Monday, August 1, 2011

Oh Brother: You Bought A House....

Brother's new house.  A midtown, detached 2 storey home, 
3 bedroom, 2 bathroom with loft.

As a residential designer you might think I am constantly swamped with requests from my friends and family for advice about their own projects,,,well truth be told that’s not the case at all. In fact, all my friends and family members can be slotted into one of three categories; 1. they are quite content with how their house looks, have never read a single design magazine or watched HGTV or have any clue or interest in what I actually do for a living,,,,,2. they are die hard DIY’ers who like to tell me everything their doing, ask my advice and NEVER take it,,,,,,,or 3. they are designers themselves and the only design talk we have is how we never have time for our own house projects - we have dinner parties at each other's houses and we don't bat an eye at the unfinished drywall, lawn furniture in the dining room or the bathrooms with no doors. ; )

There is one exception to this categorization and that would be my little brother. He is quite design savvy and a capable DIY’er, but although he can DIY (and has an impressive arsenault of tools),,,well, honestly, he’d really rather NOT DIY.  Yah,,he’s that guy, he's the type who has a *Dog Walker*, and a *Nutritionist*.  Whatever.  He’s the youngest of the family, always the life of the party, and he's been my best friend forever. So four weeks ago when I received a phone call from Li’l Bro in which he excitedly declared “We bought a house last night!!!!” - my less than enthusiastic self was anticipating the second part of that ‘news’.,,,,,, “We close on July 30th, but the house needs a total reno, do you have time for another project”????  Um,,,, no.

And so this is exactly how 95% of all inquiries I receive at the office start. Housing prices are at historical highs but the housing inventory in Toronto for the most part is old, outdated and in extremely poor condition,,,,,this means anything remotely ‘affordable’, and by that I mean anything less than $800k for a detached home means it will need a minimum of $150k of work and that’s just for the interior.  I don’t think when home buyers purchase these houses, with 30 day closings, that they really grasp the extent of work involved or how much time and money it will take to renovate an entire house, all while you have a full-time job. Of course no one wants to endure the costs of financing two homes for any longer than they have to, so at most a one month overlap is arranged. In short, I’m constantly asked if I can redesign an entire house, select all the finishes and co-ordinate a contractor to take on the project and complete it all within 30 to 60 days. And the budget is usually equivalent to the size of their line of credit.   My response to these never ending requests is always the same, but its never "Sure, I can start tomorrow!".

When I received “the call” from my brother, THIS time it was different,,he’s family and I can’t say no. Ha ha. Actually the BIG difference is he fully understood the scope of work required because he’d renovated entire homes before, in fact, several years ago I designed an entire home for him (he was a full fledged, full paying client). But this time round,,,although he was prepared with a realistic budget,,,,,,and understood the work involved, his timing couldn’t have been worse if he wanted my help.

Sadly as much as I would love to take on this project, reality is that I just don’t have the time to do so at the moment and he can't wait, not even a couple of weeks.  He and his Girlfriend have to proceed full steam ahead so I’ll do my best to advise them. They're going to try and get as much renovation work done as possible before they move in just 3 weeks.  The two of them do have a major advantage over the average homebuyer about to embark on a complete home reno - she is a Project Manager for commercial renovation projects and he is a Geomatics Engineer or Surveyor or whatever all those dozens of initials after his name mean. Meaning, they have a contractor on hand and CAD skills!! They're gonna need both.

For the past 3 weeks I've been immersed in the middle of their full blown renovation plans but strictly in the role of Design coach.  I’ve prepared sketches for the bathrooms and kitchen, armed them with a budget and sent them off to various showrooms to select fixtures and tile. They keep emailing photos of things to me that are waaaay over budget, but, its good that I actually have them READING the budget now. They’re doing all the leg work, have permit plans being drafted up and have even lined up a Contractor to start (miracle of all miracles) on the day they take possession. As I follow them along on this whirlwind journey,,,,lovingly and excitedly watching over their shoulders every step of the way (I can't resist even if I tried),,,,I’ll recap their progress as they attempt to renovate this house in record breaking time.   Li’l Bro will even do a guest blog or two.

The Kitchen and Living Room with its knotty pine and rustic oak wood trim.

The existing kitchen is super narrow at only 5 feet wide.  

An awkward room for Living room furniture.  One of the first decisions made was that this would become the Dining Room

The Dining Room at the front of the house will become the Living Room (possibly with new gas fireplace).

The 3rd Floor Master Ensuite with the world's tiniest shower.....

and the world largest hot tub!!!!

I invite you to follow along on this real life, non-client house reno with me as I share my advice and tips with these brand new homeowners as they transform their outdated house into their modern dream home with the helpful advice of me - the Sister/Designer. They took posession of the house on Friday evening and as of today, the entire interior has already been completely gutted. In the next day or two I'll share the new plans and show you what's been bought so far....


  1. Can't wait to see how it goes ....lordy that bath!

  2. A nice big detached house in Toronto, a girlfriend who is a Project Manager for commercial renovation projects and a sister who is a seriously awesome residential designer?

    How lucky can one guy get?!

    Can't wait to follow along!

  3. Concrete Jungle....LOL, I know. It was even outside the ensuite open to the loft bedroom. Nice. ; )

  4. Hi Janice,,,I know! The last born are always like that, spoiled. ; ) She's an incredible cook too so I'm looking forward to enjoying a dinner or two there in the near future. C

  5. This is an exciting post! Looking forward to following the progress and your design advice. It will be inspirational I am sure!

  6. Your brother is one lucky sibling! I bet you are just oozing with ideas!


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