“Just move your bedroom”

The light and sounds from the gas station really bothered me. While the station’s operation generated little noise – their customers had loud vehicles, booming car stereos, angry shouting people, and the thunking sound when the gas storage tank portals were driven over were intermittent and constant. And the stupid tire compressor, located 6′ from the property line, accessible by anyone 24/7, was audible in most of the rooms of my home.

If this had been a new development, the site plan would have required a buffer zone, with plantings to absorb some of the sound. The lot as it is would have NEVER passed current site plan approval, as it would be considered too small to incorporate buffer zones, adequate traffic flow plans, etc. It seems like another facet of the Class War that older “suspect” areas like EOA are subject to. A station planned (as in planned 70 years ago, then changed significantly) like the one next door would never happen next door to a new residential development.

Even though I had light blocking blinds, with curtains on top of them, light still crept under and around. The difference in the elevation between the area with the canopy and pumps, and my property on a lower grade meant that their excessive lighting had a greater effect than if we were on the same plane.

As spring began, I realized that I could not tolerate another summer’s worth of late night noise, puncturing my sleep. I could hear all this with my bedroom windows and storm windows closed. With no AC my windows upstairs were open May through September.

The house is modest, with two bedrooms upstairs. There is a small room off the dining room on the main floor that had been the sewing room. I decided to move my bedroom to the former sewing room, as it would be the darkest and most quiet.

It wasn’t as simple as just moving my bedroom contents to a different room and vice versa.

The switch meant that I had to fix the largest bedroom to accommodate my sewing machines. This was the only other room that could fit the tall bookcases that I stored my findings and tools in (the room I used as a bedroom had sloping walls the bookcases could not fit under). The walls and ceiling in the sewing room and large bedroom were terrible and needed extensive plaster repairs. I also needed some strange wiring undone to have an overhead light in the new bedroom. The previous owner installed three sconces – but ran the wires down the wall inside these weird wood structures the sconces were mounted on. This made arranging furniture in a tiny room nearly impossible, and I didn’t like how the mounts or sconces looked anyhow. Even if the wiring had been run inside the wall, I could have worked around the sconce location but the dumb mounts took up too much wall space.

The realtor’s (much lightened) photo shows the sconce situation. What were those mounts – giant needles ?


I assumed the plaster had been cut to run the wires down so I was surprised when the mounts and sconces were taken down and the actual situation looked like this:


It was pointless to leave the rooms as is, as the problems were ugly and dysfunctional.

I did all the plaster repairs and painting myself. It wasn’t just patching a few nail holes. The previous owner had done some terrible things – including numerous patches with drywall that was too thick. The electrician needed to have a portion of the ceiling opened up to run the new wiring, which I had to close in afterwards.

Getting a electrician who would return my phone calls was a challenge. Even local companies in the immediate area who advertised small residential jobs wouldn’t call me back !

I had to purchase plaster, plaster washers, drywall screws, mesh tape, oil primer,  adhesion primer and wall and trim paint for three rooms. Displacing the contents of even one room at a time is disruptive and stressful. Plaster repairs take a long time to do, as thin coats need to be built up, then have to cure before they can be primed/painted. This was a less offensive solution than having some goons knock out the old plaster to slam in new drywall. Repair also generated the least waste.

I had to hire movers to get the bookcases and heavy machines up a flight of stairs. I had to wrassle my antique bed apart and get that down a flight of stairs by myself.

Once I was finally in the new bedroom, it WAS quieter. I wasn’t hearing any more 4:00 a.m. cel phone marathons in the parking lot . The twerp manager, who took many cigarette breaks, was a real chatterbox . The latest in pounding EDM tunes didn’t jar me awake now. Perfect ! And it only took months of labour and expense to get there.

Thanks gas station. You really helped improve my quality of life, by forcing me to change my priorities. It’s not like I could have used that $ 1000.00 or so for other useful expenses like food or vet bills.

(Not that the rooms didn’t need fixing – they did – but I had other projects that were forced aside so I could just get a decent night’s sleep. )

This is how much fixing the large bedroom room needed, including major work on the ceiling. I had to empty the three bookcases already in the room, then shove them around as there was nowhere else for them to go upstairs, due to the sloped ceilings:



It took a very long time to get to this:


Then I had to do it again, to the future bedroom, including repairing the oppressive little L shaped closet that goes partially under the stairs:



The little closet was its own nightmare:


I was able to buy the paint at 25% off for this room, which was a small relief at least.

