The month of August started so strong. Floors were tiled, then hardwood was installed, then the millwork went in and then the countertops!
All of that sounds amazing but what we don’t talk about is the amount of time the house still sat untouched this month. Tile was done in three days; hardwood was another three days; millwork was one day and counters were in within a few hours. After that, nothing.
We expected trades to be working simultaneously on the inside and outside of the house since we have repeatedly communicated to our builder that our landlord is not extending the lease and we need to move out by the end of September. Still, a balcony needs to be built, covered deck needs to be finished, we haven’t chosen our stucco color, we are missing interior and exterior doors, septic has to be delivered and installed, showers need to be tiled, electrical and plumbing need to be connected, and countless other stuff that could have been done in the days that our house sat empty.
Needless to say that with all of the excitement at the things that we do see come together, we are beyond stressed. We’re trying to remain optimistic but the reality of the situation is starting to kick in and we are losing some much needed sleep over it.
I hope to give you a much more positive update next month!!! Until then, here’s a glimpse of our exterior elevation in its current unfinished state – I am beyond in love with our front door pillars!
The one aspect of building our home that has brought me both comfort and angst is the fact that I know mistakes will be made; they’re inevitable. My hope, in the end, is that the mistakes that we do make in the construction stage will lead to something even better once completed.
While there are certainly little design aspects that we wish we had planned out differently – such as ensuring that our front doors were centred in our foyer – we are choosing to make the best of the design that we have and not dwell on those little things. However, we already know of two “bigger” mistakes that we’ve made that we would definitely do differently if we were to build another house.
Pay Attention to Window Sizes
The first mistake we made was to not pay close attention to our window sizes. Before building, I would have thought that bigger is better when it comes to windows but, now that we have big windows throughout, I really wish I had been more intentional on window sizes. To be honest, when we approved our initial plans, the window locations were shown but not the specific sizes. We actually didn’t know what our window sizes were until after the plans had been submitted to the City for approval and, at that point, we didn’t want to make any changes out of fear that it would delay the approval and the start of the construction.
Even before we started designing our home, I always wanted a breakfast nook off of the kitchen with built-in seating. We actually carved out additional square footage in our plans to ensure we could have that nook. Unfortunately, the windows that were included in the plans for that space span almost the entire wall from top to bottom; meaning, there’s not enough wall space to build a bench. When I first realized this, I actually felt as though I had been punched in the gut… This was the one aspect of our design that we knew we wanted and I never even thought of checking to make sure the windows were at a proper height/size.
So now we’ve let go of the built-in bench design and will get a nice table and chairs instead. It was an expensive mistake to make (as we probably would not have added the extra square footage if we weren’t going to get a built-in nook) and a lesson that I would stress to anyone who is building – make sure your windows fit your vision for the space!
Discuss Your Plans for Your Unfinished Space
Another mistake we made was not sharing our plans for our unfinished space with our builder from the onset. In my mind, I always knew that we would allocate a portion of our unfinished basement to our future gym and pool room. Paolo and I discussed doing a rough-in for a future bathroom in that space so that, later on when we finished the space, we can add a powder room and avoid having our kids or guests walk across our whole basement space to use the other bathroom.
I didn’t share this plan with our architect at the initial design stage since it was something we intended doing a few years down the road. Well, when we knew our builder was working on plumbing and getting ready to pour the concrete in the basement, we reached out to ask that they add a rough-in for a future powder room. The response was a resounding no…
It turns out that when your house is on a septic system, like ours, the size of the system is determined by factoring, among other things, the number of bathrooms in the house. Once the septic size is chosen, it is included in the initial building permit application. If we really wanted to add the powder room, we would have had to have an engineer recalculate the size of the septic, potentially create new plans and submit a request to the City to amend our permits. All of this would come at a significant cost and delay to us. So what could have been a few hundred dollars for a rough-in, would now cost us a few thousand dollars. Needless to say we will not be adding a bathroom in the gym/pool room.
It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. Never assume you don’t need to discuss your intentions for an unfinished space. There are certain things done at the construction stage that could affect how you could use your space in the future. Another example is to let your builder know if you plan on installing a pool down the road – this may impact the size of your electrical panel, where your septic system is installed, how many trees are cleared during excavation, etc. If you know that you want to add or expand on a space in the future, it is really important to communicate those wishes with your builder from the onset.
