Sunday, January 29, 2012

The week we were ALMOST on Sarah Richardson's "Design 101"

Last week, I signed into Facebook and saw this post by "Sarah's House" (you know, as in the one and only, incredibly-talented, continues-to-amaze-me, Sarah Richardson) in my newsfeed:

Do you live in Toronto? Sorry to all the US/Aus/International fans.... Do you have an awful, dated, drab room that needs some help from Sarah 101? We're looking for our very last episode of the season, and need a single room that is cluttered and chaotic, with no cohesive design vision, and that requires a DECORATING makeover (no renovation, no combined rooms (like lr/dr)). Send room photos, your budget, and a wish list to ASAP! Good luck!

After a quick moment of panic, and I searched my computer for ANY photos of our basement, found one, and quickly sent off an email.  When I see "ASAP", I don't mess around.

Almost 100 people commented on that post, and most within the first 2 hours or so.  So I figured they'd be getting seriously bombarded by emails too.  Well, much to my surprise, I got a response.   I was sent an application form, and was again asked to send that back "ASAP" too.  Agh!

I got to work on the 4-page document very quickly, and pleaded my case for how badly our basement needed some love and attention.  In response to what would make the episode interesting, I had lots of draws - tight stairwell, low ceiling, potential water problem means nothing goes on the floor.  I pointed out how relevant all of this is to so many urban-dwellers, especially those in older homes, who have attempted to turn their basement into additional living space.

I also quickly took a bunch more photos of the basement so that I could send more angles.

I figured my application would be lost in the masses, and didn't even expect a "thank you", so I was very surprised when I got a response that it had been "passed on to Sarah and her design team".  Seriously?  That threw me into another panic, just knowing that Sarah Richardson herself might be looking at pictures of MY house!?!

Well I didn't hear back from them over the weekend, and so I decided to write and ask for an update on the Monday.  I really was skeptical - I still presumed I was one of hundreds of applications.  So you can imagine how surprised I was, when I got another response, this time telling me that we had not been chosen.... but that ours had been put forward with TWO others, and a different applicant was chosen.  TWO???  Only TWO???  We were THAT close?  I couldn't believe it.  I almost wish I heard we were put forward with 167 others, because then I would know I really didn't stand a chance.

So last week goes down as the week I was THISCLOSE to having my basement TV Room/Office designed by Sarah Richardson.

That sentence doesn't even sound real, does it?

In honour of almost transpired, here are a few of my favourite Sarah Richardson projects:

You've seen what this woman can do to a laundry room... I don't even want to think what she could have done to our basement TV room!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My kind of day

Today Matt and I had what I declared was "such a fun day!".  Matt maybe didn't feel quite as enamoured with the activities as I did, but he was pretty obliging.  It might have helped that we started the day with a delicious brunch.  One of my favourite weekend activities.

It was fun, because after brunch, we checked out the MUCH-anticipated and long-awaited CB2 store that opened at Queen & Bathurst, in the old Big Bop space.  The official grand opening was yesterday, but the store was still jam-packed with eager furniture buyers today, and it was difficult to see the goods through the crowds.

It's no secret that I already love CB2, especially since that is where I found the perfect dining room table for our tiny little home.

But this is the first CB2 store to open in Toronto, and it was nice to finally see some of the accessories and furnishings in person, since I've ogled over them online for ages.  Here are just a few of the things I loved:

At the store, these stacking ring vases were displayed with ferns
 wrapped through them, and it looked so simple and beautiful.

Perfect colours for our living room.

I thought these yellow towels would look amazing
in our entirely black & white bathroom.

Matt wanted these bulletin boards for over our
soon-to-be basement desk

I came away with a picture frame, which is far less damage than I could have done to my bank account!  We'll be hanging a wedding photo in it.

After CB2, we decided to check out West Elm bed frames.  We figured the crowds there would be far smaller, since everyone in the city was at CB2!  We were right.

But enroute to West Elm, we noticed Open House signs for some of the new condo buildings in Liberty Village.  I'm always curious to see what is available in that neighbourhood, since that is where our rental condo is.  Since we weren't in a rush, we decided to check out what was available.  First we visited a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo with parking and 2 east-facing balconies, listed for $494,000.  Then we visited a 500-square foot studio with parking, locker, and a Juliette balcony overlooking the highway, listed for $275,000.  Both were in buildings with a pool, a gym, and lots of other great amenities.  It was so much fun to see what works and doesn't work with each of the layouts, and what your money will get you in the neighbourhood.  It's so interesting to compare how our condo compares, and also to see the value of the area improving.

After all that fun, Matt made Sloppy Joe's for dinner, and we relaxed in front of a movie while we ate.  My kind of day!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Selling a house in the dark

A few months after we purchased our house, another similar one sold down the street.  Same layout, same style, but this one hadn't been updated to the same extent that ours had.  Our new neighbourhood has many post-war bungalows still inhabited by their original owners.  As those owners are now getting older, the houses are often purchased by young couples and new families, and either updated for their own use, or flipped and sold again. 

