Summer 2019: Fence Redaction

The terrible fence erected by the gas station hurt my brain every single time I looked at it. Through the winter, strong winds pushed it around. Since the 4 x 4 posts ARE NOT EVEN SET INTO ANYTHING the winds loosened up the weakest points. It was built at the end of August 2018. By Feb. 2019, the fence looked like this:


Only the unused vintage light post stopped it from falling over completely:


The guy who built the fence was bullied into making some kind of repairs, none of which could fix the lack of structural integrity.

Suddenly in June, part of the fence was disassembled. I had some hope that a properly constructed fence would be put up in its place.


The same guy who built the fence took the fence apart. I gave him the name of the posthole place I had previously used, and said the fence needed properly set posts. A gap was left in the fence, which exposed part of my backyard, which made me nervous. I screwed up part of a sheet of plywood to at least make access more difficult. After 10 days or so, work on the fence resumed.

Gas station’s solution: have the guy who made the terrible fence reassemble it in exactly the same way, but with gigantic 3″ screws this time. And a couple of extra boards. And a little more duct strapping to secure it to the 4′ former chain link posts, now augmented with another piece of post inside that one:

badfence repair.jpeg

No concept of the “good neighbour side” here.

London, unlike other civilized municipalities, makes no mention in the fence or property standards bylaw that the structure of the fence must be stable ! This is what the City of Ottawa’s Property Standards document says, for example:

“Section 10 – Fences and other enclosures

(1) Fences, retaining walls and other enclosures around or on a residential property shall be kept,

(a) in good repair;

(b) free from accident hazards;

(c) protected by paint, preservatives, or other weather resistant material, except for wooden fences made of cedar, redwood or treated wood;

(d) so as not to present an unsightly appearance;

(e) stable;

(f) vertical, unless specifically designed to be other than vertical as in the case of retaining walls; and

(g) free of barbed wire ”

The City of London is not Ottawa, though.

The 3″ screws poked through the boards in my direction, in a most alarming fashion.

I contacted the same posthole place I previously used, to inquire about how close to the retaining wall posts could be set on my side. The guy who came to quote was baffled by the fence the gas station built.

It was possible for the station to have posts professionally set into the asphalt surface on the gas station’s side, so I wasn’t just imagining an unworkable solution. It would also be possible for posts to be set very close to the retaining wall, on my side. HOWEVER – due to the difference in elevation (close to 48″), I would be breaking the fence bylaw to erect my own fence as tall as the gas station’s mediocre one. To build my own law-breaking-fence would easily cost close to $ 3000.00 including materials and labour. The city could force me to modify or remove the non-conforming potential fence.

I couldn’t look out my dining room, kitchen or back porch windows without seething at their fence atrocity. Walking out the front door was a little less bad, but it still wasn’t a neutral sight.

I pondered what could be done. The fence was so unstable it made no sense to attach some sort of covering like a trellis. I planted Smoke Bushes in the front, in 2017, but they will take 8 – 10 years to be tall and full enough to obscure the fence.

Painting my side seemed like an exercise in futility. There would be no way to control the drips onto their side. This was a labour intensive solution, and even the blackest paint could not obscure the fence’s obvious deficits.

I pursued information on the fastest growing hedge, vines and trees. For anything to grow 10 feet tall, to reach to the top of the fence, to densely obscure the offensive construction would take years to grow. Quick “solutions” like planting tall cedars were fairly expensive, and unreliable. I stared hard at all the local hedges I encountered, then looked backwards via Streetview to see how long they took to attain their height.

I wondered about hanging up some sort of privacy cloth. Proper canvas for exterior applications – like awnings – is made from acrylic, which has decent UV protection against fading and rot. This lasts for about 5 years until it starts to deteriorate. I priced various cloth options. The 6′ fence height meant that cloth would need to be horizontally pieced to make it wide enough. This volume of cloth, soaking wet from rain or snow, also gets heavy. I calculated that I would need 30 yards to cover their fence.

