Write What You Woe

So it’s Saturday again. The house is relatively clean. The yard is somewhat under control, and, given the huge dump of rain last night, inaccessible. And I am faced with an entire day to accomplish something.

I could write. That sounds wonderful. I did have a tooth pulled two days ago, and the thought of spending a day inside my head, instead of grinding my jaw in some physical effort, perhaps with a bottle of wine – or whatever else happens to need finishing in the fridge – is nothing short of titillating.

IMG_1760But alas, from where I sit with my laptop, I cannot seem to avoid the pile of crap that is my desk, peeking at me from over my screen. How can I possibly string two thoughts together with that screaming at me. Worse, at the bottom of the heap, is my budget and banking file, sobbing woefully from neglect. I should work on that today.

But to do that, I have to wade through the mess, tidy and file, sign and read, and make room for the process that keeps this whole place running.

When I designed the cabinet that houses my desk, it was with the intent to also build a rolling cart that fits perfectly under the counter, perfectly embracing everything from pens and markers, to printer and paper. The cart rolls out when I’m working, and back in when I’m not, without my having to put everything away each time.

Of course, I could build the cart today. If the garage was cleaned out. My little home away from home got away from me again this summer, what with the distraction of a cross-country trip and all. It needs a dump run. And a lumber cart.

I have designed a perfect lumber cart that will hold and keep sorted all of the scrap lumber, piping, and sheet panels I have collected over the years. In fact, I have enough scrap lumber, piping, and sheet panels to build said cart. I just can’t get at it because it’s buried throughout the garage, unorganized, and wishing it had a nice cart on which to wait for my next burst of inspiration.

Thankfully, though, the drawings and materials list to build the lumber cart are easily at hand, buried somewhere on my desk. I will find them, as soon as I move everything into my new desk cart. Which I can build as soon as I clean out the garage. Which I will do as soon as I build the lumber cart.

In the end, it’s probably just as well that I have the incredibly impressive ability to type with my eyes closed.

A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I’ll go with white wine, though. Just in case I tip the glass while feeling around in the dark. I’m pretty sure the steam-cleaner’s in the garage, too.


Totally Overrated Home Design Ideas, Part II

As I confessed last week, I am addicted to the DIY channel. As much as it makes my kids uncomfortable to hear it, the DIY channel is my porn. I watch and watch, and eventually, I have to go work with some wood. I can’t help it. I have the tools. And the ideas. It’s a bit of a curse sometimes…

While I have some training and experience in the home reno ring, I also have a good eye for colour, practical design, and space. There are many professionals out there, and some pretty funky ideas, and I am usually fairly open-minded to designs that don’t exactly suit my personal taste. But there are trends – some emerging and some, thankfully, dying – that just don’t make a lot of sense. Like my take on indoor waste-of-money projects, here are some for your outdoor living spaces.

6 Worst Outdoor Home Design Fads

Fire Features. If you live in the city, beware the fire feature. outdoor fireMost municipal bylaws forbid open air burning. This includes all of the fire pits, fireplaces, chimineas, and the like. Sure you can buy them – who doesn’t want to make a little money off you. And you can go ahead and use them. But if your neighbours complain about smoke and stink, the fines can be hefty. And if your fire grows out of control, your homeowner’s insurance may not cover the damages. For some, the catch is that open air fires are allowed if you’re cooking food. But firemen aren’t stupid; you’ve been warned. The alternative to open air fires is the propane fire features and outdoor heaters. Consider carefully before investing in these. The cost of the fuel – when your guests will be more likely to opt for indoor comfort over mosquito infested cool summer evenings outside – could very well outweigh the beauty factor.

water featureWater Features. We’re not talking pools and hot tubs here; those toys have integrated cleaning systems and obvious utility. Features like ponds and fountains, however, usually don’t. They may look terrific when first installed – and who doesn’t love the feel of running water close by? – but without a filtration system or constant water replacement provision, the growth of algae and smell of stagnant water can make these backyard extras nothing but back-breaking extras. Before incorporating these beauties into your plans, make sure to thoroughly investigate both the work and cost involved in maintenance, repair, and winterization. You may end up opting for a simple birdbath!

