How To Fix A First Home

Photography by Stacey Brandford

Posted on Nov 8, 2013

How To Fix A First Home - living room view from dining room
Many apartment dwellers dream of one day making the big jump to owning. After years of communal hallways and cramped spaces, my clients were keen to spread their wings – spend all their savings – and land in a home that was entirely their own. But which house? Part of knowing if a house is right for you comes from an understanding of how much work is required to make it suit your lifestyle. In this case, Mr. was keen to sink his teeth into a healthy list of DIY projects, but Mrs., not so much. So the home they chose was one that required work to the living and dining rooms, while most of the other spaces needed only simple fix-ups. Yours truly was tasked with turning the dated and dark principal rooms into cheery open spaces that embraced the owners’ bright, bold personalities.
How To Fix A First Home - coffee table detail

Get the Elephant Out of the Room

Almost every home has a room with a major flaw. This house came with one of the ugliest fireplaces I’ve seen. Heavy-handed, overscaled in size, and covered in exterior brick, it had nary a redeeming feature. The good news? A few hours and a few sledgehammers allowed us to be out with the old and in with the new. Once the bricks were off, a simple rebuild of the fireplace took place with new framing. Next came concrete board and the whole thing was ready to be re-tiled. A custom marble slab surround wasn’t in the budget for our first-time homeowners, so we used inexpensive sheets of marble mosaic for the face of the surround, large-scale marble tiles for the hearth, and lumber store elements to create a custom mantel with crown moulding and flat stock. What used to be an eyesore is now ready to take the chill off winter nights, and set the scene for entertaining.

How To Fix A First Home - shelving detail with aqua and and tan vases and bottles

Stripe it Up

My client requested turquoise as her colour of choice for this main floor makeover. Most people like to make a colour statement, but it’s important not to overdo it. Bold, intense hues can energize a room, but they can also easily overpower it. In addition to being too much of a good thing, wallpapering the entire room in Farrow and Ball paper was also out of the budget spectrum, so we made the best use of a single roll and installed it horizontally across and around the chimney breast. The saturated turquoise is a welcome contrast to the crisp white fireplace below.

How To Fix A First Home - living room area grey and white rug with cream sofas

Leave a Little White Space

I love working with colour, but the secret is balancing where to use colour and where to do without. No matter how hue-filled my rooms appear at first glance, I would always encourage you to look a little closer and see how many neutral elements you can find. Since you never know if your clients’ colour preferences are a lifelong passion or merely a passing fancy, it always makes sense to plan for change. The sofa and armchairs are cream leather (which is light, bright and durable to boot), the main section of the walls are painted cream, and we kept an eye on the bottom line by fashioning drapes with decorative patterned edge panels out of inexpensive ready-made cream drape panels. If you start out by committing to a light neutral for the majority of your furnishings, it’s easy to have fun and inject playful accents of colour and pattern in high-impact ways.

How to Fix a First Home

Blur the Boundaries

When we started, the living room and dining room were small rooms that felt cramped and out of sync with my clients’ desire for open entertaining space. If you are trying to mindful of your budget, major structural changes are out of the question, but small modifications may still do the trick. Widening and raising the archway between the two rooms proved to be money well spent as the living room furniture was able to edge into what was formerly the dining room. Widening the doorway also provides better traffic flow, makes the room feel more contemporary and brings in more light from the west-facing front of the house. Treating both rooms to a single paint and decor scheme has the added benefit of making the spaces seem bigger since the eye reads them as one.

How To Fix A First Home - chair covering with throw pillow

Fix the Squeaky Wheel

Prioritization of renovation dollars is a tough exercise, but an important one. Getting the fundamentals of a room right before you move in should always be top of the list. You’ll always be able to swap out furnishings, accessories and artwork for better quality in the future, but replacing floors, smashing fireplaces and demolishing plaster walls should always jump to the front of the line. Moving out to refinish or replace your floors at a later date is just a bad (and dusty) idea that will cause too much disruption once you’ve settled in. If squeaky, splintered floors annoy you during a house tour, imagine how much you’ll grow to loathe them once you’ve settled into your new digs. Replace them now, not later.

