Our “Must Have” List

When we bought our current home, one of the first things we did was start a “must have” list. We knew we wanted to renovate, but what exactly did that mean? What did we hope to achieve? We percolated on it for several months, and the list grew and grew. The longer we lived there, the more options and ideas went on the list.

The thing about renovating is that you often have to make concessions. We’ve been spoiled building new homes, where the sky’s the limit and every option is available to you (in theory, anyway!). Turns out renovating is just as much about maximizing an existing structure as it is about adding in the new. And that’s both creatively challenging and, at times, extremely frustrating.

Given the extent of our plans, we knew we’d need to call on our favourite architect. We’re fairly knowledgeable (I know what I like and my hubby has decades of hands-on building experience), but there is such value in enlisting a professional to help you get the plan just right. That said, getting a plan that worked for us was going to require our input — and boy, did we have ideas.

Here’s what landed on our must-have list, and what it’s going to take to get us there:

  • An open concept main floor. This probably isn’t a surprise, given that open-concept living is so popular these days. Apparently it was not in 1969, and we have approximately 965 rooms to prove it. What this will take: removing lots of walls, reconfiguring plumbing and electrical accordingly, and ensuring we have the necessary structural supports in place. That last bit is important, as a house collapse is not part of our reno.
  • More light. A present our house feels rather dark. It’s a combination of dark wall paneling and floors, heavy brick fireplaces, an East-facing backyard, smallish windows, sporadic pot lights, large trees and all those walls. One thing that does work is the three large skylights across the back of the house — but unfortunately, we’ll lose them all when we extend the second floor. What this will take: installing larger windows and more lighting throughout, removing some overgrown bushes, lightening up the finishes, strategically using reflective surfaces/mirrors and, once again, removing those walls.
  • A new kitchen. Our kitchen is currently a mix of original cabinets circa 1969 and a few cabinets added during the 1980s. Although on the surface it looks charming, it’s crumbling underneath. It’s frankly a miracle that no one has yet broken a toe, given that the drawers are prone to come right out of the cabinets every time we open them. In other words — it’s time. What this will take: Moving the kitchen across the house to make it part of a new open-concept living area. This will include the removal of a load-bearing wall, relocation of plumbing and electrical, and new cabinets, countertops, appliances, flooring and lighting. We’ll also be adding a large island and a new walk-in pantry.
  • A larger and more functional laundry room. We.make.laundry. Tons of it. Sometimes alldaylong. It’s just how we roll. So when we decided to relocate the laundry room, it had to have three things: plenty of storage and counter space, a door to hide the mess, and a chute to make transporting the dirty stuff easier. What this will take: creating a brand-new room on the other side of the house, central enough for easy access but tucked away enough that we don’t have to trip over dirty socks. New walls, floors, lighting, venting, cabinetry and countertops.
  • A functional mudroom. This one is hard — we already have a long, narrow area with a door to the driveway, so it’s a logical mudroom location. However, the space isn’t ideal (read: huge, like in my dreams). That said, we should be able to trick it out with some clever storage to really max out the space. What this will take: demolishing existing cabinets and a closet to create more practical storage; possibly widening the room; built-ins, new tile floors, backpack/coat/shoe/dog food storage.
  • A larger, more luxe master suite. Our current master bedroom is a generous size, but the closets and ensuite leave much to be desired. In the new configuration, we’ll add a large walk-in closet and a proper two-person bath with a freestanding tub, separate water closet and dual sinks. What this will take: moving the master suite to the middle of the second floor; adding square footage; all new fixtures and finishes.
  • Ensuite baths. We have four bedrooms upstairs and would like each to have ensuite privileges. Given the limitations of our space, this means a master ensuite, an ensuite for our daughter and a jack-and-jill bath shared between our son and our rarely-used guest room. What this will take: removing two existing bathrooms and adding three new ones in our newly-configured space. We’ll build a small addition to create the necessary space and, once again, finish with all new … everything.
  • Updated finishes throughout, including flooring, lighting, ceilings, fireplaces and staircase. While we stripped a lot of wallpaper when we moved in, the truth is all the finishes in our house leave much to be desired. In keeping with our planned exterior, I’d love this house to have a modern traditional vibe with beautiful millwork, interesting lighting and our own personal touches. What this will take: Careful planning to ensure a thoughtful continuity and a balance of new and old.
  • A finished basement. You know how there’s “good” retro? This basement’s not it. We’re still finalizing our plans, but hoping when reconfigured we’ll be able to add a bedroom, full bath, theatre room, rec room, home gym and plenty of storage. What this will take: Gutting the faux wood panelling, popcorn ceilings, awful tile, 1960s bar, green plaid wallpaper and some walls. Then starting over with all of it.
  • A renewed exterior. The good news is this house is fairly true to colonial style and is mostly symmetrical with decent bones. The bad news is, it’s just plain ugly. The addition of scrolled ironwork, dated bay windows, red awnings and high-contrast brick and mortar all detract from this beauty’s true potential. What this will take: The awnings came down the day we moved in, but we’ve yet to tackle the rest. We’ll address the front entrance by pulling the recessed wall (which creates the Juliet balcony) forward and adding a covered entryway, then paint the brick and mortar, install larger windows, replace the shutters, window boxes, garage doors and front door, add columns to the side porch and add a small addition onto the back of the second floor
  • A true double-car garage. While it looks like we have a double-car garage, we actually don’t. During a previous renovation, the former owners reduced the depth of one bay by half and turned that space into a laundry room complete with a stove for canning. Unfortunately, a dryer and a stove don’t make for good tool storage, so we’re going to return that space to our garage. What this will take: knocking down some walls, building others, and relocating a door.
  • Landscaping. Hey, we bought this place for a reason, right? We love the location and are blessed with a 100 x 150 foot lot, made even wider because we’re on a corner with no sidewalks. However, when we arrived the property was circled by a 3-foot high fence (to keep the leprechauns out?) and the trees, shrubs and various green … things … had taken over. Also, our “grass” is actually moss and our decks are rotten. What this will take: So far, we’ve replaced the fence, removed some dead trees and bushes and added a shed, but we’ve got a long way to go. New decking, walkways, cedar hedges, planting beds and exterior lighting are all on the docket.

Whew. We’ve got our hands full, and none of this will happen overnight. But we’ll get there. And I can’t wait to see this ugly duckling transformed!

Thanks for sticking along for the ride.

xo L.

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