I’m sure there will be many other things that we will wish we’d done differently once the house is actually finished and we are living in it but, for now, I feel as though it could have been much worse. The two “big” mistakes we’ve made have just meant that we needed to rethink our intentions for the space but they aren’t going to take away from the enjoyment of the home.
This month started with the installation of all of our electrical wiring. The electricians were amazing to work it – we did a thorough walkthrough before they started and then went to the house every day during the week that they were there to fine tune some of the choices.
Once electrical was complete, we required a building inspection for our framing before we could proceed to insulation and drywall. We were hoping that could all be done this month but it didn’t… There were some issues with our trusses (which is not uncommon), which has delayed our getting our permits and, in turn, delayed the start of drywall.
So… all we have to show in terms of construction advancement for the month of May is this white electrical panel and the yards and yards of wiring running through our framing…
While the house sat empty for the rest of the month, I used the time to write some of our intentions and prophecies on our framing. I’ve seen this online with other builds and I love the idea of leaving our mark on this house. It’s unlikely that anyone except us will ever see it but I’m still glad to know it’s there.
Fingers crossed for a much more positive update with Month 14’s review…
Millwork has definitely been one of the most time consuming parts of our build. In addition to the amount of time spent designing the plans for our millwork, I’ve also spent countless hours agonizing over all of the small details and, still, I am almost certain that once we move in there will be things that I wish we’d done differently. Until then, here are a few of the design details that we’ve included in our millwork plans to elevate the look of our cabinetry.
The Ends of the Cabinets
In our first home, we didn’t add any decorative elements to our millwork. The ends and corners of our cabinets were left flat. With our second home, the majority of the millwork was built-in between walls, so we didn’t have any exposed cabinet ends to consider.
This time around, we have several exposed ends, so I’ve tried to be purposeful in designing those spaces.
In our laundry room, for example, since the end of our cabinet is exposed, we made sure to add some decorative panelling to tie it in to the rest of the millwork. You wouldn’t think to notice the ends of cabinets but when you compare the drawings with and without the finished ends, it’s a no-brainer – decorative panels go a long way to elevate the space.
Pay Attention to the Top and Bottom of your Cabinets
Another added detail that we were conscious to pay close attention to this time around was the top and bottom of our kitchen cabinets.
For example, we have one section in our kitchen where the end of the cabinet is exposed. We decided to add a decorative baseboard to that panel so that it blends in with our kitchen island.
Since we have 12-foot ceilings in the kitchen, we added a 2-foot bulkhead and then 10 feet of cabinetry. In order to make the bulkhead and cabinetry appear seamless (and intentional), we added this modified molding that will close any gaps between our upper cabinets and the bulkhead.
Let Your Counters be the Showpiece
We put a lot of focus on our millwork in the kitchen and laundry room because those were our two largest cabinet spaces where we need our millwork to be functional and, ideally, pretty. In other areas, such as the master ensuite and the Jack & Jill bathroom, we opted to go for a clean and simple cabinet design (no additional detail work) and are making our stone countertops the showpiece of the space.
The boys’ vanities, for example, are just a set of two drawers for each boy (no cabinets); we want the eye to focus on the counters – which will be a 5-inch thick skirted edge – and let the millwork blend into the background.
Custom is Not Always Best
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves when building a custom home to try to have everything created and designed specifically for us. But all of those personalized designs come at cost. There are definitely spaces in our home where we don’t need to invent the wheel. In our guest bathroom, for example, we omitted all custom millwork and purchased a ready-made vanity from Home Depot. We framed the space so that the vanity is snug between two walls and that will help give it the built-in look without the custom-built price.
