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On October 2nd, I announced excitedly that there was only one month to go! Well, I was a little too optimistic. One thing I have learned about the reno process is that patience is a good quality to possess. We still have a bit more to do but a lot has been done in the last month. Without giving too much away, here is the progress made in October…

Exterior: She is dressed for winter. I love how the stucco colour turned out. It is simple and clean and maybe one day we will warm it up with some crawling vines.

I loved the colour so much I painted a wall in our bedroom the same colour, Benjamin Moore's Iron Mountain (2134-40).

Kitchen: One of the most complicated of projects is finally underway. The cabinets are getting installed! A few of them had to be sent back for corrections but fingers crossed they all go in this week so the counters can be installed and the plumber can hook up the faucet. For the last six months, we've only had running water in our basement. The tile is also set to come this week!

Doors and entryways: The archway that we saved was freshly painted and I'm loving it. All the interior doors are Shaker-style and we picked up some great brass oval knobs to complete the look. In the upstairs hallway, there were original corbels that were demolished during the demo. I missed them, so I found these vintage over-sized corbels to replace them with. Our contractor fixed the trim and I painted them out white. They add a nice detail to an otherwise standard hallway.

Bathrooms: We finished all the painting, including a green pocket door (in Farrow & Ball's Calke Green #34). It was looking a little builder basic to me but now I love it. Here is a sneak peek at the sink in the ensuite (so far it's my favourite room in the house).

Stairs: A bigger project than I had anticipated but I couldn't stand the metal railings in the house, so we replaced them with a traditional set of spindles and handrail. We did a lot of shopping around until I found the perfect chunky set that was within budget, and then we primed all 68 of them! We also found an antique newel post for the bottom of the stairs to complete the look. Here is a preview of how they are taking shape.

See the finished upstairs bathroom in our March 2013 issue, on newsstands February 11th, and our finished kitchen in the kitchens special issue, on newsstands March 25th.

See earlier stages of Mandy's renovation here.

Photo credits:
1-14. Mandy Milks


Mandy Milks

After all our renovations the past few months, I've been focusing on the entry to the house these days. After all, it's your first impression when you open the door. The most challenging thing for me — now that we've opened up the main level — is that the sightline from the entry goes all the way to the back of the house. So every decision I make in the living room, kitchen and back sitting room all have to be cohesive or decidedly contrasting.

Since we don't have furniture or kitchen cabinets yet, I've been obsessed with the lighting. Should it all match? What room should be the focal point? The other challenge is that we purposefully decided not to do a lot of recessed lights — we aren't huge fans of them — but it makes it even more challenging to find fixtures that work together and also provide adequate lighting. To make it more difficult, I like so many different styles of lighting. Here's a sample of what I've been coveting for the house but we're still not sure what works together...

Beautiful brass pendant from Oji & Design.

Cool sculptural Spica Light by Iacoli & McAllister.

I love the matte finish and the gold glow on the inside of these pendants from Oliver Yaphe.

A classic! I think the Nelson pendant through Design Within Reach will give off good light.

The Skygarden S1 pendant from Flos — also through Design Within Reach — has a gorgeous plaster garden on the inside.

These West Elm semi-flush mounts are a great price and will blend nicely into the white ceiling.

This Thomas O'Brien hanging lamp from Circa Lighting is very handsome.

I've always loved mercury glass and we're seeing a lot more of it lately. This one from West Elm has an industrial edge.

An ever-popular schoolhouse light from Rejuvenation. I think these look great in kitchens and are a nice alternative to the boring flush-mount.

So now what? I have all these styles that I like but what will work in our house? Being an art director, I did some test mock-ups so I could get a visual of what different options would look like. Like I said, I have that challenging sightline down the house. Here are three options I tried — looking through the kitchen (left) and looking from the entryway to the kitchen and back of the house (right).

1. White + black

2. White + brass

3. All white

I think we'll wait until the stairs are finished, the kitchen is in and maybe some furniture is in place before making a final decision. But I would love to know what you think works best! Comment below.

If you missed my previous posts on the reno, click here.

Photo credits:
1. Oji & Design
2. Iacoli & McAllister Spica Light,
3. Warm Circus Pendants, Oliver Yaphe
4. Nelson Saucer Pendant Lamp, Design Within Reach
5. Skygarden S1 by Marcel Wanders for Flos, Design Within Reach
6. Contour Semi-Flush Fixture, West Elm
7. Thomas O'Brien Medium Goodman Hanging Lamp (TOB5091), Circa Lighting
8. Industrial Pendant in Mercury, West Elm
9. Jefferson Classic Flush Ceiling Fixture, Rejuvenation
10-12. Mandy Milks


Mandy Milks

We are finally in the home stretch of our rowhouse renovation. (Click here if you missed my previous posts.) The floors have been installed, tile picked out, appliances delivered, the primer is going up and the cabinets are being made. We are finally seeing it come together. I thought I would give you an overall tour of what the reno looks like with just 30 days left to go.