I noticed an ad for recycled billboard tarps. They were HUGE – 14 x 48′. They were printed on one side, and opaque black on the reverse. The vinyl was UV resistant and reinforced with fibers to strengthen it. This made me think. I went and looked at it once, then went back a second time to buy one. Each tarp weighs 40 lbs, and they are unwieldy. Even black plastic would be better to look at than the ghastly fence. This was the least expensive ( $ 80.00) and least labour intensive option.

It was nerve wracking marking and cutting the tarp. I didn’t have a space large enough to lay out the entire thing (ie trees and bushes in my yard) so I unrolled smaller sections and measured twice. I stitched the edges and installed grommets.

It was impossible to make the tarp sections lay flat due to the bizarre construction. I did what I could to make it presentable:


The backyard had the worst, most seasick fence construction. I didn’t love installing the tarp, or the lack of smoothness, but my brain felt so much quieter not seeing the awful fence:



The tarp is screwed to the fence, so it is completely removable. To install the sections meant standing on an extension ladder, with my weight leaning on the fence. To say this felt precarious is an understatement.

One small unexpected bonus of the tarps was the amount of lught they blocked. I was surprised to see how much light infiltrated between the fence boards. This is with the section to to the left covered, with two sections left to go:


The redaction is a far from perfect solution but it is an improvement.

Now if only there was some kind of code or bylaw about commercial neighbours adjacent to a residence, light pollution, privacy, sound control and basic building code ???




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 !





Fixing the Kitchen

The kitchen troubles seemed insurmountable. I spent many hours in the kitchen, sitting and staring at all the problems, mentally rehearsing solutions.

While John did carpentry, I patched the walls. Most of the walls were sound with a few soft spots. I used another 200 plaster washers to shore things up.

The wall for the sink was a nightmare. It was partially masonry (the former chimney) and partially plaster. The masonry had shifted, so it was not all on one plane. The sink was wall hung, on a cast iron cleat – but that surface had to be strong enough to support a cast iron sink full of dishes and water. There were some headaches routing the pipes and drain for the sink, but solutions were found. Boards were screwed to the studs, which would be concealed under drywall. Both the 1/4″ and 3/8″ drywall was used on the wall, and some tricky transitions had to be built up to make the wall look like a continuous plane.


The original wainscotting behind the stove had paint that had blistered off the wood, from years of heat exposure. I heat stripped many boards. One thing that was really surprising that even though this wainscotting was originally painted, for use in a very modest house – that all the boards were clear – no knots at all.


The wall with the sink was the first to be finished and painted. It was more sensible to paint the wall then hang the sink, vs painting around it.

The sink and drainboard were free on Toronto Craigslist, from when I lived there. The person who was giving it away had an older house she was renovating. The sink was still mounted, so I had to find a competent person to undo the plumbing and remove it. I was very careful to take all the parts, including the giant mounting screws, and I also took photos of the underside before it was removed.

I had a moment of extreme panic months previously, when plumber # 1 pointed out that I needed to find a new gasket for it, as the one that came with it was cracked. There is a place in the US that sells antique plumbing components. They said their old supplier had dried up, and they did not have ANY of this gasket in stock, and did not know when they might get some more. Horror ! I started emailing any vintage oriented plumbing places I could find and nobody had this part. On Ebay there was ONE of these gaskets listed, from a seller in Quebec. Due to the seller’s Ebay settings, there were a bunch of hassles completing the transaction because I was in Canada. Hoops were jumped through, and one day this part arrived in the mail. And it FIT.

If you are looking for an antique wall mounted drainboard, this is what the bracket looks like, and how it is mounted:


That looked pretty grotty, so I sprayed it matte green, the same as the underside of the sink. The elusive cast iron sink gasket was also sprayed. That is what it looks like if you need one. Good luck with finding one if you need it, I really mean that !