Then I had to fix my former bedroom(also painted the same dark army green as the former sewing room). The plaster was the least bad in this room, but it still needed lots of patching. Did I mention that each room had trim paint that was improperly applied so I had to scrape then paint out the charcoal grey with an adhesion primer before I could paint the trim ?


I finally got to this. You can see it wasn’t as simple as “just switching rooms”:


Hey – look out the window. There’s the gas station !




Despite Everything…

…I continue to fix my house. Even though I believe its value is greatly diminished due to the infiltration of gasoline vapours. Even though the air quality may be periodically unsafe. Where else could I go ?

At present, my bedroom overlooks the gas station parking lot. I can hear the tire compressor, loud car stereos, conversations, idling delivery trucks, and it all drives me nuts and interrupts my sleep.

I am switching rooms to move my bedroom to the quietest location. However, this means I have to fix two rooms to do this – as the future bedroom had to have the contents displaced, and my present bedroom has sloping ceilings that my bookcases would not fit under.

The first room in progress is the west bedroom – the biggest and brightest of the bedrooms. It also had a tragic ceiling and rough walls, painted with that dastardly “Jackson Tan” chocolate milk color. The previous owner tried to fix the ceiling with really incomplete knowledge of what this entailed. There were large areas of shaggy, half scraped off wallpaper, painted over, NINE patches using drywall that was too thick (affixed with wood screws that were too short, not even drywall screws), lots of blobs of joint compound and visible fiberglass mesh tape.

Since the space upstairs is limited, I had to work around the three large bookcases that were already in the room. I emptied them, and pushed them around as necessary to access the wall or ceiling. All the books were displaced, which meant tall stacks in the bedroom. The contents went into the rest of the house, everywhere, a big mess.

I don’t know how many plaster washers I used, or how many buckets of joint compound I went through. I skim coated, and re-skim coated, then skim coated some more to minimize the frankenstein monster ceiling. The walls had the same terrible plaster present in the rest of the house, with the crumbling scratch coat and the 3mm thick finish coat.

All the trim had been painted with the same water based enamel, the one that had the iffy preparation upstairs in the hall. I had to scrape and sand that, then paint it all out with adhesion primer. The Queen Anne style windows each had 16 small panes of stained glass, 1/3 of which were pressed pattern glass on the inside, so these all had to be carefully cut in as it is very difficult to scrape paint off textured glass.

Every step went so slowly and laboriously. I could only fix 3/4 of the walls and ceiling, because of the bookcases in the way. This meant I had to work to finish one area while another area hadn’t been touched yet. This made the room extra ugly and chaotic feeling.

Sanding was horrible, especially the ceiling. Because of the large areas that were skim coated I had to use extra stinky oil based primer, which stuck in my hair, skin, glasses.

Finally the point came where the walls and ceiling were unremarkable looking again. They weren’t perfect, but they weren’t shaggy and cracked, with visible drywall patches anymore.

Realtor’s photo expressing the “potential” for this room, with very lightened wall color, and an inflatable bed impersonating a bedroom suite. It looks pleasant but the actual reality of the wall and ceiling situation was minimized, to say the least:


The ceiling after scraping off the loose paint and remaining wallpaper:


How much repair the walls needed. They were all this bad:


Finally the room was done enough. Not perfect but fine:



Now I get to repeat this process in the future bedroom, which has equally bad walls but a slightly less bad ceiling. No textured glass to paint around at least:


There is an iffy bulkhead (not shown) I am trying to leave alone and three sconces attached to giant, large, thick wood needle – like objects. I suspect there were major incisions made in the plaster to wire the sconces, so instead of fixing the plaster these goofy things were made to cover that. Are the electrical boxes properly and safely situated ? I’ll have to get those clunky things off to find out…

To get away from the gas station noise and light I will do this.