In our case, as in most cases when you’re building a home, millwork was one of the priciest items in terms of “add-ons” for the house. My biggest piece of advice where millwork is concerned is to be intentional, purposeful and resourceful with each space. In addition to the above tips, consider making a wish list of everything you’d like and then work with that to create your space. For example, I knew early on that my wish list items for our pantry and mudroom were too expensive to fit in to budget at this time. Instead of settling for less, we decided to completely omit those spaces from our current millwork plans. We allocated the funds for those spaces towards finishing the kitchen, laundry and bathrooms the way we want them and we’ll tackle the pantry and mudroom down the road. If there’s an area of your house that you really want custom but it’s not currently in the budget, consider not doing it all for now. I’ve often heard that “imperfect action is better than perfect inaction” but I don’t believe that applies when building a home or renovating a space. Personally, I don’t believe in spending money on things I don’t love, so I prefer to do nothing until I am ready to make it my everything.
Our home is still a ways from being finished but, as is customary, we have already had several design meetings with our millwork company to finalize the drawings for all of our cabinetry. And, this week, we finalized everything!!! So now comes the fun part – choosing the jewelry for our designs (i.e.: the hardware).
When we built our second Production Home, we asked Mattamy Homes to omit all of the cabinetry hardware and opted to install it ourselves after moving in. The reason was simple – we didn’t like anything that Mattamy was offering. At that time, I did quite a bit of research on different hardware styles, finishes, sizes, placement on the cabinets, etc. While I always liked our selections, I felt I played it safe in that I didn’t mix metals and kept the hardware in each space uniform. This time around, I’m trying to be a little more intentional about our selections by applying the tips I’ve learned along the way.
#1 Review your millwork measurements
My number one (that I have applied to my own home religiously) is to really review your millwork plans. I start by printing the plans (which include the exact measurement of each cabinet and drawer) for all of the rooms where we’re going to need hardware (kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room).
From there, group same size drawers (width wise) and cabinets (height wise) so that you know how many of a specific sized knob or pull you will need for the space. In our master ensuite, for example, we have 6 drawers and 4 cabinet doors that are all around 20-30″ wide (for drawers) and high (for cabinet doors), so it makes sense to order all of the same hardware since the pulls will look uniform throughout the space. In our laundry room, however, I have a mix of 10″ cabinets, 24″ drawers and even 48″ upper cabinets, so a one-size-fits-all hardware would not work there (my 3″ bar pull might look good on a 10″ cabinet but it’ll feel flimsy when opening our 24″ drawers).
The internet is full of resources for what size hardware works best on different cabinetry sizes. I personally like this latest one from Schoolhouse Living – it is simple and clean and the size options are universal.
#2 Finishes – same same but different…
There’s a lot of literature and opinions about mixing hardware and compelling reasons for and against doing it. I personally have never mixed metals before; having knobs and cups in one space was about as adventurous as I got in our last house. But this time, since we’re building fully custom, I’m throwing the conservative rule book out the window.
While I want to mix things up, I still want it to flow. In the laundry room, for example, I am aiming to maintain a cohesive look by mixing different hardware designs that are from the same color family. So our large cabinet doors will have polished nickel latches, while the pull-out drying racks and other drawers will have more detailed bar pulls in the same polished nickel finish.
#3 Texture vs. Design
Our current rental is a typical builder-grade Mattamy home. They used the same handles, in the same finish, throughout the entire house (kitchen and bathrooms). While it certainly is uniform, it also falls flat. So another way that we’re having fun with our hardware selections is by using different hardware shapes and sizes for different spaces.
The boys’ vanities, for example, are a forest green color with 5″ stone countertops. We want the countertops to be the focal point but still want interesting hardware, so I opted for simple black bar pulls that have a textured finish for added interest.
#4 Make a list of your selections
My final tip is something we are doing for all aspects of our home’s finishing choices (tile, lights, hardware, paint, etc.). While I love everything I am choosing right now, it’s inevitable that at some point in the future I will want to change things up and one of the easiest ways to spruce up any space is to swap out hardware. The one limiting factor with hardware is that you have to buy the same size or else you’ll have to contend with patching up holes in your millwork. And in the age of online shopping, you can’t always bring a handle to the store to compare, so by keeping a list of your hardware choices, ideally with an online link that provides a description, you can easily get the specs for your hardware to order different (but same size) ones in the future.
In our case, we will also have spaces that aren’t yet completed (such as our pantry) that I will eventually want matching hardware. By keeping a detailed list of our selections now, I can simply refer to the links later on to order additional knobs and pulls.
