Tuesday, December 27, 2011

DIY Christmas Gifts

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Between all the meals, visits, parties and gifts, our holiday just flew by. I mentioned in a previous blog post that this year i was going to make Christmas gifts. If you'll recall i started with some dirty old slabs of rough cut wood that i bought off of some guys on Kijiji:
After sanding, sanding and more sanding with 60 grit sandpaper on my half sheet sander, i eventually got rid of the saw marks. I then cut the slabs into nice sized cheese/bread/salumi platters and continued sanding by hand with 100 grit sandpaper. Making sure to round over the sharp edges and corners:

I then moved onto 150 grit sandpaper, then 220 grit sandpaper. The platters were starting to feel really smooth, and with each progressively finer sanding the grain and figuring in the wood, began to emerge:

I applied one coat of chopping board oil, using a clean cotton cloth. Then rubbed off any excess.
After allowing the oil to penetrate and dry for several hours, i sanded one last time using 400 grit sandpaper. Then cleaned off the dust, and applied a final coat of oil. Now you can really see the beauty of the walnut's grain:

So there you have it. I ended up making 10 platters using $20 worth of lumber, $20 for a can of oil and about 60 hours worth of sanding. Hope they get years and years of use.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Covet Of The Week: Wine Cellars

Now that the Holiday season is here, there is one thing i really covet - a wine cellar. Every year around this time, it feels like a never-ending LCBO run. If i'm not drinking it, i'm serving it. If i'm not serving it, i'm giving it. It would be nice to just have a big stash in the basement. I'm by no means a connoisseur, but i do enjoy a good bottle of wine. If i had a wine cellar, you probably wouldn't find many Opus One's, Cheval Blanc's, or Chateau LaFite Rothschild's. Instead you may find a lot of interesting wines from Vintage One's Barrel Futures program. In the new year, i plan on checking this place out, as i've heard a lot of good things about it. In the meantime, can you just imagine having one of these bad boys in your basement?

images via Premier Cru Wine Cellars

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Almost Done!

Last week i talked about how i was moonlighting as a designer on my brother's bathroom. Well, the bathroom is almost complete, all that remains are some minor touch ups, the baseboards, the glass shower wall (that shower curtain rod is only temporary) and accessories like towel bars and toilet paper holders (which i still need to choose). Anyhow, i thought i'd share a few more progress photos:

Tough to show the whole bathroom, because it is rather small, but you can see the soap niche in the mirror reflection.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

DIY Christmas Planter

I spent today getting my Christmas on. We started by strolling over to Roncesvalles Ave for a coffee from Cherry Bomb (Mmmm...Cherry Bomb) and to pick up some cuttings from Roncesvalles Fruit Market, to try making a Christmas planter. I've never tried making a Christmas planter before, but i figured if i didn't like the way it looked, i could just pull everything out and try again. So here is what you need:

- An urn (unfortunately mine has seen better days)
- A container that fits inside the urn
- A plastic bag that fits inside the container
- Sand
- Cuttings of your choosing. I chose: 1 bunch of magnolia leaves, 1 bunch of red berries, 2 bunches of cedar and 1 bunch of red dogwood twigs.

Line the container with the plastic bag. This keeps the sand from falling out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the container. Fill the bag with sand. My sand was slightly damp, which made it about the consistency of brown sugar. I actually think this helped, because the sand was heavy and seemed to really hold the cuttings in well.

Place the sand filled container into the urn and start sticking cuttings in. Trim the cuttings if they are too long. I started in the center with some of my taller material (magnolias and berries)...

...then i filled in, all around the perimeter of the pot with cedar...

...then i added some dogwood to give it extra height, et voila!