This particular house down the street appeared to be a similar case.  We weren't surprised to see the entire home under major renovation after the sale, and it was evident they were adding a second storey.

The house before the renovation & addition

I've been watching eagerly over the past year, to see how it turns out, and hoping desperately that they would do a nice job, instead of turning it into some drippy, gaudy monster home that doesn't suit the neighbourhood.  Overall, I was pretty happy with what they've done, and I think it really improves the street. 

A few weeks before Christmas, I was walking down the street, and noticed that a For Sale sign had been posted!  I was immediately beyond excited to go home and check out the MLS listing.  I wanted to see pictures of the inside and to see what the asking price was.  The only thing that got me more excited, was to notice that there was also an Open House sign!  According to the sign, there was 5 minutes left until it ended, so I rushed through the front door to check it out. 

I was impressed with the house.  While there are some finishes that don't suit my own personal preferences, overall the renovation was done beautifully.  Most impressive was that they had dug out the basement to increase the ceiling height, and they'd also added a walkout from the basement to the backyard.  I was also envious of the mudroom, and the attached garage.  On the flip side, I was left wondering where a family with a house this big would store all their seasonal decorations and other miscellaneous stuff, since the entire basement is finished and the garage is quite narrow.

The house after the renovation & addition

In any case, I was excited to see it for sale, and anxious to find out how much it would sell for, since it will hopefully have an impact on the real estate of our entire street.

Now, I am not a licenced Real Estate Agent, and I can't claim to be an expert.  But here are some issues I foresee:
  • The Open House I attended was in early December, and the house was listed sometime around then.  I have to wonder how many people are buying houses at that time of year?  It was pure luck that I was able to attend the Open House that day - almost every Saturday in December is usually booked up for us, with Holiday parties and Christmas shopping.  I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, but wouldn't you rather sell your house when a greater pool of buyers is available?
  • After that first week on the market, it was really and truly the 2-week period surrounding Christmas, when I'm sure almost nobody is buying houses.  That means that the "Days on Market" were just accumulating, not due to lack of interest from prospective buyers, but just due to plain bad timing.  So by the time early January rolled around, and buyers were back on the streets, it could be perceived as a "stale listing".  Not cool.
  • The house is vacant, since it was a flip.  That means there are no lights on inside - or outside for that matter.  I think a wise agent and/or seller would have set up some lights on timers, to lure the attention of drivers-by.  In fact, I think an outside light is completely necessary, because even the For Sale sign is barely visible.
The house at night (where is it?)
I am intrigued now to see how quickly it will sell, and for what percentage of the asking price.  In a neighbourhood where 99%+ is typical, and bidding wars are common, I can't help but think that the agent and the seller have missed out here. 

Time will tell!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Blockbuster closures mean more coffee for me?

When I was a kid, I remember I used to get really excited when an older couple would move out of the neighbourhood - I would watch with major anticipation as the new neighbours' moving truck arrived, trying to determine whether there was a young kid and prospective friend moving in.

Well nowadays I get a similar excitement, but for retail!  I can't help but wonder, when one store closes, what new retailer will move in?

With Blockbuster shutting down for business over the past year, their retail locations have closed all over the city (more than 100 in the GTA).  One such location was in a plaza very near our home, and I've been anxiously awaiting signage to indicate what will be snatching up that space.  It's a desirable location - surrounded by Sobeys, Shoppers Drug Mart, Pier 1, LCBO, Pizza Pizza, Subway, and other popular chain retailers.

125 The Queensway
Don't be fooled by the seemingly empty parking lot.  This parking lot is FULL
on weeknights and weekends.  The Google Streetview staff clearly work 9-5!

I wonder if Starbucks is interested?  As you might remember, I'm eagerly waiting for Starbucks to arrive in our neighbourhood.

I have read that the spaces are a bit awkward to lease. At about 5,000-6,000 square feet each, they are too small for a typical drug store, and a bit big for fast-food restaurants. But the stand-alone pads are easily divisible, and at 3,000 square feet each, two halves would be much easier to lease.

I was at the site of another closed Blockbuster this past weekend, near our rental condo in Liberty Village.  I noticed the old Blockbuster space there has signage announcing an incoming Kitchen Stuff Plus store.  This seems like an ideal retailer for the neighbourhood, and a great location for the store.  The neighbourhood is primarily inhabited by young singles and couples living in new condos.  So the affordable kitchen supplies, gifts, and budget-friendly decor and furnishings will be welcome.  Past the western edge of Liberty Village, the neighbourhood is also surrounded by lower-income housing and rental apartments, so I imagine that demographic also contributes to the target market.  The plaza is well established (yes, it already has a Starbucks), with other neighbours including West Elm, LCBO, Metro grocery store, Goodlife Fitness, Global Pet Foods, Running Room, Nice One Nails, TD Bank, Walking On a Cloud, Beer Boutique, restaurants and more.

