Watching drywall plaster dry is scarcely exciting (pictured above) .
Instead, an interview with Mr and Mrs Monday * about their House.
Q: Why did you choose this house?
A: we already lived in the neighbourhood, and like it. After two apartments and a upper unit townhouse — all within a few blocks of here — it was time to settle in for the long haul.
Q: there are similar neighbourhoods around us, so why the west side or Little Italy in particular?
A: each neighbourhood has some distinct character. Chinatown differs from Little Italy from Hintonburg from Centretown … and we felt very comfortable at the intersection of Little Italy and Chinatown. Aside from that, the Preston-Somerset nexus is still relatively undiscovered, its a veritable housing-cost valley between higher priced neighbourhoods around it. You can get more house for the dollar here.
It’s also a perfect walking distance to many employment centres. Once you cross the Somerset viaduct or Bayview overpass it seemed to us we were out of the year-round inviting-to-walk-to-downtown zone.
Q: you had to make tradeoffs between neighbourhoods, what might have made you wary of this neighbourhood?
A: the neighbourhood has way more cut-through traffic and through-streets-dedicated-to-commuters than we want. Bronson, Booth, Preston, Bayswater … all suffer from too much traffic today and the coming LRT won’t solve that at all. The through-traffic situation will only get worse unless there is a change of attitude at city hall and we stop valuing fast automobile commutes over the safety and health of people in our inner city neighbourhoods. On the other hand, we don’t have a King Edward level of destructiveness, although the City is trying with Bronson.
Q: Yet you bought … so you must see hope?
A: I think the location will only get better. We hope the road building mania is over. And the LRT connectivity here is wonderful. We have already upgraded the livability of the traditional main streets, and we have wonderful cycling infrastructure in the Trillium MUP, Albert-Scott MUP, Ottawa River pathways, and the connection to the Laurier bike tracks. Actually building more stuff on LeBreton Flats can help too. A greener, more pedestrian infrastructure seen there will increase the demand for better neighbourhood amenities here.
The Monday House is quite deliberately on a stub-end street with no through traffic. There are 24+ kids within a block on this stub, so downtowns can work for families and the dead end streets prove that. Our kid(s) will have lots of friends here. Although to get to the park one has to cross busy streets.
Q: did you have a shopping list when you went looking for this house?
A: Yes, we were open to a new build infill or townhouse, or an already renovated property, or something we had to get renovated before we moved in. A lot of the infill singles and semi’s are very nice, with price points to match (ie, expensive for us). But the main drawback is they are primarily vertical, with one or two rooms per floor. Rarely do you find 3 full bedrooms on one floor. And of course, 3 bedroom low rise “garden apartments”or triplex types of things don’t exist in Ottawa, we coded them out of existence.
We looked at very nice infills that had no yard space … We were also looking at older properties that had been renovated, or mostly renovated, but frankly we were concerned about “flips” that look nice but haven’t had the basics redone. Then we discovered the 1902 Monday House, clearly un-renovated, sitting quite solid on its foundation, with a yard and driveway … fenced backyard facing south … a place to park the stroller and bike.
Q: how did you know what needed renovation or replacement?
A: we had a house inspection done, and then when that didn’t discover any really nasty surprises, we had a contractor recommended by a friend go through it thoroughly. He estimated the time and cost to gut and rebuild the house interior (the exterior is in excellent condition). A renovation is scary. We cannot afford for it to go wrong. On the other hand, we KNOW the wiring will be new, the plumbing will be new, the house is solid — probably uber-solid given how many joists were doubled up — and we know the windows are OK for a decade or more and the asphalt roof is young.
The basement is usable only for selective storage, as the ceiling is low and the walls damp, but there is a finished attic storey that will do for now, and can be remodelled when we win the lottery. The back porch turned out to be more solid than we thought, and we’ve upgraded that and will expand it in a few years, as ground-floor space is ideal when one has young kids.
Many of the houses in the neighbourhood were built after the 1900 great fire, and have very similar floor plans. So in checking out open houses over the past few years, we grew in comfort and knowledge about the features we like and the room layout and the difficulty of old houses having too many too small rooms whereas people today want bigger rooms with more light penetration. Having seen lots of houses makes it easier to recognize the one you want and avoid the one that isn’t right.
The house right next door was the same layout, and already renovated, and we knew the people there, and we had lots of opportunity to assess what we liked there and what we wanted to change for ourselves. It gave us a lot of confidence that the final result would be worth it.
drywall drying …
Q: Is your project on budget?
A: Ha ! there are always unforeseen issues. And unexpected opportunities. That’s the big risk in renovating a property, there is a risk of the cost skyrocketing or issues that were hidden. On the other hand, an already renovated place is WYSIWYG but what about the things you cannot see? A reno project puts all the big costs upfront but then we should have decades of trouble free living when it comes to the basics as they have all been fixed. We can focus on kids, life, career, stuff like that. This rebuilt house should last us 100 years. Mrs Monday chimes in: we could have had all that with a new build without the year of stress…
Q: how is your marriage holding up through this?
A: quite well. We have delegated certain activities to one person or the other. The reno is primarily the project of Mr Monday; the decorating and kitchen functionality that of Mrs Monday. We are both sick of visiting IKEA and Rona.
Make no doubt about it, renovation is a strain and there are way more decisions than we could have imagined. We are both suffering from extreme decision fatigue. There are still nagging doubts: will the finished house be too modern, have we lost all the character of the old house, will the baseboards and trim be enough sense of living with history … and we are not characters living in costume in an old house. We have modern wishes and standards, and are modifying a house built for different needs. Sigh.
Q: what’s next?
A: paint colours. We are not going bland or decorator white. We have decided that numerous rooms will be different colours, strong colours, like all-black powder room, and the common areas like the hallways will have related colours that unite the spaces.
We have created two little plans identifying which walls go which colour, and painting starts this week, albeit with the primer first. But we can’t wait to see the final colours … then the kitchen cabinets (which reminds me, we haven’t selected the countertops yet) … then the bedroom closets …
And here are the paint chips …
Note: Mr and Mrs Monday, and little missy Monday, are nom-de-
plumes -construction. The Mondays will live in Monday House on Monday Street and their story appears here every Monday.
Meanwhile, the drywall dries :
*Monday is not their real name. Monday is the day of the week these stories appear.