Salmon Plumbing was willing to install my antique sink. The height of the sink that came with the house always bothered me, as I felt stooped over washing dishes. It was 28″ to the bottom of that sink. I had my new old sink installed 4″ higher, so it was 32″ to the bottom of the sink. At first the height looked a little strange – but using it to do dishes was such a relief. It was a functional height ! I am about 5’7″ tall – but it made me wonder about the standards that had evolved around kitchen fixture heights. A fancy chrome drain could have been used – but there were more complicated headaches in attaching that to the ABS. At this point I really didn’t care about the decorative value of a drainpipe, so ABS it was.


What is invisible in this photo is the location of the former heat vent. It was patched over with salvaged tongue and groove wainscotting, so it looks like nothing ever happened there. I primed over all the dark grey then painted it with Benjamin Moore Advance enamel in “Weston Flax” (HC-5):


The final wall color is BM “Hawthorne Yellow” (HC-4):


Meanwhile, I primed the rest of the room using a tinted oil based primer. Oil based primer is best on areas that have a lot of skim coating repairs. Joint compound can be reactivated (ie get soggy) with a water based latex, so oil primer it was. My preference is to get the primer tinted so I can better see any areas that need a final touch up.

The kitchen walls and ceiling were now smoothER. Even after all the skim coating and sanding, there were still minor dings to patch one last time:


The wall where the cabinets would go was prepped with the outlets. It was the least smooth, as the cabinets would take up almost the entire wall.

I had found an original color on the ceiling, which was a pale minty green. I saved chips from it, and had the color custom mixed at the paint store. I was absolutely confused when I applied the color and beside the Hawthorne Yellow walls, the ceiling looked blue. BLUE ! But the chip was correct and green, even while dry. I guess this must be due to the door and windows facing north, as there was no other explanation.


The wall with the powder room door, before:


The powder room wall, After. So much work to make it look like a normal wall:



Finishing the Powderoom

That little room ate up so many hours.

The ceiling and all the walls had new drywall. Fresh primer and paint. I had some color angst but finally settled on Benjamin Moore’s “Castelton Mist” HC-1 – sort of a toned down chartreuse, with “Nantucket Grey” HC-111 trim:



There was new antique trim around the door.

The pipes in the corner got boxed in.

A ceramic tile floor was applied, properly.

Antique baseboards and quarter round went on.

The toilet returned.

The antique marble sink, with the chrome deco stand (a Kijiji score – $ 30.00 !!!) was installed. The antique taps were fine.

The heat was connected. A reproduction cast iron vent I bought for something else turned out to fit.

Honestly, it seemed like a miracle. A very labour intensive miracle.



Chasing Trim

The worst thing the previous owner did was to hack up the door mouldings in the kitchen.

I don’t know what the previous kitchen looked like, but the one that came with the house was a misguided mess.


The realtor’s photos are really desaturated. Those walls are turmeric yellow, and that ceramic tile backsplash was painted over with cheez whiz orange enamel paint, and the grey is a very deep charcoal. The realtor also used that special lens that stretches and elongates rooms.

The cabinets were economical low grade wood grain melamine, painted that charcoal. I suspect they came from the ReStore, or were maybe free on Kijiji. They were just a little big for the room. The solution: cut out chunks of that 4.75″ wide solid wood original door casing, to make those cruddy cabinets fit. Argh !

You can see this in the first photo, with the cabinet over the stove. The range hood below was avocado green, also sprayed charcoal.

In the photo looking towards the powder room, the door casing was hacked into on the right side, to fit the uppers, and was completely removed and covered over with that painted tile on the other. I don’t have a photo of it, but the trim beside the fridge, for the doorway into the back room was also hacked up.

The fridge was huge, and oppressive. It didn’t even leave enough space for the drawers and cabinet beside it to open properly.

The way the cabinets jutted into the powder room opening really bothered me. His solution for this tight space was to install a folding closet door. That way you had to walk into the room sideways.

I mean – stirring a pot on the stove while being able to make eye contact with a person sitting on the toilet was not a great design feature, okay ?