I also put out the Christmas lights, and changed the wreath. Now i just need some fresh white snow.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Arrangements

In years past, Christmas for us was a time of spending. We would buy gifts (sometimes even pay for wrapping), order prepared foods and order floral arrangements. While fighting the shopping crowds and dialing up orders may have seemed like a lot of work, the truth is in a City like Toronto, it really doesn't take that much thought or effort. This year, we're trying to get more in touch with the true spirit of Christmas: A Christmas about good times with family and friends. A Christmas where giving is about "the thought" and not just the size of your credit card limit. So we're doing a couple of things differently this year. First we're making gifts for all our siblings, i'll share how that turns out on Boxing day (don't want to ruin the surprise) and second we're making our own floral arrangements. Some we'll give away as host/hostess gifts. Here's what we did:

We took a stroll over to Roncesvalles and picked up some...
- Amaryllis bulbs from Sweetpea's
- Potting soil from Pollock's Home Hardware
- Red dogwood twigs from KC Fruit Market

We then recycled many of the pots and containers we had from arrangements and orchids past:

I put a bit of gravel in the bottom of the pots and then planted the bulbs with the top 3rd exposed above the potting soil. Then i decorated with the dogwood twigs, et voila:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'm Moonlighting As A Designer

My brother who lives a few doors down, is having his ensuite bathroom renovated. He's a "sure, whatever" kind of guy, if he were any more laid-back he'd be laying on the ground. When it comes to anything home-related i'm a little bit more opinionated. So he tasked me with being his bathroom designer and project manager, while he was away scuba-diving in Thailand for 2 weeks. Because he's my brother and because i am not a real designer, i've been working for the modest fee of a beer for everytime i need to get off my butt. His only wish was that it ends up "looking good" and be more or less functional when he returns from vacation.

I sourced and purchased all the materials for him, and the contractor started demo on the day his flight left. Due to some unforeseen discoveries (a certainty when renovating old houses), the bathroom was not quite useable for his return, but it is starting to look pretty good.

Unfortunately i didn't take before pics, but here are some progress pic:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Covet Of The Week: Butlers Pantries

I've always wanted a butler's pantry. Of course in reality i don't have a butler, nor does my kitchen have enough space to have a little room devoted to storing the table linens, good silver and china. Come to think of it, i don't even own china, but that doesn't stop me from wanting one.

Gotta love the door that looks like drawers on the bottom and the sliding glass fronted doors above:

image from House Beautiful

Serious bonus covet points for the secret door to this pantry:

image from here

The mother of all butler's pantries:

image from here

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Backyard Makeover

This past summer we had our backyard re-done. Keep in mind when i say backyard i am talking about a tiny downtown Victorian backyard. So maybe i should call it a backinch, since you could easily measure it in inches as opposed to yards.

Anyhow the old yard consisted of a really small deck, a really small patio and some planting beds. Our old deck, barely fit our table for 6 , we had a wire that hung across the deck that i would often walk into and the rotten railroad tie planting bed and pink Unilock patio were just plain ugly.

Here are the befores:

The new yard now consists of a slightly larger deck, a path and some planting beds. Not a big change on paper. But in terms of usability it is like night and day. I wish i could take credit for building the new deck, because it turned out so well, but the truth is it was built by William Turna (416) 457-8121 manorhouse@rogers.com. We had him extend it the full width of the lot and add a few feet to the length. We also had him build a gate and do some finishing work on the covered porch structure. He took care of many of the little details, like making sure the deck was the same height as the stone threshold, so that when we walked out our patio door, it would be a nice flat landing area and he buried the wire to the garage in plastic conduit. After he built the deck, i installed a square cut flagstone pathway and re-planted some of the plants.

And here are the afters:

Yes i know the sconce on the left is crooked. I accidentally knocked it when pulling the BBQ cover off. I've since straightened it back out.

We couldn't be happier with how everything turned out. Next year i plan on staining the deck and prettying up the garage, so stay tuned for Backyard Makeover part 2.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Power Tool Thoughts

I have been a pretty serious DIY-er for well over a decade now. In that time, i've owned or gotten to use a lot of power tools. Seeing as the gift-giving season is around the corner, i thought i'd share some of my thoughts on Power Tools.

So, what tools do you really need? Over the years i've amassed a pretty large collection of tools, but the reality is i don't use them all regularly. In fact some i've used only once or twice. Obviously power tools are expensive and can take up a lot of room, so i am hoping to offer some unbiased insight on which i could or couldn't live without.

My top-3 go-to tools:

1. I find a decent cordless drill/driver indespensible, whether you're building, renovating or just repairing stuff. It's not cookware, so don't get upsold on more pieces. You will most certainly use the drill if you do any kind of DIY-ing. The cordless radio, flashlight, trim saw and recipricating saw...probably not so much.

