Custom Home – Month 16: Standing Still AGAIN…

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!

Friday Home Finds – LD Shoppe

In the past few years, Melissa and Sasha Leclair have become to Ottawa what Shea and Syd McGee are to Utah – an interior design powerhouse team!

I first discovered the husband and wife duo almost ten years ago when Dylan – a former co-worker from my Future Shop days – posted photos of his condo remodel that Leclair Decor had done. Paolo and I had just moved into our first home in 2011 and, in 2012, I told my parents I wanted a consult with Leclair Decor as a birthday gift. [They had no idea what I was talking about but they wrote me a cheque anyway and I immediately had Melissa come by for an in-home consultation]. I have been a devoted follower of Leclair Decor – and then their shop, LD Shoppe – since then! So I figured, since this is my birthday week, it would be fitting that this week’s Friday Home Finds be LD Shoppe!

I’ve been collecting some of my favourite LD items over this past year (and keeping a running list of other decor purchases that I will want from there once we move in to the house!). Below are some of my finds!

1. Gold Candle Snuffer – Lighting a candle is one the easiest ways to create a calming and peaceful room. I have more decor candles than I care to admit and this snuffer is the perfect addition to creating my zen space.

2. Apothecary Large Bottle Matches – Leclair Decor always recommends creating vignettes in “3s”. I think that these matches, along with the above snuffer and one of my pretty candles, will make a great vignette and be LD approved!

3. Riza Vase – The online photo of this one does not do it justice. In person, it’s a dainty (but not cheap) piece and the color is perfect for a neutral color palate.

4. Safa Riser – I don’t know why but 2020 has instilled in me a love for risers! I don’t think you could ever have enough. This one will look perfect on an end table with a candle, beads, and match holder (coincidentally enough, I happen to have gotten all those items to go with my riser from LD Shoppe!).

5. Black Woodfire Tray – This is another piece that will stop you in your tracks when you see it in person. We will not have a wood burning fireplace (nor would I ever use something this pretty near fire!) but this will look great standing upright on one of my many open shelves through our home.

6. Olive Recycled Glass Beads – I love glass beads – sitting on top of books, in a trinket bowl, etc… This one is the nicest shade of green!

7. Sariah Paper Towel Holder – We’ve been using the same (broken!) paper towel holder for the last 10 years. This whole time, I’ve been searching for one that appeals to me, that blends in with my kitchen but that is also a decor piece in and of itself – this one hits the mark!

8. White Alphabet Pillow – This is cutest kid pillow without looking or feeling like a kid pillow! My initial thought was to use this in Theo’s room but now I’m thinking it would even look great in my office!

9. Willen Match Holder & Striker – Another perfect accessory for my candle obsession. The picture makes it look greenish but, in person, it’s just the right tone of grey.

My ideal day consists of grabbing a coffee, turning on some of my favourite tunes and driving across town to visit LD Shoppe. Once in there, I can literally stay for hours and I never walk out empty handed (as you can tell from the above). The shop has items for all price points – their furniture pieces are stunning, they have a wall full of rugs and the prettiest light fixtures on display! You pretty much need to walk the store at least three times at every visit – once to look at everything on the walls, once to stare at the lights on the ceiling and then once to look at all of the decor objects! If you go, keep an eye out for a woman with an oversized blue stroller, coffee in hand and mesmerized eyes looking around [hint hint – that would be me!].

Please note that Casa Cres is not affiliated with this shop; in most cases, the shops featured in my Friday Home Finds are not even aware of their feature prior to posting. The above are purchases I have personally made for my home.

Custom Home: The Mistakes We Already Know We Made

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.

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.

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…