Trying to Right the Wrong

Scrubbing the unadhered paint off with TSP and a scouring pad was kind of a rotten task. I took as much off as I could. I let that dry overnight then painted all the surfaces with an adhesion primer. The railing and spindles had been stripped and varnished – but there was nothing else in this area that had an original wood surface. I never liked the contrast – or the color of the wood so away I went with the primer, feeling approximately 0.005% guilt for painting over exposed wood.


Covering the difference between the the light colored paint below what I scrubbed off and the charcoal paint that wouldn’t budge took a couple of coats of primer. The surface was complex so using a roller was useless, and it all had to get brushed on. I decided I didn’t like the charcoal border on the stairs, so I primed that out. BUT – doing this exposed the many carpet staples that had been painted over, some with chunks of carpet that the PO had painted over. I had to dig these out individually, and patch the holes:


The almost black border (the floors were all painted that same dark charcoal as the trim) did a good job of hiding all the staples left behind. The painted surface on the stairs was showing wear, so that had to get repainted, too.

I used Benjamin Moore Advance paint on the trim, spindles, railing and doors,  Heppelwhite Ivory HC-36:


leftover BM Advance in Nantucket Grey HC – 111 for the border:


and leftover BM oil based enamel paint for the stairs, in Manchester Tan, HC-81. This was leftover from my house in 2015. I don’t know anyone else who moved with numerous cans of house paint but I did, twice. It was still good ! :


Painting the stairs with stinky oil paint in January, during a cold snap where I didn’t want to open the windows, was not my brightest idea. The contrasting stripe was painted BM Black Forest Green. Did I mention that a Previous Owner somewhere down the line had used a copious amount of floor levelling compound, probably made by Dap, as it retained that used chewing gum texture many years after the application ? This was applied over many of the stairs and their underside, which created a smeared and blobby texture. I dug as much off as I had the patience for.

After it was done it looked brighter and felt better. It needed 2-3 coats over the primer to cover the dark/light areas, and a rare sunny day exposed more thin spots that needed to get another coat. Then it was done enough. I did start thinking about the wall and ceiling color, but that was an agony that didn’t merit re-visiting.




Dear Previous Owner…

…thank you for not messing with this house too much. I really appreciate that you let the original doors and windows be, and didn’t start smashing out walls for that plague of open concept. I’m really happy you left the exterior alone, though it would have been more decent of you to have replaced that one part of the eavestroughing that was missing before you sold the place.

What you did to the kitchen was really bad,  but I feel like I have scolded you enough about that.

I do need to speak with you about the paint situation, though. It was maddening to discover that the dark grey paint that was used on the trim upstairs is a noticeably different color from the dark grey trim downstairs. Why would you do this ?

Even worse, was that while you seemed to use a good quality paint on the main floor, which has performed well, whatever you did upstairs was TERRIBLE. I don’t care what the underpaid staff at the big box store told you – you DO need to properly prep a surface that has been previously painted with oil paint, and you DO need to use an adhesion primer. If you don’t – well you can just peel that water based enamel or whatever it was off wherever it was applied. The faintest ding will chip it, revealing the light color underneath the almost black color you chose. This is partcularly evident in the areas that had the most hands – around the doorknobs and light switches, and the edge of the doors. If you had looked carefully – you would have seen that waxy brownish build-up from many years of skin oils. No paint will adhere to this !

So, dear Previous Owner, this is why I will need to spend many hours scrubbing off your inferior latex paint, using water and TSP and a scrubbing pad. Once it is dry, then I can apply the adhesion primer, then the enamel paint of my choosing.

The charcoal grey wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it isn’t terrible. I could have lived with it, if it had been properly applied. I want you to take a good look at this, and ask yourself if this was a good legacy ? You seemed to want to do right by the house, to make it presentable and attractive ? Whose bad advice did this ?




Scraping Paint

It took awhile to feel confident on the scaffolding. It felt sturdy, but due to the projection of the corbels and whatnot, there was an 18″ gap between the scaffolding and the house. Even with the safety crossbars I worried that I would make an oblivious turn and step, tumble and fall off the edge.

Most of the wood detail on the front of the second story was sound, which was a major relief. A few areas were dried out or fragile, but nothing was mushy or hollow. I started scraping with a putty knife, then moved on to a heat gun for the areas that were large enough. The edges of the wood are the most vulnerable to igniting, so I brought a spray bottle of water with me, to wet any areas that seemed to smoulder.