What isn’t shown: a bottom-of-the-line prefab shower (ie Sears, c.1978) crammed into the powder room, blocking the window. This created a reason to hack up that door trim, too. This room is 4 x 6′ ! It didn’t need a shower, toilet and sink stuffed in there so tightly that almost everything was touching. It was painted turmeric yellow too, over shaggy old wallpaper.

The best $ 100.00 I spent was begging the furnace installers to remove the shower before I moved in. They did, and I could be in the terrible powder room without feeling smothered.

I haunted the ReStore and Kijiji, hoping that some trim with an identical profile would show up. It didn’t. It was an unusual profile, too, as I have never seen it appear .

Hoffmeyer’s Mill could make it, but they were backlogged. If they didn’t have the knives for that profile, they would have to be custom made. I needed a small amount – less than 100 linear feet.

I found a local place that claimed they could match any profile. I hoped that since they were local, they might have my profile in their knife inventory. I emailed with photos, and measurements and got a reply. Of course they could make it ! No problem ! Could I bring in a piece they could replicate ? Here’s some basic quotes that sounded reasonable.

Then when I called to follow up on this, the guy I had been speaking to was “away on holiday”. I stripped a piece, with a matching rosette and mailed it to them (they weren’t close). A few weeks later I phoned to follow up, and the guy I had spoken with no longer worked there, so I had to speak with a new guy. The same process started again. Then suddenly getting the knives made was some kind of problem, they would cost at least $ 600.00 to get made. I said “well maybe ?” (This was still going to cost less than tearing out all the trim to replace it). Then suddenly this dude was also “on vacation”. I think I emailed or called a couple more times then gave up. Obviously they didn’t want my business. Why wouldn’t they just say “Our minimum is $ XXX.00 or XXX linear feet” on their site, or in the initial email ? What a waste of time.

To fix the kitchen mess, I really needed some trim. None of the places I contacted carried anything even close to the width that was needed.

A friend helped take down several sections of the uppers. They came down with very little effort. The room was brighter but now even uglier.

My kitchen looked like this for months:


Did I mention that the formica counters (and several light fixtures and all the registers) had been sprayed with that faux hammered metal finish “bronze” paint ?

The door to the powder room was installed at the same time as the porch door. Due to the counter top’s excessive width the door could not be closed all the way. Even with this limitation it was still much better than the folding closet door.

The striped wallpaper was from the 70’s I guess ? I chipped away at the hateful orange painted tiles for a few hours here and there. Doing it just made me angrier. Under the paint they were a late 60’s or early 70’s circular pattern in avocado green. As I chipped more off, new tape and drywall was revealed below, so these didn’t even seem to date from a 70’s renovation in the kitchen. Damn you ReStore and stupid house flipper shows. Who made the concept of painting ceramic tiles some kind of reasonable option ? It was NOT, I assure you, and the awful orange was another level of indignity.

A young guy was recommended to me, who was starting out in home renos. I figured that some youthful muscle could easily get those rotten tiles off. He came to have a look. He did not even know what lath looked like. Then he said he was charging $ 40.00/hr. Nope. Nopenopenope.

Plinths were needed for the base of the trim, and six rosettes. I saw some come and go from Kijiji, with frustrating sellers who didn’t reply, or couldn’t be bothered to measure what they have.

Then one day there was an ad for a bunch of antique trim – enough linear feet with some even left over ! And the seller replied, and was even willing to deliver ! The profile wasn’t the same, but similar enough that I assumed it would blend in when it was all painted. The seller even had old baseboards, too !


A guy I knew from an old house forum spotted some plinths at his local ReStore and picked them up for me. They were the right width but stunk of cat pee.

Stinky wood can be sealed with shellac, which can be painted over. Stinky plinths were such a minor issue. I sealed them then sniffed them many times after. They were fine.


Finishing the Bathroom

I started picking at the bathroom walls in January, and the darn room was finished by the end of June.

I called a plumber that did side jobs, whose name I got from the guy that hung my kitchen door. He came and looked at the house, and listened to what needed to be done. I was relieved to discover that all the plumbing in the house was up to code at least, with no crazy DIY improvisations.

