oh hey so casa kat has relocated.
Surprise! At the end of October, I up and moved digs – moved cities even! It’s only about 20 minutes away from my old nest, and still in a ‘downtown’ area, within walking distance of the city square with lots of fun antiques shops and coffee/bars and parks though, so not such a huge change. It’s just tiny bit more rural and less sheltered when compared to where I spent my teenage years, and getting used to 2am sirens and neighbors fighting in the street and some AMAZING Walmart outfits has been something of an adventure thus far.
Moving was a bit of a whirlwind, in that I only started looking at houses in this area at the end of the summer after driving by a few stunning, and stunningly cheap, Victorian ‘mansions’ on a trip to the vet. The house I fell in love with was already under contract so my trusty realtor and I went to see one across the street, from 1890(!), which was so lovely, but was a tiny bit big for one person (B jumped ship last May, leaving me with boxes of old sheet music and the entire Rolling Stones Magazine back-catalogue, a few dead pets in urns, and a giant weight machine). I hesitated on making an offer and unfortunately, dream house #2 was scooped up the evening before I found my balls and decided I wanted a new big project. Major disappointment.
You know me – missing out on this house got me OBSESSED with finding an authentic, albeit slightly rundown Victorian, to love on. I started looking in cities I’ve never heard of, my budget kept inching higher and higher, and at one point I was even considering buying a farm in a VERY rural area next to the Amazon depot (so ‘on the up – an investment!’ in realtor speak). I stalked zillow and trulia and the realtor database search until, holy automated email heaven, THE perfect house popped up. 3 hours, a starry-eyed showing and some frantic paperwork later, my offer was accepted and Kat was moving to the sticks! The only minor detail was that I now needed to sell my current house, which I had poured sweat and tears, a tiny bit of blood, and many happy memories into over the previous 3 years. More on the new house later, right now I want to take a minute to remember everything I can about the ‘shoebox’ and highlight some of my favorite parts, as I am already starting to forget. Spoiler alert – I took a bunch of pictures on my iPad before moving but they’re all crap and I cant be bothered to edit them all, so I stole these (and the ‘before’ photos) from the real estate listings… sorry, realtor gods.
i’m on the outside, I’m looking in…
The first (sort of tiny, sorry) photo was from the original listing, the second is from when I sold. The biggest changes I made were new gutters (I can’t tell you how many hours were spent stressing over ‘black or bronze?!’ – I just knew I didn’t want white) and the removal of a few flower beds, basically because I suck at flowers. I also painted the front door a beautiful blue-slate grey, and tried to revive the lawn a little.
In the back garden, I didn’t do much either (again, photo at top was the original listing, bottom is now).We paid to put in an iron (aluminium, really) fence to keep the dogs in and foxes and raccoons out. My biggest heartbreak in the yard was having to remove the huge ash tree in the back – one only three trees in the whole lot – as it was half dead due to Ash Borer and would have been a nightmare to remove after the fence was put in. After the fence, I added a few more flower beds and a pretty brick ‘mowing strip’ – turns out you can fairly easily fit 400lbs brick in the trunk of convertible Mustang! I also, entirely on my own, ripped out the back border and put in a new retaining wall made from 6×6 lumber and 24″ rebar.
I’ll probably save that for another post – it involved a French drain, 3 days, soooo much gravel and soil and mulch, and I did it all by my lonesome, with the dogs digging in the mud with me for moral support. My favourite thing about the garden was the wildlife – there’s a city park at the end of the street and we’d constantly get foxes, deer, raccoons, crayfish, bunnies, hawks and lots of birds (a sampling which were killed by the cat and then eaten by the dog… may they Rest In Peace), and my absolute favourite – fat little bats! We occasionally had birds inside the kitchen who would just hop in through the open back door, hang out in the greenhouse window then,after an hour or two and some bird seed, hop back outside. There was the occasional mouse in the walls, one of which met an unfortunate end via Sterling and Emma, and the baby raccoon who fought my dogs with such spirit and hatred that neighbor came out with a pitch-fork to help me wrestle him off. It also had the occasional snake (one was over 2 feet long and fell out of the grill, catching me completely by surprise and I very nearly stomped it to death barefoot as Emma was just a puppy and I was terrified she’d get bitten) and SO MANY mosquitos and hornets.