Work on the scaffold was further complicated by my aversion to the sun. As a pale redhead I burn. Migraines are easily induced by a glare in my eyes. I worked for a few hours here and there in the morning into the afternoon, before the sun moved to direct exposure, and after supper.

I discovered that some of the decorative shingles had an embossed pattern, of what appeared to be a flower in a vase. I had never seen this detail before, or noticed it on other local houses. This must have looked extra fancy when the house was brand new – another decorative detail on an exterior loaded with them. I wondered about who built this house – and why there was such an intense amount of exterior detail ?



The areas that had been under an overhang had paint that was still very sound. I was quite surprised that it was holding up so well. I didn’t know when the house had been last painted – definitely not by the previous owner (c. 2005 – 2016) – and possibly not by the previous- previous owner (1974 – 2005). For all the issues with toxicity, those oil based alkyd paints really performed well.


I scraped as much as I could reach. John was back up north, so I was waiting on his return for the rest of the scaffolding. More of it went up late in October, but it was a wet and cold fall, so my scraping ended there. In theory I had thought that it would take me (working alone) three weeks or so to get the front scraped and primed, then painted. This might be true – weather permitting – but other variables like waiting on scaffolding slowed this down. The storm windows needed to be removed, and the putty repaired, but  this also meant that the scaffolding would need to get raised a level to reach properly.

I ruminated about whether it was better to prime all the areas I scraped, or to just leave those areas bare until next spring, when I could resume, and work in a continuous fashion upwards. I did know that primer should be painted fairly soon after application – otherwise it accumulates surface dirt, which will impair the paint adhesion. I worried about whether the exposed wood areas would be more damaged, or if a winter of exposure would mean little ? (You can see the weather won, by where the scraping stopped.)


One night I slept really badly, and kept waking up from vivid nightmares. One of the nightmares was that a man had broken into my house, and was standing over my bed, reaching up to take something off the wall. I woke up from this just before 7:00 a.m., spooked and got out of bed. One of my cats had knocked a box of screws off the  worktable downstairs, and they were spread out over the floor. I looked out the window in my front door – like I do every morning – as if my missing cat might be waiting there – and I could see that the ladder was laying in the driveway. It had been firmly attached to the scaffolding, so it wasn’t like it just blew over !

I went out in my pyjamas and moved it to the backyard, and felt deeply unsettled. Did the sound of the screws hitting the floor spook the thief and they abandoned it ?

I knew that creeps will suss out a place, particularly any place that was having work done, to assess how many tools might be on site to steal, security (if any), etc. Anyone walking by would have seen me using basic hand tools, and basic corded tools. I was more concerned that they planned to steal the scaffolding components and the ladder.

Was it a lazy opportunist planning to pawn or a creepy contractor stealing what he needed ? Both scenarios made me uncomfortable. EOA.



Starting On The Exterior

Many of us have been socialized to get all swoony about “potential”. When I first saw this house the peeling exterior and all the other issues were obvious – and I couldn’t shake those notions of just happily fixing it myself. I know how to prep and paint. I know how to reglaze a window – not a problem (right ?).

Finding competent tradespeople, who will do ALL the necessary steps, are scarce. The actual cost of the paint would be several hundred dollars – that seemed doable. The true cost of the exterior repairs would be the labour, which I estimated to be at least 10x the cost of the materials.

I spent the first summer emailing and phoning around about renting a scaffold. When my ex and I had painted that exterior (in Toronto), the scaffolding rental company delivered it, set it up and took it down. However – at the local places I inquired this was just not done. This was a problem. I had never set up scaffolding, so I had no clue about how to do that safely, or even what components to rent.

I wondered about an alternate approach, like renting a cherry picker or scissor lift. The cherry picker seemed like overkill – and I wasn’t clear if an operator’s license or certification was needed, which I did not have. Scissor lifts seemed to be used only on very flat surfaces, like pavement, or indoors.

Experienced US members on an old house forum recommended pump jacks. This is a kind of basic scaffolding that that the user can raise and lower by themselves. No one locally seemed to sell them or rent them, and the only thing that was identified as a pump jack was the hand operated device for moving pallets. Nope.