2. I use the miter saw a lot for casing, baseboards, flooring, decks, mouldings and framing. I'm actually on to my second miter saw now. My first was a basic compound miter saw, which did and probably will still do 98% of the cuts i ever need to make. I've since splurged on a more pro model, which allows bevels on both sides (so you don't have to flip your material to cut an angle in the opposite direction) and which slides, allowing me to cut much larger material. The one thing the new saw excels at is crown moulding.

3. I use my circular saw a lot for doors, decks, fences, framing and ripping sheet material. To me a good circular saw, would have accurate depth and angle adjustments, would be durable and would be light and comfortable. Notice i didn't say powerful. Frankly i think any circular saw on the market is going to be powerful enough for a DIY-er. Whether a saw has 13 amps or 15 amps, is not going to make or break a project. But a saw that is too heavy to hold steady and safely when cutting the tops off of posts or plunging into sheathing, is not worth the money, no matter how powerful it is.

Tools that i own, but don't use much:

1. I've used my reciprocating saw maybe 6 times in the 8 years since i've owned it. When you watch those home improvement shows, this is the tool that they let newbies use to make them feel really macho and empowered. Probably because it is kind of shaped like a rifle, has a trigger and makes your biceps jiggle. The truth is it really isn't a precision tool at all. It's really only good at taking things apart and not so good at putting them back together again. I will say it is very handy for large scale demolition, like when gutting an entire house, or taking down a fence or garage.

2. I actually have two hammer drills (...long story). I haven't used either of them much. And unless you're a cable guy, i suspect you probably won't find much need to drill through brick and concrete either. I will say when you need one, you really do NEED one, because they're really the only tools designed to drill into brick, stone or concrete. I bought my first one for a very specific project, stored it for years, then lent it out, since i wasn't really using it. But of course once it was on loan, i discovered i needed it again ASAP. So off i went to buy another one. Now i have two in storage. Maybe i should start a hammer drill library.

3. I personally don't like rotary tools at all. I find them to be scary as all hell. I've had discs break and had shards fly off while cutting through things. And I also don't like that they get insanely hot. If you decide to give one of these as a gift, please include a pair of goggles or better yet a gift receipt.

What Brand to Get:

There is a HUGE price difference between the various brands. Is it worth it? I obviously haven't tested and compared all the options out there, but i have tried enough tools to make a general assessment. So in a rather unscientific manner i will split the most common brands into 4 categories priced lowest to highest:

1. If you really only need to use it once
- Jobmate
- Pro-Pulse
- Black & Decker

2. DIY-er (occasional user)
- Mastercraft
- Ryobi
- Skil
- Craftsmen

3. Frequent DIY-er or Professional
- DeWalt
- Ridgid
- Makita
- Porter Cable
- Delta
- Bosch
- Hitachi

4. Are you sure it's just about the tool and not about your self-esteem?
- Festool
- Freud
- Milwaukee
- Hilti

From my experience, tools from the category 1 are generally to be avoided, unless like i said you really only plan on using it once, and any additional use is bonus. Tools from category 2 are usually fine from a durability stand-point. However i would avoid the versions of these tools that try to pack a whole bunch of higher end features into lower end price points. I've found in my experience that accuracy and usability suffer when they try to do that. As a guy who uses my tools on a monthly basis, category 3 is where i spend my money. I've never used a tool from category 4, because frankly i can't afford to.

So that's my two cents. Hope this was useful.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thinking About Christmas...Already

I know it's only Halloween, but instead of buying presents for our siblings, this year we're making them. So i've got to get cracking. Some people may look at the three dirty wooden boards below and see junk. Me, i see Christmas presents in the making.

...To be continued...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Join the Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade on Nov 1

The pumpkins will unite
Along the paths of Sorauren Park
The glow from their lights
Will light up the dark

So bring your pumpkins
On November One
And bring your munchkins
To join in the fun

The Sorauren Park Pumpkin Parade has become a very popular annual event. People bring their pumpkins for one last glowing hurrah. Last year it was estimated that there were over 2000 glowing pumpkins in the park. Each year it seems to get a bit bigger, so who knows how many there will be this year. It's fun, it's free and it saves you from having to hang on to your used squash until garbage day. On Nov 2nd, the city comes to take away all the pumpkins for composting. Have a safe Halloween, hope to see you all there.

