such bad shape that we really couldn't move in without making some improvements right away. While our new house is dated, the owners have done an incredible job maintaining it over the years, and this time our plan is to wait a little longer before we start making changes. We learned with our current house that jumping in to make changes right away isn't always the best approach; it takes time to get to know a space and to figure out how you'll really use it. And there's the cost of fixing all those little decorating mistakes to think about, too (oh, the money I've wasted because I just couldn't wait!).

So while I have lots of ideas for the new house, I want to spend more time planning and dreaming to ensure the changes we make are right for us in the short- and long-term. I also don't want extra space (we're nearly doubling our square footage) to become an excuse to amass stuff we really don't need. One of the great things about living in a small house is that you literally don't have room for stuff you don't need. We received a copy of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for Christmas, and it inspired me to even further declutter our home. As I pack for our move, I'm trying to apply her principles to limit what we take with us, but I'm nervous about "crap creep" (my term) in the new house :)

Listing photo, basement playroom

I borrowed several design and decorating books from the library, including one called The Simple Home, that I'm really enjoying. This section in particular struck me, and reminds me of the first step in the KonMari method:

A simple home is not something you buy or assemble; it is something that you discover within yourself. The next time you are thinking about a home project, don't grab for the glossy design magazines and books (except this one, of course). Instead, you might slow down and begin a "place journal," a quiet, written diary of the feelings, sounds, and movement in your envisioned den or porch or cabin. Write a narrative of what it would feel like to walk into that room after being away for several months. How would it feel on a dark winter night or on the first day of spring? What are the furnishings and activities in such a place? Make a list of adjectives. You can also think of a room that you loved as a child. Ask yourself the same questions and write about it. This is the process of discovering the simple home within you. It's not so much about what you want as who you are.


DIY stairs: Before & After

Happy hump day! The good is news is that I finished the basement stairs, the bad news is that all I have are these crappy iPhone pics to prove it. Apparently it's been so long since I've blogged that I misplaced my camera's memory card. Seriously, I can't find that thing anywhere!

I'm thrilled with how the stairs turned out, especially knowing that the entire thing - treads, risers, runners - cost less than $200. We used particle board treads, which remain a little rough to the touch after painting. I wouldn't recommend particle board on a main staircase, but since these steps lead to Adam's teaching studio and Hannah's playroom in the basement, the finish is perfect for us - no worrying about slips or falls, even if the kids veer off the runner. 

I love the runner. I wish I'd been able to purchase a third to continue the look to the very top of the stairs, but these are basement stairs, so it's really no big deal. I used a measuring tape to make sure the runner was centered, then stapled it in place under the lip of each stair, and where the treads and risers meet. The runner has its own rubber backing, so it's holding in place well, and I was able to get a nice tight fit with my staples. I used silver, heavy-duty staples and they're not noticeable at all.

I added new baseboards at the base of the stairs - a small, but noticeable improvement in my opinion. I still need to repaint the floor, but I haven't had a chance to get to the store for paint just yet. Even with the scratched-up floor, it's a huge improvement from where we started:

The photo above always makes me feel a teeny bit bad for getting rid of Henry's sleeping spot, ha!


DIY stair makeover: basement edition

When we remodeled our stairs in late 2013, we hired professionals to do all the important, tricky stuff - like opening up the wall and installing a new header, and ripping out the old stairs and installing new stringers - but we asked them to install temporary treads and risers on both staircases. At the time, we were still trying to decide between continuing the hardwood we installed upstairs onto the main floor or doing something entirely different (spoiler alert: we did something different). And hey, we're always up for a new DIY challenge.

In the spring of 2014, we installed permanent treads and risers leading upstairs, which we painted and stained ourselves. But the basement steps? Well, as of this weekend, they still looked like this:

I know. These pictures make me cringe, but if I'm being honest, we stopped noticing the stairs after awhile (kind of like that pile of dirty laundry). They were disgusting, but functional.

Over the weekend, we FINALLY bought permanent treads and risers, and I installed them while Adam found various ways to distract Hannah. I'm no expert, but since the treads and risers I installed upstairs still look great two years later, I can at least offer some insight into what's worked for me.

I measured each step and cut my tread and riser to be a half inch longer than the opening. Then I angled the tread or riser in place so that it was flush against one wall, and marked the tread or riser by dragging my scribe against the wall (you can see a picture of my "scribe" in this post). This allowed me to trim an additional 1/4-inch off each side of the tread or riser, at an angle that exactly matched the wall. The last step is to screw the step into the stringers (riser first, then tread). You can see how I was working my way down the staircase in the picture above, and the finished product below.

Last time I painted and stained my treads and risers before I installed them, but since we're planning to paint these steps and install a runner, I wanted to purchase the runner first.

I found these simple striped runners at JYSK for only $9.99 a piece. I shared this picture on Instagram and asked for paint colour suggestions, but after reviewing the stairs I've pinned over the years, I noticed a definite trend:

I've started painting and caulking the stairs, and I'm excited to tackle the runner. Patching and painting the walls, adding new baseboards at the bottom of the stairs, and re-painting the floor are also on my to-do list. Let's see if I can get it all done this week!


2015: Where we went, what we did

As 2015 draws to a close, it's time to post a round-up of my favourite experiences from the year (you can see last year's round-up here). We did a fair bit of travelling in 2015, so it was fun to look back at my photos and collect a few here - what a year!

We had a great visit with one of my best friends during a surprisingly snowy weekend in late March. Our snowshoe through Hemlock Ravine Park is one of my favourite memories from her visit.

In June, I spent a solo weekend in gorgeous Nice, France, followed by a week-long conference in the Côte d'Azur. It was an unexpected trip, and one I still can't believe I got to take. It always makes me smile when I think about how stiff my legs were each morning from all the walking I did around Nice.

We spent a week enjoying the cottage life in our beautiful province, which included hikes around Five Islands Provincial Park and Thomas' Cove, a visit to That Dutchman's Cheese Farm, searching for dinosaur fossils at Wasson Bluff , and way too many ice cream cones at Masstown Market.

In August, we made our annual trek to Massachusetts to visit family and friends. From there, we took the train to NYC, where we rented an apartment and hung out in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighbourhood for a few days while Adam spent some time working with a local producer.

From Brooklyn, we flew to Wisconsin to visit my father. He and his wife showed us a great time, including day trips to Bookworm Gardens and Lambeau Field, and even a swim in Lake Michigan.

We ended our trip with a visit to Chicago, one of my bucket list cities. We had a great time and packed a lot into our short visit, especially with a three year-old in tow. Adam and I would love to come back someday - adults-only - to see more of the city and experience some nightlife.

Speaking of adults-only, we ended our summer with a trip to Prince Edward Island to see one of Adam's bandmates get married. After a busy summer, it was nice to get some 'us time' - and sleep in, of course :)

Last month I spent a couple of days in Ottawa for work, and arrived early so I could visit one of my best friends and her family, including meeting her new baby and seeing her beautiful home for the first time. We've been friends since elementary school and I love that we can go months without seeing one another and immediately pick up where we left off.

Phew! We experienced a lot in 2015, and I'm excited to find out what 2016 has in store. I've already booked a flight for a girls trip to San Francisco - another bucket list city - and I can't wait to start planning a few adventures for the whole family!
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