My experience on tall ladders was limited. I didn’t think I had it in me to paint the peak using an extension ladder, which is almost three stories off the ground.

But I had to paint my house !

This spring John said that I could use his scaffolding. This was complicated by John working 9 hours north through the summer and into the fall, where most of his scaffolding parts were.

We got the first of it set up in mid September. I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. I had NO excuse to not paint my house.

In the summer, while I waited for the scaffolding, I started stripping the living room window. This house has an odd detail that I have not seen on other local houses: carved flowers in the upper corners. The paint on it was very old, faded to a sort of ochre color. As I started to strip it, small traces of red were discovered around the flowers, and the ochre paint was more of a russet brown in the shaded areas. I worried that I might gouge up the carving but I didn’t. I managed to knock off one of the dentil pieces though. I looked for days and even sifted the soil below the window but never found it.

The window was looking pretty rough. The sill had been parged with cement, but had some adjacent rot that needed to be filled. The brick mould was gunked up with caulk and paint, and much of the glazing putty was loose or missing:


The complex surfaces were challenging. I used the most flexible putty knife and a small slotted screwdriver to dig the paint out:


When it was all stripped it looked even worse. What an accomplishment !


During this time, major roadwork was being done on Hamilton Road, so gravel and dump trucks were routed down this street. The sight of a woman working on a ladder was apparently so startling that several drivers had to slow down to ask questions about the task at hand.

Once the holes were patched, the old pitch caulking replaced, the glazing repair in progress, and the window primed it started to look a little better:


I was uncertain how to paint the window, exactly. If I painted the sash parts like the other windows, the flower detail would be lost again in the black. I wasn’t 100% about painting the carved sections with a contrasting color, but I thought that if it looked terrible I could paint over it. I thought it looked okay ? I used the door paint. The original colors around the window seemed to have been a very dark green, almost black around the window frame, then that tawny brown on the sash. The flowers might have been multicoloured, with the flowers having been red, with red paint in the grooves. The flowers themselves seem to be a product of artistic license, with the leaves and stalk of a tulip, with the flower being a sort of a daisy or cosmos ?


I painted over the not-liked burgundy with the same dark green – Benjamin Moore Essex Green. As a whole I thought the house was starting to look more cohesive ?


Trim, Benjamin Moore HC-188, Essex Green:


Door, Benjamin Moore HC-02, Beacon Hill Damask:


Fixing the Foyer


There it is – right when you walk in. More chocolate milk colored paint. More awful plaster repairs and problems.


Like the powder room, there were a lot of repairs needed in such a small space. This area is perhaps 5′ x 6′ ?

I patched, and skim coated, and sanded, and patched some more. I didn’t even take any photos – the area is so small what is there to show ? Eventually the walls and ceilings were smooth enough, so I primed and painted them Benjamin Moore “Queen Anne Pink” (HC-60) with BM “Lancaster Whitewash” (HC-174) as both the ceiling and trim color. The transom is pressed glass, in sort of a pinkish amethyst color. This made the beige pink look pinker than expected. The trim color is sort of a light clay color on its own, but this read as almost white. Neither was exactly what I expected, but it was brighter and not the color of chocolate milk. There was a lot of brushing with three doors, three transoms, textured glass, and lots of trim.




Fixing the Living Room

The living room wasn’t a major ordeal. The plaster needed repairs, of course, but it wasn’t so bad, compared to the other battles I previously fought here.

It was a relief to get rid of the chocolate milk color, another room gone. There were the familiar dings and holes but it was more of a minor situation. At least in this context this was minor.

The realtor presented this room the most realistically:


This is what the extent of the repairs looked like:


The walls and the ceiling needed repairs. Of course.

Then I primed and painted it (with BM “Castleton Mist ” HC-1, same as the powder room) and it just looked like a room:



There’s that other cabinet, that matches the one in the kitchen. It’s the perfect size for storing record albums.