This will be my contribution to the parade this year:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Won, I Won, I Won!

Shannon over at 8foot6, one of the blogs that i really enjoy following has awarded me with a Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks Shannon!

The way it works is i write 7 things about myself and then pass on the award to 15 other bloggers. So here goes:

1. My daughter just turned 1 today and we have a new baby on the way!

2. My real name is Kyle and I'm 36.

3. This month I celebrated my wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, my wife's birthday and my daughter's first birthday. All events that reminded me of what an incredible life I have.

4. I grew up really poor, and consequently didn't have much throughout my school years. As i got older, i kept a mental wish list of things i wanted, some practical (e.g. nice house in the city), some absurd (e.g. really cool espresso machine). Much of what i blog about are things that have sat on that wish list for a VERY long time, and are now actually being fulfilled. So never under-estimate the power of dreaming.

5. I've been working in some form or another since i was 11 years old.

6. I work as a Derivatives Analyst. While it's interesting, challenging and satisfying work, I'm counting the days until I have the freedom to retire and do something i love.

7. I often find that i have Stars songs stuck my head.

Over to you:

Covet Of The Week: 2-Storey Libraries

The first time i ever saw an image of a 2-storey library was well over 10 years ago. It was Brian Gluckstein's very own personal library from his Forest Hill home (see below and drool). And since then i have been covetting them.

Even after more than a decade, Brian Gluckstein's 2-storey library still looks just as fresh today:

image by Gluckstein Design

Here are 3 reasons i need to have my own 2-storey library one day:

1. Sure, most of the books pictured below can now easily fit onto an i-pod, but libraries are more than just a place to hold books. To me a library represents a peaceful, quiet place. A respite fom logins, passwords, ringtones, lcd screens, vibrations and other "modern advancements".

2. As a fan of wood working, i also think libraries are a temple to fine craftsmanship and architecture. Oh how i'd love to one day have enough space, time and skill to build-in beautiful bookcases and paneling. A 2-storey library would be my Everest.

3. I think a house with a 2-storey library speaks volumes about the owner. And as someone prone to geek-outs (not the comic-con type of geek-out, more like, WAY too much useless knowledge type of geek-out), i think a library is kind of my style.

Now when i eventually realize my dream of building a 2-storey library, in true Bruce Wayne fashion, i will probably design a secret door in one of the bookcases to lead to a secret room. However, instead of hiding bat costumes, i'd probably hide all my earthly geeky treasures. You know stuff like Guarnerius violins, original Tom Thomson paintings, hickory golf clubs and maybe some tumblers and scotch.

The only thing i would dislike about my 2-storey library is changing the light bulbs:

image by Matthew Millman

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Covet Of The Week: Conservatories and Orangeries

So what are conservatories and orangeries? They're basically glass structures similar to greenhouses, however they are attached to the main house. Conservatories typically have peaked glazed roofs while orangeries typically had flat roofs with a central portion of the roof glazed. So you may be thinking that's just like an enclosed porch. And to that i would emphatically say, No! Often enclosed porches poke their thumb in the eye of the main building's architecture for the sake of having a place to keep your shovel and sidewalk salt in the winter and your bike in the summer. Little known fact: during much of the 70's and 80's enclosed porches single handedly kept the manufacture and sale of that tacky green astro turf carpet stuff going.

Long before people had family rooms, rec rooms or great rooms, they had conservatories and orangeries. These where the rooms where well-heeled families would gather, not to watch TV or listen to the radio, because those things weren't around back then. Instead they would gather around a piano and play music, or they would pursue their hobbies and interests, like collecting exotic plants. So what if i don't know how to play the piano and can't keep house plants alive? I still want one.

In my last house i seriously considered adding a conservatory to use as a family room, but two things made it non-ideal. First, most conservatories available in Canada these days are framed in white PVC (vinyl), which i find a little bit cheesy for a structure that is suppose to look historic. Second the conservatory would have had a Western exposure, meaning late day sun would have turned it into a sauna inside. Unfortunately the house we have now is a semi detached and too narrow to add a conservatory or orangery to. So alas i am left to covet them from afar.

