Last week was the end of a long chapter in my life. The house I lived in for 6 years transferred ownership to my buyers and I officially moved out. I will never pull into that driveway again, never dash up the stairs to grab the scarf I forgot in my closet, never make a huge mess in the kitchen while putting together a delicious meal, never enjoy a glass of wine with loved ones on the couch in the living room, never plant another garden in the backyard… It is with absolute certainty that I can say that this experience would serve as the perfect definition of bittersweet. All week long I found myself sitting in the middle of two extreme emotions: liberated joy and crushing sadness.
The latter was the stronger of the two feelings in the last few days as I went through the closing of the sale and emptying of the final things in the house; but there was a constant optimism underlying the sorrow attempting to remind me of the great things ahead. Emotions are tricky, aren’t they? The logical side of me was rolling her eyes at the weepy side and biting her tongue even though she wanted to shout: “Hey dummy, you’ve been waiting for months to sell your house and move on from this break-up, why are you so sad!?” Conversely, the emotional side of me was angry at the rational side and more than once she wailed: “Why doesn’t logical me and everyone else understand why I feel sad, and isn’t it OK to feel this way anyway?!” Fortunately I am somehow comfortable living in the middle of juxtapositional craziness and although I felt completely disheveled, I was equally fine with oscillating between the sad and happy, rolling with whichever felt stronger and appreciating that what I was feeing was all valid.
That said, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Particularly the last handful of times I went into the empty house, after I had moved out and was returning to pick up the last of my boxes or clean up before handing over the keys to the new owners… I left the house in tears more than once and felt sick to my stomach every time I drove away. There’s something quite heartbreaking about saying a goodbye that you know is permanent. It was the same feeling I had when I said goodbye to the dog and the cats that my ex took after we split – there’s this terrible finality in walking away from something or someone you know you will never see again. And in this case, this goodbye was to a really beautiful house that I cherished very dearly as a wonderful home for many years. And even though the life I shared with my former partner is over and I know that he and I are both better off in our new lives, I still have happy memories of the time we had together in that home.
So my goal with this post is to pay tribute to the house, my home, which I loved and will always love. And if Julie Andrews has taught me anything (apart from the best word in the world, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious), when I’m feeling sad, I just need to think of a few of my favourite things. Here are a few from the first house I ever owned.
The floors. Hardwood oak, medium brown, with beautiful and unique swirls in every individual piece. I still remember the first days of installation – pulling each strip of wood from the piles of boxes, delighting in the idea that these gorgeous pieces were just like a fingerprint or snowflake, unique and unlike any other in the pile.
The mudroom. Square slabs of slate in shades of grey, blue, yellow, green, and even a speckle or two of red – all with a magical feel of the cosmos that would take me away into reveries of outer-space whenever I allowed myself to stop for a moment to recognize their beauty. One side of the room was comprised of pale grey built-in cabinets framing the washing machine and dryer with a large and sturdy matching bench opposite, all designed for optimal convenience in this welcoming room that served as my main entry on the side of the house.
The dolomite. The kitchen was already perfectly installed when we purchased the house (IKEA kitchens for the win!) so there wasn’t really much to do in this room apart from dressing it up a bit. The dolomite tile that I chose as backsplash was absolutely stunning: a soft white with the faintest whispers of grey streaking throughout, along with a pale grey grout… it was special. And then to top it all off, functional hand-build shelving was added on either side of the stove, just above the backsplash.
The closet. One of my favourite decisions made in the early days of the purchase was to tear down the wall between the linen closet in the hallway upstairs and the walk-in closet in the master bedroom, leaving me with all the space a girl could need for a (dare I say it?) dream closet. Pure white, good lighting, hooks for days, bead-board and ample shelving – it was the best closet I’ve ever had. (And that’s saying a lot, because the first place I ever rented had a spare bedroom that I used as a full closet.)
The fireplace. Remember that cosmic tile from my incredible mudroom? It was reclaimed for a fireplace-makeover in the first few years at the house. Where the fireplace was previously a pale indistinct purple-beige with absolutely NOTHING going for it, the refreshing makeover gave the mantlepiece new life with a crisp white on top contrasted by the bold and bright colours of the slate along the base.
The colours. Fossil Grey, Stratosphere, Seagull Grey… I can’t remember all the creative names of the paint colours I chose over the years but the colours are imprinted in my memory. Deep blues upstairs, a pale baby blue in the kitchen, varying shades of grey throughout the main floor, pure white in the bathroom and closets, and a pale greyish green in the mudroom all gave me joy from the first stroke of the paintbrush until the very last time I walked through the house.