While there is the actual time that a project takes from start to finish, there is also the chasing the contractor around time, and rescheduling after that when there are multiple tradespeople involved.

I was ready to start any minute. I had the walls finished and painted by the middle of Feb.

I searched for tongue and groove antique floorboards, to patch what had been hacked up in the bathroom. A few sellers on Kijiji had some, but they only wanted to sell large lots – like 500 square feet – when I only needed a few boards. I went to the ReStore hoping to find some but struck out multiple times.

One day I stopped in and there was a large shipment of brand new white ceramic mosaic floor tile, in the manufacturers boxes. I had this in my previous house, so I knew that it was a decent product that wore well. Despite knowing this – I left the store empty handed at 4:30. By 10:00 p.m. I realized I had been thoroughly stupid, and rushed back the next day. There were only thirteen boxes left – enough to do the bathroom and the downstairs powder room, with 10% extra calculated for layout and loss. I bought it all, whew ! $ 3.00 per sq/ft vs the same product at the Home Depot for $ 6.75 sq/ft ! (Caveat: this flooring costs less than $3.00 sq/ft in the USA. Even after the exchange rate, Canadians are being gouged).

I was waiting on the door hanger guy, who said he could install a new subfloor and the tile. I needed a plumber to move the sink over, and to remove then reinstall the clawfoot tub.

Somewhere in this, the sidejob plumber got all huffy about waiting – even though I was waiting on his pal. I called him and he was extremely rude and said he did NOT want to work on my house. He had been friendly and fine in person ? It was very weird.

I called a local family owned plumbing business. I showed the guy who showed up to quote what I wanted, and the antique sink I wanted to use. At first he was leery, as antique items often have unknowns, or obsolete parts that are difficult to source. Once he understood that I understood, then he was completely agreeable.

The subfloor and floor went down okay, though I give the installer a C minus as he was not as precise as he should have been laying out the tiles. Looking backwards, I wish I had fired him then, and got someone else to finish the job. Even with the slight issues, the floor IS so much better than what was here.

The sink turned out to be completely fine, although one of the taps was stripped beyond repair. The other was okay. The plumber had to bring the pipes out of the floor vs the wall, as the wall was solid masonry, from where the old chimney had been located. I had originally planned to use a different sink, but the pipe location was an issue so I switched them.

The materials for the improvement were all sourced from Craigslist and Kijiji, except for the ReStore floor.

  • Antique pedestal sink: $ 75.00
  • Antique bathroom accessories including soap dish, glass shelf, cup holder and milk glass towel bar : $ 75.00
  •  Art Deco light fixture, previously used in the Nightmare Apartment: $ 50.00
  • Antique bevelled mirror came from somewhere, probably found on the street for $0.00
  • 90 sq/ft of tile @ $ 3.00/sq ft : $ 270.00
  • Antique stained glass window that perfectly fit the window opening was a complete fluke, bought on Kijiji 7 years previously !

However, the labour and plumber were not dirt cheap. It’s better to pay an experienced professional for a good job. That plumbing company treated me well, even with an unusual request. I will always recommend them (Salmon Plumbing, in London, ON, I give you 10 thumbs up).

Before, sigh:


After (before the light fixture was replaced):



Fixing the Dining Room

This is the largest room in the house, the first one you see when you walk in the house. The cranberry walls drove me nuts. They were exactly the same color as the walls in a friend’s living room, a friend I had a falling out with. It would have been a good color for lipstick or velvet, but not for a room with north facing windows.

This is what it looked like when I bought the house:



The center panel of the door was plastic stained glass. I couldn’t stand it, so out it came, replaced with antique Florentine pressed glass:


The walls were the least bad in this room, which wasn’t saying much. I just could not believe the previous owner wouldn’t fix the holes before the paint went on. This is what a typical wall in the dining room looked like after patching it:


That’s a LOT of nail holes and dings.

I fixed the plaster and painted the room. It was so much brighter:


I don’t like to host dinner parties, so I don’t. My work table was set up in the dining room. Underneath I stashed current supplies. You can see the boxes of future floor tiles and some paint there.

