Custom Home – Month 13: Let There Be Light (Sort Of…)

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…

I don’t know why I’m so excited about this but I really like that my electrical panel is white!!!

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 Details to Elevate Your Space

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.

Store bought vanity from Home Depot Canada

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.

Tips For Choosing Your Cabinet Hardware

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.

Laundry Room Hardware Selections

#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.

Making our Design Choices Fit our Family

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.

Inspiration photo by Kate Marker Interiors

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.

Custom Home – Month 12: Frustrations

TWELVE MONTHS! A FULL YEAR!

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…

Custom Home: Month 11 – Walking On… Concrete!

March was slow – watching concrete dry kind of slow…

Our basement floor was poured at the end of February/beginning of March and heaters were placed to help it dry. After about a week or so, the tarps were removed and we were able to walk on it and actually get a feel for the space.

Our future living space; the orange tarp on the right is where our double french doors will lead to the backyard. The heater is suspended from the ceiling to help the concrete dry.

Once the basement was poured, progress slowed a bit. Plumbing and work on installing the HVAC system has begun; all of which is essential, just nothing “to write home about”…

Offsite, I had another millwork meeting to work through our selections. We’re SSOOO close to finalizing our cabinetry layout.

Work on our exterior is also set to start soon! We met with the mason supplier to begin picking our finishes and plan out where we want to set the different materials (stone, stucco and metal).

So while March was slow, looks like a lot is set to develop over the next few weeks!

“Old Ways Won’t Open New Doors”

With our first home, we never even thought about our interior doors. It didn’t cross our minds that we could alter the doors; whatever was included is what we’d get. The only “upgrade” that we did was change our pantry door to a French door and I thought I was so clever for having thought of doing that…

A few years into our first home, I decided to paint all of our doors black and, wow, what a difference! That was the first time we realized how a space can be drastically changed just by updating the doors.

We smartened up (a little…) with our second home. While I still didn’t imagine that I could significantly change the doors, we decided to ask if it was possible to upgrade the doors from 7 feet to 8 feet and, sure enough, Mattamy Homes said yes! I’ve talked, in a previous post, about how significant of an impact the added height made to our home – not just from a design perspective but also from a functionality point. We also had the doors painted as soon as we moved in, this time in a dark gray/blue to match the grey tones of the house.

8-foot doors painted in Sherwin Williams Cyberspace

Now, with our custom home, I’m hoping that maybe the third time is a charm. We have forgone our old ways of just taking what is included when it comes to doors; below are some of our changes:

  • We upgraded all of the doors to 8 feet (I wish we could go higher but the prices rise drastically (in the $1,000s) with anything above 8 feet);
  • We chose all solid core doors; no more hollow doors for us;
  • We changed most of the bathroom doors to pocket doors so that we don’t need to account for the space that regular doors take up;
  • Where closets are concerned, we removed the doors altogether to make them feel more like change rooms as opposed to closed in closets;
  • We changed the pantry door to a swinging door – we keep all of our food in the pantry so we’re usually coming in and out of that space a lot – making it a swinging door means the kids can get in without having to ask us each time!;
  • We changed the door leading to our future gym in the basement to a glass door to allow sunlight to enter the space; and
  • The one I am MOST excited about is my office doors, which we changed to steel/glass barn doors!

While I am sure there is a lot more we could have upgraded to our doors, the above pretty much encompasses what was within reach from a budget and accessibility standpoint (our supplier provides all of the doors we wanted except for the office doors). Realistically, nothing is set in stone so, if in the future we decide that we want something even more custom, we could always make changes, one door at a time.

Custom Home: Month 10 – Windows, Doors and all…

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!

Custom Home: Month 9 – Taking Shape

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…

View from our kitchen when the trusses were just about done!

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.

She looks like a house!

Giving Some Thought to the Electrical Component of our Home

When we built our first Production Home, we had no idea how to prepare for any of the decisions that needed to be made. We just showed up for each meeting with our builder and took their recommendations and advice.

Often times, with Production Home builders, you’ll be discussing any structural issues, electrical choices and plumbing locations all in one (brief) meeting, so the more “preparations” you can do ahead of time, the better. Whether you will be reviewing electrical selections during a more broad meeting or whether you will have a meeting with your builder to specifically discuss the electrical component of your house, it’ll pay to show up ready. Below are some of the ways we will be preparing for making the electrical decisions in our next home.

Print your floorplans

We didn’t do this with our first two houses but have done it with our custom home and it really helps! We printed several copies of our floorplans and used a clean version for each electrical component that we could thing of. For example, we used one copy to set out the outlet placements; another for the light switches; one for the media layout (plugs, speakers, etc.); a fourth for the lighting such as wall sconces, pot lights, pendants, etc. Having each component on separate copies makes it easier to review and see where to change, add, omit, etc…

Consider the use of each space

I cannot stress this one enough! Here are some examples of spaces we didn’t consider when we designed our first two homes:

  1. Stairs
  • The next time around, we’ll be adding outlets at the top and bottom (and middle since we’re going to have a landing) of our stairs so that we can decorate for Christmas to our hearts’ content;
  • We’re also considering adding in-wall stair lighting because, well, why not!
Had we thought of including an outlet at the bottom of these steps (in the little corner nook behind the table) we could used that table more efficiently – maybe added a lamp for ambient lighting, or a charge station for our electronics, or a diffuser for scent..

2. Outlets

  • Pantry – especially if you have a walk-in pantry and plan on storing small kitchen appliances in there;
  • Closets – if your building code allows for outlets in the closet, it would be a great place to hide some of the unsightly items such as wifi repeaters;
  • Bedrooms – consider the furniture layout ahead of time and ensure to place outlets on either side of the bed (a lot easier than running extension cables under the bed to plug in phone chargers and side lights, etc.)
  • Floors – if you know you’re going to have side lamps near your couch, consider placing an outlet on the floor to avoid having a cord running through your living space;
  • Kitchen counters – place outlets as close as possible to the kitchen counters or upper cabinetry – no sense in investing in a nice backsplash, only to have it ruined by the look of electrical outlets
  • Kitchen Island – give some thought to how you use plan on using your kitchen island. If there is seating, you’ll likely find yourself working on a computer there at some point, so add an outlet under the counter near the seating to allow you to plug your laptop (see photo below);
  • Outdoor space – don’t just look down for outlets, consider having them up top (near or in the soffit) – we’ll be adding outlets to the roof of our covered porch so that we can mount space heaters and maybe hang some string lights;
The outlet on our island was close to the fridge which meant I had to run an extension cable across the island, regardless of where I sat

3. Switches

  • Bedroom – we’re adding switches on either side of all of the beds in order to be able to install reading lights that can be turned on/off without getting up;
  • Consider mirror (and other wall decor) placements – we ended up having a light switch behind our entry mirror (photo below) which meant that we rarely turned on the light in the entry hallway;
The light switch behind this mirror rendered the lighting in this space useless (sure, we could have installed the mirror more to the right but then it would not have been centred and would have driven me nuts)

4. Lighting

Don’t forget lighting – all lighting! We never considered wall sconces in our first two homes but there are numerous places – such as this window seat between two bedrooms – where we could have used some extra lighting.

Even with all the preparations ahead of time, I’m sure that once we move in we will find things that we forgot about or regretted regarding our electrical choices but hopefully the above will help us (and you!) to maximize the electrical component of our home.