Here are some fine examples of conservatories. You wont find any PVC in these structures:

image from Amdega
image from Amdega
image from Amdega

Here are some fine examples of orangeries. Shovels and bikes not allowed:
image from Amdega
image from Amdega
image from Amdega

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cheap and Cheerful Garage Makeover - 2011

We are lucky enough to have a 1.5 car garage, which is a bit of a luxury for downtown Toronto. We had toyed with the idea of rebuilding it, because it was so crooked and ugly, but it actually functions and serves our needs quite well. And frankly who wants to pour a bunch of money into something that just stores your car and other junk. So instead i came up with a cheap and cheerful makeover. This makeover is going to extend into next summer, simply because i have lots else to do on the inside of the house and wont be getting around to finishing it before winter comes.

First lets take a look at a before pic. Prepare to be horrified...

Here's how the garage looked when we first moved in. Kind of looks like where someone might hide dead bodies:

Pretty scary looking, eh? So first i found a new home for the garbage can. And this past summer i scoured Kijiji for old windows. I was lucky enough to find a pair for $60. These windows actually came from an old mansion in Rosedale. There's a complete makeover happening in the rest of the back yard, which took care of burying that wire on the top left of the before picture. I also pulled all the pink Unilock paving out and found a happy person on Kijiji to take it all away. I put in planting beds on either side of the garage door, and i laid a square cut flagstone pathway from the garage to the new deck. Total cost of the stone was $180 from Rock Valley Natural Stone. I then bought 4 dwarf Burning Bushes from Sheridan Nurseries fall sale. Total cost for the four shrubs was $90. Small changes but dramatic results. I'd say it was a pretty good use of $330.

Here is the after:

Lots more still to go for next year:
- Buy more plantings to fill in the beds
- Replace that door with a cool antique one
- Add casings around the door and windows
- Install cedar shingles on the wall
- Paint and stain everything
- Build some window boxes, and fill them with perennials
- Add some landscape lighting.

All in, i want to keep the makeover under $1000. While it won't straighten out the structure, it will make it far nicer to look at, and will be much cheaper than a garage rebuild.

So that's it for the garage makeover for now. I'll show some of the other work going on in the rest of the backyard in future posts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Covet Of The Week: Port Cocheres

It's fun to dream about what i'd do, if i were ridiculously wealthy. Some people collect exotic cars, others collect ex-spouses. Me if i were rich beyond belief, i think i'd collect properties. Old ones, with lots of character. I'm a little bit addicted to all things home. I recall when growing up, i would watch This Old House, Hometime, and Home Again. My poor brothers who wanted to watch cartoons would instead be subjected to countless hours of Norm Abrams, Dean Johnson (with his fake-wife du jour) and Bob Vila whenever it was "my channel". To this day i'm a sucker for old houses, especially when they have some of those architectural elements i covet (and oh how there are so many architectural elelments that i covet), which is what i'll be blogging about in this regular (hopefully) feature.

My first Covet of The Week* is dedicated to Port Cocheres. So what is a port cochere? It's basically a structure attached to the main house, that one can drive a car under, so that people can get in and out without getting wet from the elements. Cynics may be asking, but isn't that like an attached garage without the benefits of a garage door? And to this i would emphatically say: No, that would be a car port! Car ports and garages are purely functional, they are where you park your car, and store your lawn mower and your garbage cans. Port cocheres on the other hand, are covered passageways were people get in and out of their cars. They remind us of the days, when men would retrieve the car and then open the door to allow ladies to enter the vehicle, all under the dry shelter of a port cochere. Unlike garages and car ports, where function trumps form, port cocheres are meant to compliment the beauty of a home.

I'm fortunate enough to live close to some incredible homes that still have original port cocheres. So here are some pics from the net and some from the 'hood. In all cases i love how the port cocheres blend in with the architecture of the homes. Enjoy!

You wont find any lawn mowers or garbage cans under here:
image from flickr

Some nice Craftsman-style bungalow examples, bonus covet points for the full width verandas:

images from flickr

A few examples from around the 'hood:

bonus covet points for the turret and round porch!

* May not actually be weekly in reality.