The giant Home Depot-esque light fixture bothered me with its gracelessness. The upwards pointing lights highlighted the many flaws with the ceiling. I looked for ages and finally found an antique light fixture I could stand:


As with many good things, it was on Kijiji. Fancy Fake Frenchness and the viny leaves, with the greenish glass “rose” shades was perverse. Sold !

The seller posted it without the shades, and it looked great that way, too. I didn’t have any specific ideas about what I was looking for except that the fixture needed to be bright, with lights pointing downwards. I like the way that chance provides and inspires.



The kitchen was freezing all the time. This was because the previous owner had removed the door between the kitchen and the uninsulated back porch.

I thought that it would easy to find an antique door, then find a handy person to hang it. The jamb was still in the door frame, and wasn’t damaged. Old houses can get sort of wonky as they settle, so the door would probably need a little trimming or planing. This did not seem like rocket science to me.

I hung a tablecloth in the doorway to try to stop the draft. It was a nice tablecloth, linen, with crocheted lace and hand embroidery. It probably helped the kitchen to be two degrees warmer. You can see it in the far right.


The kitchen WAS gruesome, I have to admit that. It was painted the same horrifying yellow as the hall, with the same terrible lumpy plaster, and the same ugly floor as the bathroom. The dark grey trim was oppressive. I hated looking at it, and being in it was particularly uncomfortable due to the freezing temperature.

I searched Kijiji and the ReStore but there was no antique matching door to be found. Home Depot carried a line of Milette brand doors that were pretty similar to the existing back door in the kitchen, for about $ 250.00.

I asked the friendly woman at the paint store if there was any old house person she could recommend, and she gave me a name. I called the guy and made an appointment for him to give me a quote. Getting a door installed was the most urgent priority, but my house needed a lot of work. I wanted to work with a person who understood how old houses were built and functioned. I needed some door mouldings replicated as several in the kitchen were hacked up. I also had a pair of of very large antique cabinets with glass doors that I planned to use in the kitchen and living room. They were from a fancy house in Toronto. They were a built in butler’s pantry (two mirror image cabinets in a narrow room). The seller listed them for the dirt cheap price of $ 500.00 for everything and I was so lucky to have spotted them first ! They were in my storage locker from before I even had a house to put them in. They had been carefully removed with numbered parts, with all crown moulding and other parts saved for re-use.

At the house I owned with my ex, we installed salvaged antique cabinets in the kitchen, had trim replicated and installed several old doors, so I understood these were all tasks within the realm of possibility. I had seen this done with my own eyes.

I warned the dude on the phone that I had just moved in, that the house really needed some work, but that I wanted to preserve the original features as much as possible. I also stated several times that I completely understood if this was small potatoes for the type of jobs he typically did (ie here’s your chance to state your minimum or back away from even coming by to quote).

This dude showed up with his nice little portfolio under his arm. He mostly worked on well-off people’s houses, often old houses, which they wanted to look less old. I had an old house I wanted to look its age: old. Like a heritage house in good repair.

I looked through his portfolio, and the quality of his work was good. I showed him the cabinets and the missing door problem. He hummed and hawed a bit, told me he didn’t want to use antique doors or trim. He then quoted me $ 1200.00 – 1500.00 to hang a replacement door (which included the new door). He told me that this high price was because he would need to “router the jamb”.

He seemed excited looking at the cabinets. They were finely built early 20th c. utilitarian pieces, 8 feet long and over 8 feet tall. They had been cut into uppers and lowers to remove them from the seller’s house (there was no way to get them out any other way as there were no 8 1/2 foot tall doorways, even in that house, and my house certainly didn’t have them). The original tongue and groove backing had been too brittle to salvage, so that would need to be replaced. Dude then quoted me “about $ 3000.00 PER CABINET” to install them.  He would ” need  to shim them.” (If you don’t know, shims are small wedges of wood that can help to level out areas, among many other uses. You can buy a bag of shims at the lumberyard for about $ 15.00.)