When you’re building a house, there are many big budget items, such as millwork, that consume a lot of your time and reflection. By the time you are picking hardware, it is not uncommon to be suffering from decision overload and to not give this aspect of the build the detailed attention it deserves. But you need to remember that hardware (and lights and tiles) is really what makes the space. While you might have paid a lot for cabinetry, a shaker door is a shaker door; dressing it up with the right hardware is how you can elevate the baseline. So if I can offer any advice when building your home, it is to really analyze your hardware selections by considering some of the above tips.
In our previous Production (i.e.: tract) homes, we inherited whatever floor plan the builder designed and basically worked with what was there. We’ve never had a dedicated mudroom, a proper foyer, enough outdoor lighting or even a garage large enough to fit two cars. While our homes never lacked square footage, we were still required with each home to adapt to the space. So when we were designing our custom home, our main goal was to ensure we create a space that fits our family and not the other way around. We learned pretty quickly what wasn’t working for us in our past houses and, below, are some of the design changes we made this time around while building this home with our family’s needs in mind.
No Sink in the Island
Photo credit: Monika Hibbs
I feel like this first choice is a controversial one with two distinct trains of thought – you’re either team for sink in the island or team against…
In our previous homes, the sink was always integrated in the island. We were definitely team “FOR” sink in island until we lived with it for a few years. The counter around the sink was always wet from splatter and the space never looked clean.
So this time, the sink will be by the window! Our island is smaller than our last (also a design choice since we found we didn’t need another 9-foot island) and we think it’ll now be the perfect size for hosting (whenever we can host) and for our little family, plus it’ll make keeping the kitchen looking clean that much easier.
Toilets with Concealed Trapways
Ok, so maybe jumping from the kitchen to the toilet is not the best segue but I am actually really excited about this choice! Have you ever bent over to clean all of the creases in a standard toilet? Yes, so you understand! Now imagine having two little boys with their own bathroom and you will WISH you had a curve-less toilet – one wipe across and done!
Luca is obviously still way too small to start thinking about how often he will “miss the bowl” when learning to pee standing up (and, lets be real, all the boys/man in my house will forever have moments where they miss the bowl, even after years of practice…) but Theo is at the age where he thinks its fun to try standing. He’s got pretty good aim but there are times where I wonder if there was more that landed on the floor than in the bowl… So toilets with concealed trapways, while slightly more expensive than the standard ones, was a non-negotiable for me this time around!
Joint Mudroom and Laundry Room
This choice came as an unexpected “non-choice” for me. While we’ve never had a dedicated mudroom, our laundry rooms have always been a decent sized, designated space. So when we started drawing out our floorplans, I had always envisioned two separate rooms but budget and square footage constraints meant that we had to combine the two.
When we were planning out our layout, Theo was not even three years old and hadn’t yet discovered the world of sand, dirt, mud and puddles. Fast forward 18 months and I literally have to get him to undress outside our current rental home before he comes in because of how filthy he is! Add to the fact that, eventually, Luca will be joining the mess and I am now so grateful to know that they can come in through the garage straight into the mud/laundry room and put away their dirty clothes before even entering the main living space.
Cold AND Hot Water in the Garage
Paolo has always enjoyed detailing his car. He puts on his headphones and spends hours scrubbing every crevice of his car (and I usually get him to do mine too!), then, he tops it off with pressure washing the outside at the end. Last summer, since we were all stuck at home due to the pandemic, Theo also started spending a lot of time outside amusing himself with different water games. The one con with any of our outdoor water activities (aside from watering the grass) was that the water was always freezing cold!
So this time around, when we discussed plumbing with our builder, Paolo’s first request was that the hose bib in the garage have both hot and cold water! His hands won’t freeze when he’s washing our cars, Theo’s lips won’t turn blue when playing with his water table and, as for me, I’ll be able to hose down my children (see point above!) when they come home messy without feeling as though I am torturing them!
Access to Basement from Garage
This last one was not a must but a strong want for our family. Given Paolo’s shift work schedule, he sometimes comes home in the middle of the night and is not yet ready to go to sleep. We decided to add a staircase from the garage down to the finished basement so that he can go straight down to watch TV after work and not risk waking the family (and the dog!) by walking past the main living space.
