Rowhouse Reno: Creating A Design Plan

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

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