How To Fix A First Home - funky aqua coffee table

Save Time and Money

If time is of the essence and you need the dust to settle so you can move in ASAP, you’ll be glad to know that pre-finished floors have come a long way and now include exotic and eco-friendly woods. After discovering that eucalyptus is a fast-growing renewable resource that is just as hard as oak and comes with a lovely mid-tone colour and a reasonable price point, I knew I’d found the right floor choice. We got rid of the squeaks and creaks, with a bit of an exotic tropical touch as an added bonus.

Originally published in:
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Source Guide:

leather sofa, blue velvet pillows, leather armchairs, dining room rug, silver picture frames & ivory drapery panels, IKEA | engineered hardwood flooring (Wheat Eucalyptus 70799), Strategis Flooring & Décor Inc. | fireplace tile, 115 Tycos Dr., Toronto, ON, 416.441.2224, Saltillo Imports | "Josephine" chairs, custom ottoman & photography, Sarah Richardson Design Inc. | dining chairs & wood accent table, 699 Queen St. W, Toronto, ON, 416.603.2278, Chatelet | spraying of dining chairs & lamps, Benjamen Furniture Refinishing, 104 Kenhar Dr., Toronto, ON, 416.745.2559 | dining chair upholstery, 1311 Alness St., Concord, ON, 905.738.6800, Windsor House Furniture | ottoman fabric, drapery detail fabric & dining chair seat fabric: "Cerva 11 Ethnic/Kilim, colour pool", drapery hardware & velvet fabric on skirted chairs, 1360 Queen St W., Toronto, ON, 416.531.2810, Designer Fabrics | 3-panel wall screen art, lamps, ottoman base, wooden wall art, silver candlesticks, small frosted bowl on dining table, small glass vase on side table & teardrop paperweight, 150 Lesmill Rd., Toronto, ON, 416.546.1760, Around the Block | living room rug, basket under side table, graphic print pillows, teal dishes, cutlery, glass tumblers, silver bowl on sideboard, tall clear vase, wine glasses, bowls, turquoise vase on ottoman & round vase on sideboard, Homesense | teak side tables, 985 Queen St. E, Toronto, ON, 416.778.6495, Zig Zag | pendant light in living room, The Home Depot | green table lamp & teak sideboard, 529 Parliament St., Toronto, ON, 416.925.1556, Green's Antiques | dining room chandelier, 358 Queen St E, Toronto, ON, 416.368.1818, Douglas Poole Antiques | octagonal end table & decorative wall brackets in living room, 185 Bridgeland, North York ON, 416.256.9256, Of Things Past | octagonal mirror, Pier 1 Imports | vases on fireplace mantel, faded blue pillows on sofa, throw, napkins & bud vases on dining table, Indigo | teal ribbed tumblers on dining table, Urban Barn | silver box on side table, 109 Atlantic Ave., Toronto, ON, 416.537.0110, West Elm | small turquoise box on side table, 1132 Yonge St., Toronto, ON, 416.324.8351, Absolutely Inc. | small teal bowl on side table, 249 Gerrard St. E, Toronto, ON, 416.934.9009, Eclectisaurus | teal and bronze glass bowl on side table, 1000 Queen St. E, Toronto, ON, 416.461.3588Machine Age Modern | wood trim, 41 Racine Road., Toronto, ON, 416.749.6857, Brenlo | flowers, Jong Young Flowers, 128 Avenue Rd., Toronto, ON, 416.922.4421 | teapot, silver tray on ottoman, tealight votives, personal items

Trades

contractor, MBKL Ltd. Custom Contracting, 416.836.7295 | painting & wallpaper installation, Russell Painting Inc., 416.994.8348

Paint Colours & Wallpaper

ceiling - Cabbage White 269, Farrow & Ball | trim - All White 2005, Dulux Paint | walls above plate rail - Green Blue 84, Dulux Paint | walls below plate rail - White Tie 2002, Dulux Paint | wallpaper - Plain Stripe ST 1159, Dulux Paint | dining chairs & lamps - Regal Wave 70BG 09/171, Dulux Paint