Why were these my favourite things? I chose them. Living in this house allowed me the experience of my very first time decorating my own place, choosing the finishing touches, playing interior designer, and leaving my mark in every room. But, as much as I had a role to play in choosing the aesthetics in each room, my ex played a much larger role by installing them and adding special touches that I will always remember with gratitude. Strangely it occurred to me as I was writing – all the things I listed are vestiges of his handiwork. He was (and is) a talented craftsman – a quality that I continue to admire to this day. Just as I loved my house and will always love it, I loved him and always will. We weren’t right for each other, but he was good to me and we made a beautiful home together.
Saying goodbye to this house was as much a goodbye to the structure as much as it was a goodbye to him and all the beautiful work he did. “A few of my favourite things” could turn into an ongoing series about all the amazing work he did in that house – the raised bed for my garden in the backyard, the sturdy bannister that he installed after tearing out the weird wonky original that was there when we bought the place, those handmade cabinets and countertop he custom built around our washer and dryer in the mudroom, the inserts he installed in the oversized windows to give them an extra touch of character… It was a good home that we made, even though it wasn’t meant to be ours forever.
On that very last night in the house I walked from room to room, running my fingers along on the walls, taking in every corner in the hope that I would never forget those precious spaces. And now, as I write these words, I feel a fond appreciation for the home we made together and the lovely work he did for us in that house. More importantly, I know that there was great love in that home and that is something truly unforgettable. He worked hard and we worked hard together – regardless of how it ended, that house remains a monument to that love and work, and that is what I said goodbye to. These are, they were, they always will be, a few of my favourite things.
Previously on This is an adventure… a slightly clumsy wannabe renovator takes on a messy mudroom closet. Stakes are high with winter fast approaching and nowhere to put her 50+ scarves. Will she complete her project before the work week starts? Will she ever figure out why she loves slate tiles so much? Will her carpenter boyfriend ever let her use his favorite power tools? Find out now, in the long-awaited and riveting sequel to Under Construction.
It has been several weeks since I learned how to tile my closet, and I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus – busy with some big projects at work and adjusting to the dreaded end of daylight savings. But I’m back, and ready to share the conclusion to my latest undertaking. To recap, my mudroom closet needed a major makeover and I was finally ready to tackle this combined renovation and organization project – renovization? Part 1 of the project was focused on emptying the closet and laying the slate tiles down on the floor. Part 2 is all about adding the grout to the spaces between the tiles, and then organizing the space.
To start, I decided to wipe down all the newly installed tiles so I could clean off any cement that was left over from the day before. I love the look of the slate when it is wet – the water brings out all the natural colors of the stone, and gives off this incredible shimmer. It reminds me of some beautiful walks I have taken on rocky beaches in British Columbia; the stones I collect always look like jewels when I pluck them off the beach, freshly soaked by the waves or rainfall. Later, when they dry, they look more weathered and rough. It is the same with my slate floor, so cleaning it can actually be entertaining as I watch the stone’s rich colors reveal themselves foot by foot. (I am fairly certain that sealing the floor might achieve the same thing, but another day, another project, and perhaps another post!)
Now, a word about grout. Having a home with a person who is capable of doing renovation work has opened up a whole new world for me. Getting to choose the materials for the house is always fun and challenging because the possibilities are endless – it can be overwhelming with the amount of options and I fall in love easily. (The tile! The different samples of wood flooring! The hundred different shades of paint!) So imagine my surprise and delight when I learned about grout and realized that there was yet another material for me to pick and layer in with everything else. For so many years, I took for granted that there was this incredible cement in between all the tiles in the world – little did I know that grout comes in a whole range of colors and completely transforms the way the tile looks once it is dry. All the little imperfections and crooked lines between the tiles always seem to disappear when the grout gets added. It pulls everything together and depending on the color, it can contrast with the tile for a sharp look or compliment it perfectly for something more seamless.
Given that I think grout is such a glorious material, I’m of the opinion that this is the most exciting part of a tile installation. So when I finished cleaning the tile and everything was dry, I consulted with my handyman before starting. I wanted to make sure that I would get the consistency right and didn’t want to run the risk of ruining the slate by not doing the work properly. Unfortunately, he sort of took over the mixing part but I’m pretty sure I could do it again after watching. This time, he added just a bit of water from a glass and mixed everything by hand with a metal scraper, instead of using the heavy duty drill bit we used for mixing the tile cement the day before. The mixture came together fairly quickly, but he instructed me to wait 10 minutes and let it sit before starting.