We also figured, from watching how my nephews (aged 21 and 15) go straight to the basement of their own house with their friends, that Theo and Luca will one day appreciate being able to go straight downstairs with their buddies without having to engage in the always awkward parent conversation that would be required if they all came through the front door…
While I’m sure that even with a custom home there will be things that we wish we had thought of or designed differently, I am really excited for the lessons we’ve learned in past homes and the opportunity we now have to make this house fit our family’s needs.
We’ve come a long way in the last year but we are still nowhere near the finish line… And that, in part, is the source of our frustrations this month.
Since February, very little work has been done on the house and the work that has been done has taken twice as long than expected. For every day that there was someone working at the house, there would be another 3-4 days where the house sat empty. Despite being disappointed each time we went to the house to find that nothing had been done, we hung on to hope that we would somehow still close on schedule.
Then, April 7, 2021 marked our “120 days until closing” timeline. For those who are building or even just applying for a mortgage, you know that mortgage rates in Ontario can be locked in as of 120 days prior to closing. So I wrote to our builder to confirm that we were still on track for the August 4th closing. That’s when we first learned that we were likely looking at closing in mid-September…
I can’t say that I am surprised by the delay – we are in the middle of a world pandemic after all – but we were still naively holding on to hope that we had somehow escaped the labour and supply chain shortages that everyone is experiencing these days… Alas, we didn’t. So, we were frustrated by the news of the delay but we understood…
And then, by mid-April, our frustration turned into panic. When we told our landlord that the closing date had been pushed and that we would be renting for an extra month, he told us we could stay until September 30 at the latest because he is planning on selling the house in the Fall (we don’t blame him, it is an insane seller’s market at the moment)… So now we don’t have a closing date and we will need to be out of this home by the end of September.
We’ve let our builder know our current situation and are just holding on to hope that it will all come together. Taking possession of the house in August is off the table but there’s still a chance for a September closure. In the meantime, it’s going to be a stressful 4 months… In the end, we know that it will all be worth it; it is just hard right now to see the forest past the trees…
Month 10 – aka February – started off really slow. The house actually sat idle for about two weeks due to a delay in our windows and doors. Around mid-month, the windows arrived and WOW! we love them! (The doors are still delayed but we won’t worry about that for now).
Windows and doors were the first selection we made for our house after finalizing the floorplans. Our builder includes black exterior windows in their quote but we chose to upgrade to black interior as well. The black interior is more expensive and, we are told, higher maintenance overall but it also adds a completely different look and feel to the house, which is what we are going for. The way we see it, windows should last several years (dare I say even a couple of decades), so might as well get the size, look and feel that you are going for because, once installed, they’re there to stay!
While the house may have sat idle, we did not. This month, we had a three hour meeting with a tile showroom consultant to narrow down our tile selections. Our builder has included a fairly generous tile budget in our purchase but we have to use his supplier – luckily, his supplier happens to be one the largest tile shops in the city, so we had plenty to choose from. We basically made our selections up to the maximum budget allowance and will then be getting any remainder tile ourselves (from outlet stores, Home Depot, Lowes, etc.). While we haven’t finalized any selections just yet (still waiting on the consultant to finalize the quote), here are some of the few that made the shortlist:
We also met with our stone supplier to discuss our various countertop selections. I think we’re going to end up playing it safe when it comes to countertops and just pick white and calacatta quartz countertops for the majority of the house. My only “daring choice” (if you can even call it that) is that I’m hoping for a leather-looking black-ish counter for the dry bar area in the great room – the only issue, however, is that I will need to pick something from the remnants that our supplier has because I don’t want to invest in purchasing an entire slab for just 6 feet of countertop, so my choices will be dependent on what is available at the time.
That pretty much sums up Month 10. Slowly decisions are being made and, with each month’s recap, we feel as though we are getting closer and closer to making this build our home!
January was one of those months where workers were at the land almost every day but yet it always looked the same… until, one day, it just all came together…
The trusses came up this month and man were we nervous… When we were designing the house, we really wanted to have a high roof pitch but didn’t want to spend extra on the upgrade. So we took the maximum of what was offered and just hoped that a 6:12 pitch would have the effect that we envisioned for our exterior – and IT DID! The pitch is not super high – which I don’t think would have gone well with the style of the house anyway – but it is distinct enough so that the roof doesn’t look flat…
Finishing the roof was next on the list. We kept it simple with black shingles and love how it came out.