Just before the house went on the market, a tow truck ‘dropped’ a car through the fence, down the hill, and into my yard, thus ending my love affair with the garden. After realizing that was even remotely a threat (the dogs had come in less than 10 minutes before it happened – Emma would have been squashed and Charlotte would have absolutely bitten someone), it no longer felt like a safe-haven and I was glad to see it go.
the front of the house.
So, as the house was only 1200 sq ft, the ‘front’ of the house was foyer/hallway/living room, and the back was the kitchen/laundry/mud room. Walls are too fancy, here!This was how it looked when I bought it. The curtains were hung too low, the furniture was arranged all wrong, and the doors and trim were ORANGE. The tile floor was so not-my-style, but too much trouble to remove (and in perfect shape), so I covered it in sisal rugs and called it a day. The bits that weren’t tile were weird tiny parquet and stinky mauve carpet. I ended up replacing all the doors with solid white oak, 6-panel doors, stained with a mix of Provincial and Dark Walnut (if you know your minwax stains), and replaced all the trim with a super easy but super effective craftsman trim made from 1×6, 1×4, 1×2 and lattice pine. The floor was replaced with Kingsmill Shadowbrook (which I don’t think they make anymore, but it was a really ashy mid-toned brown, tongue and groove engineered hardwood which I installed myself over a few weekends and it ended up being only about $750 for the living room and hallways, underlay and accessories included). I miss the fireplace the most – it was from the early 80s and had one of the first ever ‘pre-fab’ fireplace inserts – an absolute beast! The vent is ducted into the HVAC system so burning a fire with the thermostat fan running heats the entire house, and the glass door on the front kept the puppy out. The most hated thing about the living room was a tie between the triangular floor plan (what?? The utility room was actually behind the fireplace, else I would have very quickly ripped the whole thing out just to have a regular room-shaped room) and the Ektorp sofa from IKEA. That will be another post too – I did SO much research to find the ‘perfect’ sofa and I can honestly say I’ve never hated a piece of furniture so much in my life. As luck would have it, its still here in the new house, in the living room, as I cant find a decent sectional that will fit through a 32″ door. Touché, Ektorp.
the backside. hurr.
Ahh, my favourite part of the house was easily my most-hated when I bought it. It was just the weirdest kitchen I’d ever laid eyes on. And the laundry was in the kitchen which, having grown up in England, was completely normal to me – it was just that I had been spoiled with a huge laundry room in my previous house and I’m an expert at letting laundry pile up on top of the washer… clean, too. Having to look at a mountain of clothes (and occasionally, cats) any time you get off the couch is such a downer. Here’s its original orange, slatted glory –
If you asked me now, I’d have said I lived with that gross white laminate counter for awhile (my old house had a pretty green quartz, and my apartment after that was grey granite) but according to the timestamp on my photos, it lasted about 6 months. I made the mistake of planning a whole new kitchen with IKEA cabinets JUST in time for them to completely discontinue their old kitchen line and overhaul all the cabinets, countertops, and fittings. It ended up mostly being a blessing – I kept the original cabinets which were solid oak, custom, and in great shape, and just replaced everything else except the appliances. The IKEA butcher block I fell in love with was also discontinued and replaced with a butcherblock ‘laminate’ of sorts, which they still sell – its MDF inside with a thin layer of butcherblock around the outside – the only place it’s noticeable is on the edges, and there will be a finite amount of times you can sand and refinish it, sort of like engineered hardwood. Here’s what it looked like at the end –
The bar area was hands-down my favourite part in the house. It’s not super obvious but do you see the upper cabinet, next to the fridge, in the original photo? I took it down, flipped it over, screwed it into a 1×2 to raise it up a tiny bit and framed out the back to bump it out to 25″ deep and voila! Bar-height counter. The shelves were made with a 2×10 with brackets made of galvanized pipe. The wallpaper is the Etched Arcadia mural from Anthropologie – I think it was about $250 on sale and was pre-pasted – I just ran each panel through a Rubbermaid tote filled with water and pressed it onto the wall. The plug-in pendant lamp was from World Market, and I love it so much I’m considering buying it again for this house. It’s a little hard to see but there’s a lion bottle opener on the right side of the wall that was also from World Market, and I’ve already bought another one – partly because its surprising and stunning, and partly because I lose the not-attached-to-the-wall bottle opener constantly.