Next came the tricky and time sensitive part. The idea with grout is that you are completely filling the gaps between the tile, so you’re supposed to really lay it on thick and spread it around and around until the gaps are filled to the top. Then you need to wipe away the excess grout before it dries onto the tile. Under normal circumstances, the wipe down isn’t necessarily a huge rush, but slate is extremely porous and the grout will just melt in and become part of the stone. I’ve seen it happen on a few tiles in the mudroom, where the grout wasn’t fully wiped off and it is there to this day.
Instead of the ridged scraper I used for the tile cement, this time I was told to use a scraper with a soft material to spread around the grout. This is to protect the precious, precious tile. When the grout was completely spread out and jammed into every nook and cranny, I got a big bucket of water with a sponge and set to wiping away all the excess grout.
After sponging every tile numerous times, I closed the closet door, and walked away. It would be at least another full day before everything was really dry and set. That was a Sunday…three weeks ago, and the door has stayed shut, save for a few times that we hastily tossed some shoes in there. Since completing the floor installation, I have been mentally planning how to organize the closet for nearly a month and this weekend I finally felt ready to take on the final stage of the mudroom closet project.
But of course, every project will have its hiccups, and the downside of this one was realizing that all the other closets in my home really do need a major makeover like in the mudroom. Filling the closet was a pretty quick job; it was figuring out what to do with all the leftover contents that were previously living in the mudroom closet that took most of the day. It felt as through I was working on a giant, 3D, real-life puzzle – shuffling pieces from room to room, closet to closet, until I found a place for nearly everything. Now I have added both my office and front hall closets onto my never-ending “To Do” list for the house. Both needed some organization, but the closet in our front hall has a cold draft in the floor – highly suspect.
We’re definitely going to need some insulation work in there, as soon as possible. Ah, the joys of home ownership. At least it is warm by our toasty fire, and the mudroom closet is now 100% winter-ready. I added an old hanging unit from IKEA on the bar in the closet, using 2 sections for dog gear and the other 2 sections for scarves, hats, and gloves. I used the rest of the bar to hang our (mostly my) winter jackets, with hooks handling the overflow of coats that we need to access quickly.
I tried to keep the floor space as open and clear as possible, because we’ll need room for our (mostly my) boots and shoes, day to day. We have a large plastic bin on wheels with Lily’s dog food, and it fits snugly under the IKEA hanging unit – which is perfect to roll out for easy access at meal time. I also moved a wooden crate into the closet where I can keep all our old towels for wiping down the pup after muddy/rainy/snowy walks around town. We got this beautiful old crate from my man’s grandparents when they moved out of their old house, and I love having something rustic but functional for storage.
I put our trusty first aid kit and a mini fire extinguisher on the top shelf of the closet (safety first!) and left the rest of the shelf clear, assuming that it will quickly fill up with the various odds and ends that inevitably collect in our high traffic mudroom – my purse, his tools – and for now, the closet looks fantastic and orderly. I’ve been sneaking peaks of the finished product all evening and I am very pleased with how it looks: organized and intuitively accessible. Hopefully it will stay that way through the entire winter! My attempts to keep spaces organized don’t always last long, but I think my set up in the closet will help us get out the door easily through the first and last snows over the next few months.
In a dream world or alternative reality, I think I might be a carpenter, builder, or general contractor. The last five years of my life have been spent with a man who works in this field, and as a result, my passion for renovations and building continues to grow. It is fascinating to hear about his day and the steps that go into things like the construction of a bathroom, or crafting a piece of custom furniture. Projects at home are fun for me (less so for him) because I ask lots of questions and like to understand the process. While I always want to participate, it tends to be a challenge with some of the harder work (I am short, have a pretty small frame, and definitely would not classify myself as particularly strong or athletic). So, the part I play is usually more on the design side – selecting the paint colors, materials, and finishing touches.
I certainly have no problem with our respective roles – shopping for tile was quite possibly my favorite activity in 2011 – but I often daydream about being a super cool lady builder. This remains a running joke at home each time I bring it up; I say I want his job, he laughs and says I wouldn’t be able to carry drywall, case closed.
But, a girl can dream! To prove to myself that I might have it in me, I decided to take on a small project in our home that does not require heavy lifting but does demand some renovation chops. In preparation for another winter in Canada, I need to get the closet in our mudroom cleaned up and ready for our winter gear. The mudroom was a renovation project that included the installation of beautiful slate tiles on the floor and built-in cabinets on either side of the washer and dryer. That was a couple of years ago, and my participation on the project was minimal – I chose the slate and paint colors, and took care of painting the cabinets.