Outdoor Furniture.Gone are the days when you could zip out to the store and pick up a simple patio set. patio furnitureNow we have fully furnished outdoor living spaces that rival our indoor decor. The plastic weaves and powdered metals are terrific weather proof materials, and, at a cost, can provide years of enjoyment. But throw in the cushions, floor mats, knick-knacks, and accessories, and you could end up paying more for storage than you did for the chairs. Even with new weather-friendly fabrics, soft decor should be stored out of the rain and worse. Which is fine if you’re expecting bad weather. But too many panicked trips through the yard stashing all your hard-earned goodies can take a toll on the enjoyment of your backyard space. Keep that in mind as you amass a different collection for each season.

mulchDecorative Rock and Mulch. You can fill an entire garden with beautiful bright white gravel, or fragrant cedar chips, or a sharp backdrop of black mulch. And it will look terrific, setting off the rainbow of pansies and petunias. But after a few good thunderstorms, a little wind, the odd goose and raccoon, and – oh blast! – the first autumnal avalanche of leaves, you’ll be wishing you’d filled in the gaps with something a lot easier to maintain. If you can’t rake it, blow it, or hose it, take lots of pictures while it’s fresh; a year from now, it’s going to take a lot of work to make it look like something you intended.

Outdoor Kitchens. You spend a lot of time, energy, and money keeping the inside of your house looking magazine ready. outdoor kitchenAnd it’s worth the effort with every compliment you receive. But build yourself an second kitchen outside, and you may find you’ve bitten off more than you can swallow. Outside, with the bugs and the cobwebs, critters and bird doody, your ‘kitchen’ counters will be begging for attention every time you want a burger. Keeping an outdoor fridge stocked and running, a second supply of dishes clean and handy, and the convenient exterior sink worthy of your food stuffs could put a kink in the strongest of marriages. He’ll see it as an extension of the kitchen. She’ll see it all as BBQ accessories. And the battle over who cleans it could be the end of it all.

paver patioPavers and Stone Pathways. Assuming you’ve enjoyed a professional installation and your walkways and patios are beautifully laid out and finished, maintenance of these features could catch you off guard. Sand-filled joints between stones don’t hold up well to constant and regular sweeping and hosing. Eventually, and sooner than you’d think, the lines become gaps filled with all kinds of wonderful and unwanted litter that will need some serious attention. But the biggest caution sign is covered in a thick layer of snow. If you’ve ever tried to shovel six inches of the white stuff off the irregular bumps of the stone walkway, you know the shoulder-jarring, back-wrenching, teeth-grinding pain of every step. Bottom line, if you’re going to have to clean it, go with the smooth stuff.

All in all, you can spend a LOT of hard earned cash on a home renovation. Just make sure you really think through the upgrades before you sign on the dotted line. Let me know what you think are the biggest renovation dollar guzzlers in the comment section. What’s the biggest reno regret you’ve ever suffered?

Check out last week’s

6 Worst Indoor Home Design Fads…

Totally Overrated Home Design Ideas

I am addicted to the DIY channel. I watch as yards and kitchens, bathrooms and basements are all transformed into works of art within a half hour, while everyone laughs and jokes, displaying countless feats of creativity and endless fountains of energy. The projects all come in under budget with the most enviable short schedules. Nobody ever needs a permit, and designer fees and revisions are all included in the price. I happily remove myself from a warm comfy bed, make myself a coffee, and park my butt in front of the tv before the teenagers roll out of bed on a Saturday morning. Inevitably, I can’t take it anymore, and I drag my ‘team’ to work on yet another weekend reno project.

The DIY channel is my porn.

But while the average homeowner now cavalierly throws around words and phrases like ambiance, accent wall, and wow factor, and we now have spaces instead of rooms, there are a handful of home design ideas that just don’t make a lot of sense. People are paying gobs of money for things that will never give the homeowners the kind of rosy feelings they’re expecting. Let me save you a few bucks.

6 Worst Indoor Home Design Fads

Soaker Tubs. A giant tub can take a bathroom from drab to fab for anywhere from $500 and up. soaker tubAcrylic, cast, steel, jets, lights, and some very cool fixtures, all make for some unique and beautiful designs. But this is one of those things that everyone wants that, like the treadmill and the food processor, ends up collecting dust in a corner of virtually every home it graces. Unless you’re already a tub addict – the rare bather who actually pulls out the bubbles, wine, and candles, so you can soak portions of your achy body in an old 5′ piece o’ crap tub – chances are, you’ll use the new pool-sized bucket once or twice before it becomes a glorified laundry hamper. Consider the cost and time of providing up to 500 litres of steaming hot water, at least once a week, times the number of family members who’ll be begging for it, and you might find the cost outweighs the value.