The cabinets were finished with 3 coats of General Finishes gel stain. Again, I jumped the gun and researched gel stain before I was ready for it, finding most bloggers using about 5 coats of ‘java’ (a deep ebony brown) to get a dark finish. When I went to buy my stain, they had just released a new colour, black, so I bought one tin of java and one of black, and mixed them 50/50 for the perfect finish. I had also bought a tin of Poly to put on top but never got around to it – the gel stain never needed a protective coat. Any of the few areas that got nicked touched right up with a finger dipped in the can and dabbed on the area to be fixed. My only recommendations for the gel stain are use liquid sander deglosser first (do NOT skip this step! Don’t even think about it!) and use an old sock (over a thick gardening glove, rubber gloves just dissolve as it is oil-based) to apply it in super, super thin coats.
The cabinet hardware was the most expensive thing in the kitchen, costing about $450. My parents had just re-done their kitchen for an eye watering sum, and after choosing beautiful pulls from Restoration Hardware, switched to cheapies from Lowes at the last minute and it is SUCH a shame. I read that cabinet hardware is the ‘jewelry’ of the kitchen and I’m so glad I splashed out. I believe they are by Atlas, in Champagne Bronze, and they were about $18-25 each depending on the size. I’d buy them again a thousand times over.
The sink is from IKEA, along with the butcher block. I think the countertops (including the bar area) were just under $300 and the sink was $315. The sink had been redesigned with the rest of the IKEA kitchen overhaul and fit into the existing 36″ cabinet with minor adjustments – we just cut the front two drawers in half with a jigsaw and the rest was fine. The faucet was also a treat, at about $350 – I can’t remember the name/make (pretty sure it’s Moen), but its all over Pinterest. Again, 100% worth the cost and was super easy to install by myself, along with the garbage disposal and some new Pex plumbing under the sink. The countertops cut down (like buttah!) with my little Ryobi circular saw and a spirit level clamped down to keep the cut straight, and screwed in from the underside with drywall screws, of all things.
To finish it all off, I ripped out the old 6″ square white tile and replaced it with 3×6 white subway tile (with mastic – a tiling revelation!) and added some under-cabinet LED strip lights from IKEA.
On the other side of the kitchen, I added trim to the greenhouse window, added a counter over the washer/dryer (using scrap 1×4, 1×6, and my Kreg Jig), and built a hall tree using plans from Ana White, my trusty circular saw, and the Kreg Jig (I also extended the air register with some duct work, tape, and aluminium trellis). I had never seen a greenhouse window before and, when I bought the house I thought it was dated and awkward, but I came to love it dearly and I miss it so much. I grew garden herbs in the window, had a lovely panoramic view into the yard, and there was always a cat in it, soaking up rays.
The buyers ended up keeping the washer/dryer and I loved them so much I bought the exact same ones for this house – by LG, never had an issue with them. The British Isles map is a screen print from Bold & Noble (as are the two prints on the kitchen counter) and is easily one of my favourite pieces of art. It’s made of city names from around Britain, and as luck would have it, lists all my favourite places, even tho some are tiny towns. Blythe, Creetown, Hunstanton, Derby – my darling homes – and lots of the off-the-road places I love to visit and keep fiercely close to my heart. What a luxury it is, to find meaningful art like that.
where the magic happens.
I wish I had the foresight to draw the floor plan for this house for you. Despite its diminutive size (my ex-husband was 5’4 on a good day… I’ll be the first to say size doesn’t matter!), this house has two large bedrooms and two full baths. I loved both, but the Master truly had my heart. It took awhile to get used to the room, and I cried quite a lot of ‘what have I done, this house isn’t cozy at all’ tears to begin with. In hindsight, this was a mistake, but this was the second-to-last room to be decorated – it should have been the first. Decorate your bedroom first, people! When the rest of the house is falling down around you, you need a fully curated, perfect sanctuary to retreat to.
The realtor’s photo of this room really disappointed me. It’s such a luxurious room – multiple people have said it’s like a boutique hotel room – its dark and moody and cozy, with texture and subtlety, and unfortunately the photographer missed that and I think tried to make it look bright and airy, which it is not, and was never trying to be.