Cut to present day and the closet in our mudroom is a disaster. We ran low on the tile and a real-life job came up that prevented my man from finishing the tiling. The leftover tiles started collecting dust in the corner of the closet. My shoe collection got bigger, not smaller. We got kayaks and started stashing our gear in the closet. We adopted our dog Lily and the closet became a catch-all for everything we wanted to keep out of her way. There was an incident with a nail and a foot this past summer, and now we have a pair of crutches jammed in the closet as well…
The list goes on and on. In short, the project manager in me is just itching to clean out this closet so it can fulfill its potential as the final functional touch in our mudroom / laundry room / doggie hang out. Plus I’ll jump on anything that encourages my love and obsession for slate, as evidenced by my photo shoot for this post.
Since the last thing my man wants to do on the weekend is more of the work that he does all week long, I decided to take matters into my own hands and get this closet finished. This includes the following:
- Emptying and editing the closet. It is time to clear out the random junk and make room for useful things we actually need.
- Cleaning the closet. There are too many dust bunnies in there for my liking, and I need a good clean surface to tile.
- Installing Ditra on the floor. This orange plastic membrane is supposed to help keep the tiles level if the floor shifts.
- Installing the beautiful slate tiles on top of the Ditra.
- Adding grout to the spaces between the tiles. This last step in tiling really pulls everything together.
- Organize! I have lots of things I want to fit in the closet and minimal space, so I need to get creative about where I put things.
Part 1 of the Under Construction project covers my adventures in cleaning and tiling. For some perspective – here is a painfully embarrassing “before” shot of my messy closet. No judgement, OK? For the record, it only got to this level of disorganization when Lily came into our lives and it was clear that we needed to strip the room of EVERYTHING when we left her home alone in the mudroom.
It was pretty easy to get everything off the closet floor and into my office until I’m ready to organize. (Part 2 will cover the top shelf of the closet, which is a whole other battle). At the bottom of the mess, I found a few pieces of slate that were already cut and simply needed to be wiped down. After sweeping out some storm clouds of dust and ancient cement residue, I got the Ditra ready by cutting it to size with an x-acto knife.
The Ditra gets affixed to the floor using cement, and then the tiles are cemented on top of the Ditra. At this point in the project, my man stepped in to help me mix the cement. (I also suspect that he felt compelled to supervise.) He has a nifty tool that looks like a heavy-duty drill, with a drill bit that mixes the cement in a bucket. The whole time we were mixing, I couldn’t help but notice that the cement mixture looked exactly like raw cookie dough – same consistency, only more grey and definitely NOT edible. I’m glad he helped because he was able to mix the cement and water by eye, whereas I would have probably spent 10 minutes trying to measure the perfect water to cement ratio.
When we were satisfied with the consistency of the cement, it was back to the closet and time to get rolling. I applied a generous amount of cement to the floor and used a little scraper to evenly distribute on the empty floorspace. Then, I was told by my professional to use a second scraper with ridges before sticking the Ditra to the ground. The ridges apparently help to make things stick better compared to simply dropping the material onto a flat surface.
Once we stuck the Ditra onto the floor, it was time to start working with the slate tiles. I used lots cement here, making sure that every single little square in the Ditra was full to the brim with cement. On top of that, I added even more cement and brought back the scraper with ridges to make sure there were good raised lines ready for the slate.
The first row was done within minutes – the work went quickly with my professional on standby, giving me guidance each step of the way. When it came time to lay the last tile in the first row, we realized that a few pieces would need to be cut. There was some lively debate about whether I would be allowed to use his tile saw, and I was sadly overruled. Saw use was determined to be off-limits for me, supposedly for my own safety. So, while I was laying down the tile, my man was cutting, and the second row quickly came together with a few more pieces we found in the basement. Because the second row was not very wide, I was advised to apply the cement to the back of each tile, rather than adding to the floor. Things got messy. It was wonderful.
Altogether, it took less than an hour to put down the Ditra and tile. I need to wait overnight before I can grout, but I am already thrilled with how it looks. Having seen a few tile installations in our house, I’ve learned that all the gaps between the tiles look terrible and uneven when the tile first goes down. Things seem disjointed and especially odd with a tile like slate, where each piece is so different and unique in color. But, grout is a magical material, and what looks lackluster today will look incredible tomorrow.
I cannot wait to finish this project tomorrow morning. I can already visualize a basket filled with scarves and hats in the corner and have big ideas for some easy ways to organize all of our odds and ends. Stay tuned for Under Construction, Part 2 – coming soon to a computer screen near you!