One night, just after John had started work in the fall, I was out looking for my missing cat. I spotted a victorian chaise sitting by the side of the road, about 5 blocks away. It was covered in drywall dust, but didn’t have any bad smells. I didn’t know anyone who I could persuade at 11:00 p.m. to help me carry this thing home. I woke up the next day still thinking about it. John arrived, and drove me over to where it had been spotted – and it was still there ! It needed to be reupholstered, but the frame was sound. We loaded it into the truck:


I had been looking for an antique settee for ages. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for – but it was free. The seduction of free. I had (wisely) planned to buy an antique settee that already had good, professional upholstery in the color I wanted, as this was much cheaper than paying for it to be upholstered. But it was FREE and I had been looking for a year, and the only settees that met my criteria were too far away. Did you know there is a huge amount of fabulous antique furniture in Ottawa ? Yes, it is NOT close to London, at all.

I started working on it in the winter. This was after spiralling into a neurotic state related to the imaginary color  of upholstery velvet I wanted. Years ago I had bought some velvet ribbon, probably from the late 1960’s – which was sort of a minty lime green. This particular color has not been seen since. I sent away for fabric swatches far and wide. A Toronto fabric store advertised some upholstery velvet in this exact shade on their site. I had shopped at this store many times, and they often bought auction lots from businesses that were closing out or selling off excess inventory – so sometimes you would find vintage materials there. I sent a Toronto friend in pursuit, but what they had in stock was a really disappointing synthetic avocado.

Finally I located exactly what I wanted, from a disagreeable place in Missouri.

I worked hard on it. My upholstery experience was limited to basic seat recovering on kitchen chairs. Thank goodness for the internet. I had to pull out what felt like thousands of tiny tacks, from the last upholstery it had. Being an insane person, I re-used these tacks to attach the new upholstery.

It turned out okay ?


“Why didn’t you buy a better house ?”

That’s a good question.

I wanted a house that had the potential to be visually appealing to me, with enough space for the things I need. I also needed enough psychological space from neighbours.

I did look at a few places that had been renovated, but what I saw usually just made me angry. Many of the improvements were lazy – like painting over wood panelling. Or tearing out a wall to make a 200 square foot kitchen in a house that was perhaps 900 square feet, creating a senseless layout. The flipper houses were the worst, in that many sins were covered up vs actually being resolved. I just couldn’t deal with that. The trendy tile was to distract you from the roof that would need replacing within 2 years or less.

I wanted the most amount of house for the least amount of money, but preferred a place where the major stuff like plumbing and electrical were at least up to code.

I looked at many listings above my price point, for comparison, but didn’t bother to view the houses. A more expensive house usually meant more of the things I really didn’t want – like an entirely new bathroom with ugly tiles – or potlights – or giant stainless steel appliances. It wasn’t like there were a bunch of houses with exactly everything I wanted, if I just paid a little more. Or even just one perfect house.

I had plenty of experience painting and repairing plaster, and I was pretty persistant in sourcing house parts. I figured that I could handle most of what needed to be done, and hire professionals for the rest.

Hiring the professionals turned out to be the most challenging of all.

If everyone who actually worked on the house had been available when I needed them, the work would have been completed in about 1/6 the time. Tradespeople who are good at what they do are usually busy, and booked up.

I suppose it also depends on what your idea of a good house is. My minimum was “habitable”. My mother has no comprehension of why anyone would choose to live in or buy an old house. When she visited my former house, the one I bought with my not-ex-yet, I could tell she was deeply appalled. She did compliment the front doorknob – a crappy builder’s grade shiny brass one. She couldn’t see the original stained glass or plaster moldings or high ceilings as anything desirable at all. A house like this was a symptom of economic and moral poverty, in her frame of reference. I’m sure she was deeply, secretly saddened that my not-yet-ex and I couldn’t afford to buy a nice new town home in a sub-division.

My mother now has dementia, and lives across the country, so she hasn’t visited this house. I made her a photo album of it, with very brief captions. I tried to focus on the nicer things she could appreciate – like the flowers on the Catalpa tree. When we speak on the phone, as soon as I bring up my house she does this trick she has done her entire life: she pretends someone is at her door so she has to go, rather than talk about anything  unsettling to her. How she had a daughter who would choose to live in a “place like that” is probably one of her deepest shames.

Fixing the house WAS exhausting, and everything cost money. This was what I signed up for. There is only so much good fortune to go around.