I thanked him for his time, and then had a good think after he left.

I completely understand that a self employed person or business has a minimum charge. It takes time and gas to get to a job site, set up and break down time, and some organzational abilities to come prepared with the right equipment and materials. The job might take an hour but the rest must be considered, and a simple job can eat up half a day. No problem.

BUT, I felt like this dude had completely treated me like an asshole. Why would a functional door jamb need to be routered ? The cabinet installation had some unknowns, that was true.

As a woman, dealing with a male professional, I was treated like I was plain stupid and gullible.

Eventually I found a guy who picked up the $ 250.00 door I ordered and installed it for  $100.00. He did not need to router the jamb. He was unfamiliar with the antique style rimlock which I supplied, but read the instructions and installed that in less than 10 minutes. I did have to wait until April to get the door in, as he had a nice spring vacation elsewhere. My new uninstalled door stood around from the end of Feb. until April, taunting me. I really appreciated it, once it was finally installed.

The tongue and groove boards cost about $ 200.00 per cabinet. It took me several hours to get several coats of shellac on the boards before they were assembled. Including attaching the boards to the cabinet backs, then attaching the cabinets to the wall took 4 – 6 hours, AND NO SHIMS WERE USED. This was one experienced carpenter with me as a helper.

I am still impressed and appalled that this guy would quote me the same hourly rate as an expensive Toronto lawyer to install my cabinets, and even more to hang a door.

This was before I understood about the taint of EOA (East of Adelaide street), but the crummy misogyny was familiar.

Foreshadowing: here’s a picture of the kitchen renovations when they had begun for real in the fall of 2017. It is a good photo of the door that was hung. It’s just there, being a door, next to the area where some mouldings had been hacked up, that would soon be replaced.

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The first set of cabinets were installed in the living room. Note the gloomy “Jackson Tan” walls in the dreary winter light. Ugh.

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Fixing the Stairway Hall

There was so much to contend with. The stairway had terrible plaster,  and the intense turmeric yellow walls and ceiling with the charcoal grey trim and floors was so unpleasant. I wasn’t there for more than a couple of days before I started picking at the transoms upstairs, which had all been painted over. I used paint stripper and razor blades to reveal the glass below.


The walls in the stairway were really rough. Someone previously attempted to remove the wallpaper, but gouged up the walls with a scraper, then aborted that effort. The previous owner was a happy user of a paint sprayer, and didn’t bother to patch a single one of the cracks or dings before the walls and ceiling were covered with YELLOW paint. This yellow was in conflict with the charcoal trim, and made it look an ugly blueish color.

The realtor’s desaturated photo made the stairway color and texture appear relatively sane, like muted butternut:


This is how bad the walls and color actually were:


Every white splotch was a joint compound repair, patching a crack, hole or gouge.


I built up the worst areas then started to skim coat. I used joint compound, which was available at the hardware store two blocks away. (If this had been a proper historical restoration, then lime plaster would have probably been the correct material. I had no experience with lime plaster, and it takes about three months to fully cure before it can be painted.) I had used joint compound in the nightmare apartment and my former house, to fix similar problems, so I could predict the results.

Every day I did more patching and smoothing. A professional plasterer has the skills to skim coat so smoothly that no sanding is needed. I am not a plasterer. I patched, sanded, with sanding dust underfoot for weeks. I worked on it until I was sick of it. I primed it, touched up any outstanding problems and painted. The walls now just looked like walls. They were smoothER but would never be flat. This was good enough.

I didn’t have scaffolding, so I taped a paintbrush to the extension pole to cut in the ceiling. This made me grimace and sweat but the results were okay.

I started picking at the stair treads. They had areas of levelling compound, imprinted with the backing material from the previous flooring material (cheap carpet). I spent a couple of hours with a heat gun lifting up the floor goo on a couple of treads, with underwhelming results.

My sister was coming from across the country to visit, so I figured that painted stairs were a greater priority.

The lighter ceiling, walls and floor were a big improvement in gloomy January.