floor compareHardwood Floors. There a few architectural features more alluring and comforting than an original, well-kept, hardwood floor in a century home that still holds its character and charm. The years of wear and tear give these masterpieces their beauty. They were made of solid wood strips, installed by craftsmen who did nothing but flooring. And if they were lucky, they were babied and refinished, sanded to perfection and waxed to a mirror finish. If you ever have the chance at a home with this feature, it’s worth every penny. But do not confuse today’s hardwoods with these antique beauties. Hardwood flooring today is beautifully engineered, easy to install (for a professional,) and sport finishes to rival some of the best examples of perfection out there. But don’t overlook the laminates! These products are easier to install, made from renewable resources, are incredibly durable, and have features such as bevels, colours, and ‘materials’ that truly rival the new hardwoods – at a fraction of the price. The hardwoods of years gone by are the treasures. The hardwoods of today are, in reality, no better quality than most of the good laminates. You might get your money back at resale, but with a tougher, great-looking alternative, there’s not as much money to worry about in the first place!

High Tech Bathrooms. Really, when did we decide we needed tv’s and control panels, fancy lights and heated towel racks? tv in bathroomSure there are luxuries we all want in our personal service stations – multiple shower heads, double sinks, eco-friendly toilets. But before you go breaking the budget on some really big ticket goodies, ask yourself why. Who are you trying to impress? Radiant floor heating would be a great perk – four or five really cold days in the winter every year. Relaxing in the tub in front of a television is just as effective as relaxing on a couch in front of a television. Spend the money on upgrades to things that you already use – storage, space, function. Beware new gadgets and materials that you think you’ll love – undercounter lighting, climate control panels, floor to ceiling glassed-in shower stalls. The only thing worse than spending a fortune on a renovation, is realizing six months later that you probably could have done it for half.

laundry chuteLaundry Chutes. This is a re-emerging trend. Especially in renovated homes that don’t have the option of upper floor laundry rooms. As kids, we thought these secret tunnels to the nether world were full of mystery and possibilities! Now, they seem like a good idea. But when you stop to think that you’ll have a heck of a sorting job at the bottom – out of sight is indeed out of mind – and that you still have to lug it all back upstairs when it’s done, is it really worth the effort and expense in the first place?

Stainless Steel Appliances. Stainless Steel. S/S. Status Symbol. b:w appliancesSame thing. There is nothing a S/S stove can cook that a white one can’t. Food doesn’t taste any better, doesn’t stay any fresher. Dishes don’t come out cleaner. The difference in price between S/S and white or black can be ridiculous! As much as 20% more for the metallic look. While I do have a personal preference for all white appliances in the kitchen – the big ones and the counter stuff – I have good reason not to jump on the S/S bandwagon. Anything spilled down the front of a white fridge, or baked onto a white cooktop, is a quick wipe away. It never looks dirty because it’s cleaned right away. Crisp white in the kitchen – goes with any colour/material design – and always looks fresh and clean. Stainless steel is a misnomer. The stainless refers to the fact that it is rust resistant. We all have, or grew up with S/S sinks. You know how dull and grubby they can get. And you know what a bother it is to get out the S/S cleaner to give it a good scrub every couple weeks. Sure it looks great for a week or so. But it can be quite high maintenance to keep it that way. Don’t think the appliances are any different. And good luck to you if the kids get goofing off in the kitchen and put a dent in one. One tiny dint at the bottom becomes a focus point in S/S, while the white seems to be more forgiving. In the end, it’s a pretty expensive aesthetic choice. But stay away from black; unless it’s truly pristine clean, it always looks dirty.

And, my favourite waste of money,

chipped graniteGranite Countertops. These are a fashion buzz must have for too many people. Starting at about $100 per linear foot, quality of stone, thickness, design, templating, installation, and finishing can take the price from expensive to treacherous in a heartbeat. The surface needs to be conditioned, can stain and burn badly, and can be very susceptible to cracking. Dollar for dollar, there are a dozen better options. But because the uninformed are willing to pay big time for granite, the resale value makes this worth it. Use it if you’re going to sell. Research better alternatives if you actually intend to use your kitchen.


All in all, you can spend a LOT of hard earned cash on a home renovation. Just make sure you really think through the upgrades before you sign on the dotted line. Let me know what you think are the biggest renovation dollar guzzlers in the comment section. What’s the biggest reno regret you’ve ever suffered?


Stay tuned next week for my

6 Worst Outdoor Home Design Fads…