The exterior at the back is patiently waiting for its stucco finish — should be this week if the rain stays away.

This is where we were sleeping through the renovation, but we decided to open it up and it's now the holding room for all the materials and finishes. Now we're living upstairs in the office. It's cosy.

This is taken from the entrance to the kitchen and you can see through to the back of the house. We primed all the walls ourselves to help keeps costs down.

Here is the opposite direction looking towards the front door from the back of the house. I'm very eager for the cabinets to arrive!

This is the second floor looking down the hall to the bedroom. This room is the closest to being finished. Once we get our doors we can move our furniture in!

The construction was the easy part. Choosing all the finishes was a lot of work, but we got through it and we're still married. We had a bit of help: kitty helped us decide on the stucco colour.

The tile in the ensuite bathroom is finally going up. I'm so happy with how it's turning out. It's very satisfying to finally see your ideas on paper turn into reality. So far no regrets!

At the last minute, we decided to redo the entryway. We were going to put it off for a while, but after all the work we did, we didn't want the first impression to be that of the old dark house. It's getting the final drywall sanding and will be ready for priming and tile next week. My husband spent the weekend hand-scraping and sanding the popcorn lacquer off of the archway. I'm so happy he saved it.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about the progress!

Photo credits:
1-10. Mandy Milks


Mandy Milks

If you've missed my previous posts about the rowhouse my husband and I are renovating, click here. Let's move on to the second floor bathrooms.

If you can't remember, this is what the main bathroom looked like before. It was way too small, awkward and really blue!

Currently it looks like this. We made it much bigger and added a wider window.

We needed some inspiration. Last year, my husband and I stayed at the Ace Hotel in New York. We loved the bathrooms — lots of handsome black accents, brass hardware and ivory tile. I also love the bathroom of the very stylish Jenna Lyons, creative director of J.Crew.

We are renovating this existing second floor bathroom, but we are also adding a brand-new ensuite off our principal bedroom. This main bathroom will be more dramatic and vintage-y, and the ensuite will be a bit more masculine and utilitarian. But both complement each other nicely.

Here is the floor plan we're working with.

For the bathrooms, the jumping off point was the tile. It really dictates the look. If the tiles are sleek and modern versus pretty and glam, it would effect everything else that went into the place. So we looked at tile. A lot of tile! I knew I wanted dark floors and light walls. I looked at handmade, marble and bevelled subway tiles, and for the floors I contemplated a range of styles from tiny mosaics to big slabs of slate.

When I went into Beyond Tile & Stone, I found exactly what I wanted. Our designer, Mazen El-Abdallah, had shown me a small mosaic sample from the store and I knew I had to go check it out. It's a blue stone hex mosaic — stunning! And it will be complemented by a honed statuario marble subway tile on the wall behind the tub. It's very special and luxurious, but also very simple. I don't think it will go out of style anytime soon. I loved shopping at Beyond Tile & Stone because the store has such a well-curated selection of tiles and very knowledgeable staff.

I don't want to give everything away since you'll soon see the finished bathroom in a future issue of House & Home. But here is a general idea of what we're putting together now that we have decided on that tile.

Main bathroom:

Ensuite bathroom:

Stay tuned for more on our renovation!

See the finished upstairs bathroom in our March 2013 issue, on newsstands February 11th.

Photo credits:
1-2. Mandy Milks
3a. My Friend's House blog
3b. The Fat Hydrangea blog
4-5. Mandy Milks
6. Clockwise: Tub, Living X Design; sconce, Rejuvenation; faucet, Kohler; vanity, Restoration Harware
7. Clockwise: Fixtures, sconce and mirror, Restoration Hardware; sink, Duravit


Mandy Milks

With such a massive undertaking for our new (old) home's renovation, we needed a clear direction. Just like we would with any design project, we had to come up with a little creative brief to keep us focused. (If you missed the before photos of our home, click here.)

It wasn't about just picking a style or look. I like various elements of modern, traditional, country and eclectic, and plan on using a bit of each (hopefully in a balanced way). Don't get me wrong, my husband and I are both designers, and aesthetics are very important to us. Much to my husband's dismay, it seems every time we go shopping for finishes, I gravitate towards the most expensive options. I don't do it on purpose, it just happens!