Next up for the house is the installation of windows and doors. We were hoping to have those in by the end of January but they were delayed and install is now projected for some time during the month of February.
From a design perspective, we met with our millwork designer to start planning out our cabinetry. She patiently listened to all of our wish list and took detailed notes. She is now working on drawing it all out in order to provide us with a quote. I removed several upper cabinets from our plans and replaced them with shelves thinking we might save some money that way but, as we quickly learned, there isn’t much difference in cost between doing a cabinet or a floating shelf…so, needless to say, there will be lots of upgrades where the millwork is concerned.
If I had one piece of “budget” advice to give, I would strongly recommend using the time between when you finalize your floor plans (and have a good idea of sizes and layouts) and when you receive the permits (there is usually a 6-10 week period there) to actually meet with the millwork people and get a ballpark of what your dream layouts would cost so that you can then account for that in the budget from the onset… Had we had the benefit of that knowledge, we would likely have cut down on certain upgrades that we did to our windows, doors and a few other things that we have already committed to. Anyhow, we already know that we aren’t going to be able to get all the millwork that we want right away but, with time, we’ll finish those areas (such as the mudroom and pantry) that are not going to be upgraded in the initial build.
Month 10 should have the house completely sealed up with windows and exterior doors. Not sure what comes after that but, regardless, each day is one day closer to seeing this project come to fruition.
Ok so, somehow, November turned into December and now the year is over… 2020 gave us plenty of blessings but it was by no means a great year (no year wherein a pandemic essentially paralyzes the entire world could ever be classified as a great year…). I think I speak for everyone when I say “bring on 2021!!!”.
We started the month by meeting with our builder’s interior designers. Our builder provides the services of an independent designer as part of their package – they are there to ensure we keep on track timeline wise and they can offer suggestions and design advise, if needed (we’re pretty set in our ways and know what we want but it’s still nice there is someone there to bounce off ideas, if needed).
Mid-month, we met with the plumbing suppliers to choose our fixtures. Another good thing with working with a builder’s suppliers – they have your plans, know your budget and know your builder! So after visiting the store a few times to try to nail down what we wanted, we set up an appointment with a representative and he walked us through each room and helped us make our selections. We ended up with a broad range of choices – from black plumbing fixtures in boys’ bathrooms, gold in the powder room and chrome in the ensuite!!!
As for the our land – the foundation was completed!!! We can now see our elevation and how high our house will sit on the lot (the engineered pad we placed to secure against any water issues meant that the house is going to sit higher than we expected but we love it!).
Our house has taken shape!!! The carpenters worked hard in December and almost managed to finish framing the entire place! Unfortunately, they ran out of time before the holidays and weren’t able to install the trusses as they had hoped but we can now walk through the main floor and see each room division, window sizes, etc…
Paolo and I visited a tile outlet (Eurotile) and purchased some tile for the house that we wanted to save on. Outlets are great for savings but it means you have to take possession of the tile right away – so we both carried about 800lbs of tile from the store, to the basement in our rental and will later bring it back upstairs and deliver it to the lot when the time comes… Totally worth it since we saved, on average, at least 40% on the tile.
We also met with the designers again to go over our wish list for the millwork. We already knew that we weren’t going to fit everything into our budget, so we’ve decided to focus our resources on the kitchen and, hopefully, the bathrooms. The rest, such as the pantry and mudroom, will be projects that Paolo and I will take on in the future.
All in all, November and December were definitely the biggest months thus far in terms of progress. Our government has instituted another lockdown for the holidays and into the third week of January, so I’m not sure how much we will advance next month or whether it will cause delays in the end but, for now, we’ll just take our time walking the property and admiring what is already there…
While we didn’t get to “wake up” in our home for Christmas this year, we did visit the house on the 25th with Theo – he got to keep his pjs on and see his future room! Hopefully, this time next year, we’ll be wrapping up our first holiday season in the CasaCres forever home 🙂