The Liberty Village plaza (courtesy of Google Maps).  You should
see this parking lot on a Saturday!!  (Note that Bell has also left the plaza,
with LCBO expanding into that space)
So what will come to the old Blockbuster space near our home?  Has anyone noticed what has been taking up Blockbuster spaces elsewhere?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I must have been good in 2011!

I got the headboard I so desperately wanted!  Remember, this one?

It's currently sitting in a (HUGE) box at my in-laws' house, as that's where Matt had it delivered so that it would remain a surprise until Christmas.  And a surprise it was!  He actually sent me into the dining room to "get napkins" and while I was in there counting out enough for our brunch, his Dad called in to me "were any presents left in that room?".  I don't know how I failed to notice that I was standing beside the largest box ever, leaning against the wall in shiny wrapping paper.  I must have been tired!

Anyway, needless to say, I was thrilled!  A beautiful, warm, cozy bedroom is in my near future. 

There are a few problems though:

1) We have to get the headboard from Matt's parents house to our house.  The men seem to think it can be tied to the roof of my father-in-law's van.  I'm leaning towards renting a U-Haul for an hour or two, because I don't like the idea of my brand new beautiful headboard flying across the Gardiner Expressway.

2) We need a new bedframe, since the new headboard can't be attached to our current IKEA Malm bed.  I want something that's high enough off the ground to store stuff under.  And we only have a matress (no boxspring), so it has to be a platform/slat bed.  It also has to be nice enough to not require a bed skirt/dust ruffle.  They're okay, but I like the option of not having one.  The only suitable frame I've found so far, is this one, from West Elm:
"Tall Wood Bed Frame" from West Elm. Roughly $320 CDN. 15" tall.
Our mattress is not very high, but the one in the picture below looks comparable, and it still looks nice!  I like this darker colour too (it comes in two different colours: "chocolate" and "barley").

A bedframe like this is going to run us another $360+ with taxes though.  I thought by choosing just a headboard, that we'd save some money, but I guess I was wrong!  Does anyone have an alternative suggestion for where to find strong but budget-friendly bedframes in Toronto?

3) Our old bed had night tables attached to it, so as soon as we get rid of that bed, we are night-table-less. 

I really loved the idea of white nightables against a dark feature wall.  So as soon as I received the bed, I started scouring Kijiji listings for something I could work with.  I ended up buying two grubby old night tables which I HOPE I can turn into something great.   I'm already having doubts.

4) We have to find a new home for the old Malm bed.  It's not in the best shape, but it's definitely not dump material yet.

I better get moving on all this, as I'm sure Matt's parents would like their dining room back!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Floor Planning Software

With our office planning in full-swing, I've been experimenting with a few free floor plan programs I've found online.

IKEA Home Planner:

IKEA has a 3-D kitchen planner on their website.  I had to install something on my computer to make it work, but that was a breeze.

I figured since our office cabinets will most likely all be from the kitchen cabinet department, that it would work out well.  But unless I was doing it wrong (which I very well may have been), I couldn't seem to adjust the elevation of the cabinets.  For instance, I want the "over the fridge" cabinet to be located under a desk.  But I couldn't seem to get it lower than an "over the fridge" height.

The software started out alright, and for straightforward plans, it is probably fine.  But I abandoned this software due to frustration.  Maybe I was missing an obvious button/preference?

I did like that you can choose wall colours, floor colours, etc.


This one started out alright - I was able to add room dimensions and carpet fairly quickly.  But when I realized I couldn't customize the size of the furniture, I gave up right away.  Again, might have been doing something wrong, but I don't think so!

This one has proven to be the best so far.  Lots of customization available.  You can change the wall colours and the floor colour.  You can insert a standard piece of furniture (for instance and L-shaped sofa), and then change the dimensions and the colours.  So I was able to put together our basement TV Room and future office pretty accurately.  

There were a few hiccups - I tried adding a "wall shelf", and changing the elevation to 5' (as I would like to hang one approximately 5' off the ground).  But I guess the wall shelf is defaulted to already be a few feet off the ground (how many, I'm not sure), so the shelf went skyrocketing far above the ceiling height.  I had to play around with it to get it roughly where I wanted, and you'll notice in the screenshot that it's above the cabinets... so it's still not quite right.   I also tried to add wall cabinets below the counter/desk, and one appears (on the right), but struggled to get one on the left too.  This is a similar issue to the IKEA planner, but this one was easier to manipulate and play around with.

I love the 3-D views of this one.  It can be rotated to see it from all different angles.


I also tried Google Sketchup, but it seemed so elaborate that I didn't even bother delving into it.  I hear it's immensely capable.... but for this particular project I'm looking for ease and speed.

Have you tried any of these programs?  Or a different program?  Which have you had success with?