I painted the walls Raccoon Hollow, a beautiful khaki beige, which I originally got from a Burberry carrier bag. One day I’ll write a post about it, but, as a treat to myself for getting a full-ride scholarship to college for 4 years, I bought myself an $1100 Burberry handbag and it is the best purchase I’ve ever made. I was 17 or 18 and my parents and I went to see Cirque du Soleil in Chicago around Christmas and my mum was wine-drunk and, after I gasped when I saw the bag I had been clipping ads from Vogue about, in real life, in a store window, she convinced me to go in and look at it. It was on sale as a ‘heading out-of-season’ chestnut brown leather with brass hardware, and I just couldn’t let it go. We had champagne in the store and they made me feel like a princess and, having grown up quite poor, it was my first experience really being treated as a customer. I’ll remember that experience for the rest of my life; how it is to treat customers and how it is to be rewarded for working hard for something. 12 years later, its one of my favourite pieces, timeless and such an exquisite quality, and it taught me so much about the value of money and the value of investing in well-made, subtle pieces instead of chasing trends – holla, Mini Manor Bag!
Back to the walls – I painted one coat of semi-gloss paint and, using a large-format wall stencil (with a clip-on stencil level – get the level), stenciled a moroccan trellis pattern with the same colour paint in matte. The result looked like the most delicious, sumptuous wallpaper, but in reality cost about $250 and maybe 12 hours of work. The window in that room is off-center, so I hung floor to ceiling silk curtains along the entire wall – a Target find, maybe about $150 of curtains. I bought 3.5x the length of the wall, I think about 10 curtain panels, to make sure they hung full and pleated. I didn’t replace the trim in this room, just added a sculpted bead to the outside of the existing trim (with liquid nails) to pad it out a bit. The side tables are armoires I cut down from Target (after falling in love with a similar out-of-budget Mid Century Mod set from West Elm which was about 4x the price). The hardware was replaced with $6 pulls from Anthropology. Again, I think the hardware cost more than the actual furniture, but it was worth it. Bed is from Avenue Q from Overstock (I think about $650? It now comes in more headboard colours, just the black leather was available when I purchased it), and the mattress is from Tuft and Needle and is the best mattress I’ve ever slept on, hotels included.
The other bedroom became an office slash craft room – I painted the walls, painted over the orange hollow core closet doors with chalkboard paint, and installed some pretty bronze track shelving with 1×16 and 1×10 pine shelves. It was this room that ‘broke the camel’s back’ – I finished decorating this room and still didn’t have enough space to have a functioning office and a place to sew and do crafts and read books. This was the room that made me think ‘THIS HOUSE IS TOO SMALL’ and set me on my mission for something bigger, with more storage. Once again, the curtains were hung way too low, and I didn’t bother to replace the trim, just painted it charcoal. I’ll also write about that electric piano one of these days – oh how I adore it, after losing my dearly cherished 1936 Wurlitzer in the divorce.
This house has 2. One, I did nothing to. The other one, I added 3 walls of paneling and curtains and took off doors and again the realtor fucked up the pictures. I added a picture rail and painted the ceiling (and top few inches of the wall) Urbane Bronze – basically black. This is not a ‘light bright airy’ bathroom. Its a dark, cozy luxury cave that happens to have plumbing. There are a few better photos over on instagram. I ended up re-enameling the tile in here, which was a MUCH bigger project than I was expecting. I’ve already had to re-enamel the pedestal tub in this new house though, so it ended up being good practice.
I’m so upset with this photo. I can’t even look at it. Just go look at Instagram and how it’s supposed to be.
that’s all folks!
There’s one extra room in this house – it used to have a two car garage, one car wide and two cars deep, and at some point someone turned the back half into a bonus room. For the destructive part of the house renovation, this was the DIY/project room; full of saws and drills and paint and stain and sawdust. And then it became a gym with mats for yoga and a spin bike -that space is now down in the basement the new house and I miss it dearly. There is separate building on this property that may eventually become a gym, so all is not lost, but here it was in its shining glory.
In sum, as far as numbers go, I made about $34k on the sale of the house, after the realtor fees. If you take out the money I spent on the house, I probably made about $15k overall, so it wasn’t as bad as my last house which, owing to divorce and realtor fees, I lost about $25k on. I loved living here, and I’m already missing the $550 mortgage payment. It was such a perfect area, such a perfect street and a perfect house for a singleton or a couple with not a lot of ‘stuff’ and I’m excited for my buyers to enjoy it for years to come. Writing this post wasn’t nearly as sad as I though it would be – this house helped me learn and grow, gently and patiently. The new house has been a bit more insistent, more violent and sporadic, but I’m ready for it, armed with the lessons I’ve learned. Peace out, tiny house! I love you lots and will always keep you in my heart.