But we tried to focus on how we're going to live in and enjoy the space day-to-day. It needs to be an escape from our busy work lives and function seamlessly for our lifestyle. We came up with three words to keep in mind every time we have to make a decision about the house:

  1. Simple: It doesn't have to be boring, but it can't be complicated, require a lot of maintenance or need for explanation. See the window example below and you'll see what I mean.
  2. Functional: Is it high maintenance, expensive or precious? What if the cat scratches it or someone spills something? Will the space be used to its full potential?
  3. Humble: We didn't buy the biggest house on the block and it's not very showy. This house was originally tenement housing and I wanted to keep that feeling throughout, and not mask it with expensive marble or fancy floors. That doesn't mean we're going to choose builder-standard finishes, but we are striving to achieve a good balance.

Okay, so we made a general plan and created a budget (that's the hardest part). Now we are putting it all into practice.

Hire An Expert

I may work at House & Home, but I'm a trained graphic designer, so I needed an expert on interiors. I contacted Mazen El-Abdallah, who's own rowhouse was featured on Online TV and in our September 2010 issue (see photos below). He maximized space without sacrificing style, so we knew he would get our design plan. It was the best decision we ever made and we would be lost without his help. He definitely followed through with the simple and functional criteria of our overall concept.

El-Abdallah's own home is narrow like ours, and he did a great job with it.

The Windows

Where to start!? When I first walked through the house, I knew I wanted huge windows everywhere. I wanted to bring natural light into the dark house. Well, you can't have huge windows everywhere according to some by-laws, but we could go big in the back.

I have always loved industrial-like steel windows with very thin black frames. My Pinterest account is full of them! This was my inspiration.

So I went and designed a window.

I had the windows quoted with wood frames because steel and aluminum were out of our budget range. Apparently, I am not an engineer or a window designer. With all the framing needed to support the doors in my configuration, we would need more frame than windows. Not simple or functional. It would end up looking like the diagram above.

So we decided on good old fashioned sliding doors. But we chose large-scale ones so they won't feel like typical builder-basic sliding doors. And in the bedroom upstairs we chose a big picture window flanked by casements. They're all black with wood on the inside and aluminum on the outside. Sort of modern, sort of traditional, but very functional.

House Exterior

The back of our house was a disaster! Layers of bad additions and a mix of different building materials. We needed to simplify the outside. I originally wanted a full brick exterior but it wasn't in the budget. Humble stucco is just as functional and half the price. It will have a simple finish, and will look great against the black-framed windows in a dark charcoal colour.

Here is the house currently. We're waiting for the windows to arrive any day now. Stucco and eaves will come after the windows are installed. Exciting!

And the interior is being drywalled this week! Time is flying by and I'm hoping to host Thanksgiving dinner as my contractor promised. I should be able to show you some interior progress in my next post — stay tuned!

If you missed phase #1 of our reno, see my earlier blog post.

Photo credits:
1-4. House & Home September 2010 issue, photography by Angus Fergusson
5. Design Heaven
6, 7, 8. Mandy Milks


Mandy Milks

The last two weeks of the reno have really amped up. All of the permits are finally in place and we are ready to tackle the biggest part of the reno, phase #2: completely rebuilding the back of the house! (If you missed phase #1, click here.)

Here are some photos of our progress:

The back of the house is well underway. The demo crew had to order in a special air drill to get through all the layers of concrete. Underneath that second floor balcony was another tar and shingle roof with nine layers of shingles!

The kitchen has been stripped away and that back wall has been opened up. There's so much more light filtering through now — especially when we put in the 9' by 9' windows and french doors.

The blue bathroom is gone! We've also taken the left wall down to make the space larger, and expanded the window.

Here are some other shots of the demo process for your enjoyment:

Well, it's quite overwhelming to say the least. A lot of decisions and planning took place before we even discussed demo. My husband and I certainly aren't interior designers or architects, but because we're both graphic designers, we decided to tackle this the way we would a print design job. Before we started the process, we came up with a creative brief and a visual mood board of inspiration. We also hired some expert help for the difficult stuff like the bathrooms and kitchen. Well worth it!

In my next blog post on July 17th, I'll share our design plan of attack so you can see where all this rubble is headed.

For another inspiring reno, read Catherine Sweeney's blog posts.

Photo credits:
1-7. Mandy Milks


Mandy Milks

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