Finishing the Kitchen, Finally

There had been major renovation from the end of October to just before Xmas. This included replacing the sills, getting the back fence built, fixing the powder room and fixing the kitchen. There were periods where we worked every day for a couple of weeks straight, with no weekend breaks. It felt like renovation bootcamp. I often worked after John left for the day, like getting another coat of paint on, or continuing the plaster repairs, or whatever. The house was in complete chaos, with contents from the kitchen displaced outwards. I was using the laundry sink in the back porch to do dishes – the FREEZING, dim back porch. I had a trouble light hung upside down over the sink so I could even see the dishes properly.

I felt on the cusp of sanity. The repairs that were completed were a major improvement, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

This is the photo of the cabinets from the seller’s listing on Craigslist:

00E0E_1YbcJx4GkeJ_600x450.jpg cabinetorig.jpg00B0B_bgvSVv3E8B_600x450.jpg

I just could not believe my good fortune that I a) saw the ad first and b) bought them both for $ 500.00. The seller even included custom tempered glass shelves.

Installing them properly had me fretting, though. The section that was going in the kitchen needed to have the single section at the far end removed, to make it fit on the wall. There was only one chance to do this correctly.

John has at least 60 years of carpentry experience, so I had faith in his skills and good judgement. However – there can be unknown variables that create havoc. I think we were both worried about many what-ifs.

It came together without any problems at all. John had to do some fussing to fit the tongue and groove boards around the electrical outlet, but that was the greatest difficulty. There are no words to express how relieved I was to see it up, at last:


The wainscotting was patched in on both sides of it, but this was undetectable once it was painted. (The wainscotting was missing due to the previous owner’s bad cabinet installation.)

Now one thing I knew from experience with antique cabinets like this, is that the height between the counter to the bottom of the cabinet is not high enough for a mixer or blender. I had some thoughts of raising the upper – but this would mean that the sides would need to get patched in. That seemed like a worse headache.

I had been looking for some kind of cabinet for a work surface, where the mixer and blender and other kitchen spare parts could be stored. There were a bunch of maybe’s, but then I spotted a PAIR, listed for $ 100.00 on Kijiji. The ad described that they needed new back boards. John said he could pick them up, so I called the seller. I asked if they were $ 100.00 each – or $ 100.00 for both. The seller just wanted them gone, so he sold them for $ 100.00 for both – $ 50.00 each ! The ad described how large they were – 36″ tall x 60″ long. I looked at a measuring tape – and one would fit where I needed it to go. They were bigger in person than what was in my mind, though. John could barely fit both of them in his truck, which has a canopy on the back. I have no idea how he accomplished this, but he did !

They were grimy, and the doors wouldn’t shut properly. John quickly saw this was because their shape had shifted slightly to one side. When they were pushed back into alignment the doors fit perfectly. One of the cabinets had been in a fire (!) which damaged one shelf. He replaced this, and cut new backs for them. The one for the kitchen was going to be mounted on casters. This was partly to create a toe-kick, partly to lift it off the floor as it would partially cover the floor heat vent.

I cleaned them, removed the original hardware and scrubbed the rust off, then gave that a good oiling. I tested a section and discovered that they had a shellac finish. This meant that I was able to lift the worst grime off and seal the scratches with a rag soaked in denatured alcohol. They cleaned up very well.

They may have been church or school furniture. One of them had “library” written in pencil on the side. They are really built, with doors that are 1″ thick. I sure couldn’t buy this at Ikea for $ 50.00.


On a stop at the ReStore I found a vintage handheld light, like for doing home movies with a Super8 camera. I realized that I could easily take the handle off, and the rest unscrewed, so it could be taken apart and rewired. This became the light over this cabinet.

I painted the floors with oil enamel in several sections. It was winter, so I was worried that if I painted the entire floor that it might not be dry enough overnight. It was my only kitchen and I needed to use it. I planned to paint a pattern on it, but the intense two months had really wiped me out. A year later there is still no pattern. Oh well.

At my former house was an old heavy shelf we never installed. I carted this through the Nightmare Apartment and finally had a place for it. One side of it showed what appeared to be the ghosts of support pillars. I think it was the top of an antique mantelpiece. The previous owner at the house had been a very frugal man, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked this up on garbage night – just like I would have ! It had a coat of ham colored latex paint that easily scratched off. I thought about repainting it – but the latex paint would need to all come off first. As I scrubbed away a nice vintage green color was revealed. I realized that if the shelf was flipped over – so the less good side was the shelf surface then I didn’t need to paint it at all ! I had searched for cast iron brackets that were the right size. Ebay had many – but they were all too small to support a shelf of this width. A Kijiji seller had a lot of cast iron items he was selling for crazy cheap, with four (new faux antique) brackets that were big enough. He wouldn’t split up the lot, though. I did want the brackets, and a few other items so I bought it all. I enticed him with a vintage cast iron frying pan he really wanted (Javelin, manufactured for a short period of time in Canada with a crazy history. Look it up !) so he even delivered. I didn’t  100% love them, but I loved them more than the nice reproductions from the UK that cost $100.00/pr, before shipping and duty.


A friend gave me a 1950 Moffat stove as a housewarming gift (when I moved to the Nightmare Apartment). I sent it away to Ed White Appliances in Port Hope, ON to be rebuilt. I had tried for months to find a competent repair person when I lived in Toronto, then before I moved to London, but couldn’t find anyone. The stove worked, but had a few issues. I was so happy when I finally got it back in Feb. The modern stove that came with the house was 30″ wide. My Moffat is barely 22″ wide. Reclaiming that 8″ in a difficult kitchen was another relief.


The Moffat has a glass dial for the oven that lights up when it is turned on, indicator lights, a timer, a warming oven and a broiler, with loads of chrome. What more could I want ? The oven is quite small – about 16″ wide. This is not an issue, as I don’t roast or bake giant things, anyway. I noticed that my electricity bill went down after I got my stove back – as it wasn’t using so much energy to heat a giant (for me) oven.

Without including labour, which cost a bundle, but worth every penny the final amount was:

  • Cabinets – $ 250.00 per section, Craigslist
  •  Tongue and groove boards per cabinet section: $ 200.00, Lowes
  • Overhead light fixture, $ 80.00 used with a vintage milk glass shade I already had, Kijiji
  •  Porcelain and milk glass light over the sink : $ 30.00, Kijiji
  •  ReStore light $ 5.00 plus $ 15.00 wire, plug, etc.
  • Sink: Free on CL
  •  Door for Powder Room and Back Porch – $ 250.00 and $ 375.00 (one was a strange size that needed to be custom ordered) Home Depot
  •  Reproduction Rimlocks – $ 25.00 each from a strange Toronto hardware store, since closed, plus antique knobs from the same store, $ 15.00/ea
  • Cabinet : $ 50.00, Kijiji, plus wood from Copp’s Building Supply ( $ 60.00 ?) plus casters from Princess Auto ( $ 30.00 ?)
  • Cast Iron Shelf Brackets, $ 7.00/ea, Kijiji
  • Vintage clock: I had this for years, from a garage sale
  •  Chrome wall mounted wax paper dispenser: $ 5.00, bought in 1995 at a thrift store
  •  Crazy Tablecloth: a gift from my friend Liza. The colored circles are 1970’s fortrel polyester, with traditional cotton crochet around each circle. Nuts ! Preserved under clear plastic, sold by the ft from Home Hardware, which all classy homes use
  •  Oil based primer, $ 40.00/gallon or so, from Home Hardware
  •  Joint Compound, about $ 60.00 worth
  • Plaster washers and fiberglass mesh tape: about $ 60.00
  • Benjamin Moore paint, about $ 300.00
  •  Table and chairs were mine since forever, from a thrift store
  •  Curtains are vintage tablecloths from thrift stores, owned for years
  •  Antique Trim : About $ 100.00 worth in this room

This tallies up to $ 2011.00. The drywall is missing from the list because I can’t remember what I paid, as well as many other items like screws and what have you. As kitchen renovations go, this was dirt cheap.

I had bought a cute 1950’s fridge on Kijiji for $ 200.00 to replace the monster that came with the house, but it died after nine months. To replace the compressor would cost at least $ 800.00. I frowned and bought a new fridge from Best Buy on sale for about $500.00, just under 10 cu/ft. I was really sad to give up on my vintage fridge. I swore to myself that I would not buy another vintage one unless I could find a local repair person who was competent with vintage fridges. I did not.


The kitchen was done. Done !