"We are what we believe we are."
C.S. Lewis

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sweater Season

 This morning I caught two mice in my kitchen, yes I was the woman outside in Bedhead pajamas flicking mice into the garden at 8am.  Scout caught two mice herself but they suffered a different fate...

You know what this means?  That's right, it's getting colder, particularly in the mornings, it's that time of year to plump up the sweater drawer.
Brora sent me an encouraging email this morning on just this very subject (you can sign up for their emails here).  I just feel so soothed and comforted looking at these pretty stacks of warm and fluffy sweaters:
 Decisions, decisions... the pastels and neutrals are so alluring and feminine but I am very attracted to brights this year, such saturated and exciting shades to pair with the greys and blacks of the upcoming winter:
 I like to buy a new cropped cardigan every winter, I cannot wear a dress without one over for warmth and waist definition.  These cropped cardigans take my 20 year old JCrew little black dress and make it new again.  I wore my LBD last weekend with one of my first Brora cropped cardigans (in neutral oatmeal) and I was really feeling like I wanted Colour:
 This seville orange cropped cardigan is an absolute stunner, it has so much depth and is that sort of orange with a warm pink undertone.  I saw it when I visited the Brora mill back in July (it was under production at that time) and it took my breath away.

For day I could use a sensible navy sweater with a bit of length and cable for extra warmth.  I'll be wearing my Brora navy alpaca coat all winter because it is so warm, yet fitted, and a navy cashmere underneath would definitely increase that warmth factor.

Brora Cashmere Long Line Cable Jumper
 I would wear it with black denim and black shearling boots for day (I really like navy and black together, it's very Carolina Herrera).  These JCrew toothpick jeans are a recent discovery, for some reason they fit really well in the "Tall" size, though I wouldn't say I am especially tall.
JCrew Toothpick Jean in Black
 These longer line sweaters from Brora are also lovely with fancy pants for evening.  These are not very practical pants for daily winter wear but I really like them for drinks parties and holidays:
JCrew Collection Cropped Pant in Jade Jacquard
I'd pair that outfit with shiny red low pumps!

I think I've made my Sweater Season decisions, how about you?  Attracted to sweaters lately?  Shooing any mice from your house?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mop Philosophy Monday

 Another week has come and gone, where does the time fly to?  I wish I could say I've been preparing cocktail snacks and wearing party frocks but never mind, when the time comes I'll be ready:
I bought this discounted wild party dress from JCrew for no reason whatsoever.   The vivid orange and aubergine print on a silver metallic ground is so stunning, isn't it?  When I get a chance to wear I'll take a picture, it gets five stars.
 I've been packing up like a packing demon.  So much work and still so much to do, if it's quiet around the blog you'll know why: our move-out date is this Saturday.
Packing up for five weeks out of the house.
 This packing up of the whole house has been the ultimate exercise in de-cluttering.  I've been organizing and purging all along the way, it's so time consuming.

Someone needs a basket intervention.

This is how a packed up box should be labelled....

This is how a box should NOT be labelled: misc what?
 I'll be bringing a minimal kitchen set-up with me, probably stashed in tote bags and baskets (seem to have lots of those) on Saturday morning.
 The one cook book I'm bringing?  That's right, Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals, great dinners when you're doing a daily shop and cook.
I hope you have a great and productive week.  Doing any organizing or buying of wild party frocks?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mop Philosophy Monday

October flowers from Sweet Violets
How do you like our flowers of the month?  They were thoughtfully delivered just in time for Thanksgiving and I can't believe the gorgeous saturated colours.
The best thing about Thanksgiving weekend?  That's right, Ole Rascal is home.
Ole Rascal and Scout
Little Rascal has placed her stamp on Thanksgiving dinner: she made red pepper jelly at school on Friday.  Her teacher is a champ, each child went home with a jar:
Little Rascal's signature label which usually says  DO NOT EAT.
I baked a pumpkin pie and I thought to myself: that is IT, I am sick and tired of pastry crust being the bane of my existence.  You'll be pleased to know I solved this problem once and for all.

Mollie Katzen to the rescue:
KitchenAid mini food processor also to the rescue:
Mollie Katzen's basic pie crust recipe HERE.
You might think you need one of those really big food processors to make a basic pie crust but I'm here to tell you that the cheapie, smaller version is in fact a better choice.
Do you know why?  The thing is so tiny you can't even touch the dough with your hands.  Hands with their warmth are the destroyers of a good pie crust.
Place your flour and butter in the bowl, chop it up a bit, open the lid and add 4 tablespoons of cold milk, then place the lid back on, chop it again in spurts, and turn the dough out onto a floured board.
Roll it out carefully without touching it with your fingers... I always overwork and warm up my pie crusts which is why they are troublesome.
Use a bench scraper to lift the crust and place in your pie pan:
Once it is safe and sound you can use your bare hands to form the edges.

Fill with your pumpkin pie filling (I used Mollie Katzen's recipe for this as well, you can find it here) and bake it up with autumnal delicious smells wafting through your entire house.
I stuffed our turkey with fresh sage from my herb garden:
I like to set the table for a holiday dinner plenty early.  I cook a big breakfast for MrBP and The Rascals later in the morning and tell them to have snacks for lunch.  We have an early dinner to accommodate our family who drive in from out-of-town.  I think it's a sensible strategy, how about you?
I really wish I could be with my baby nephew on this holiday and I'm sure this will be a theme of my life from now on... his picture is in the dining room to make us all feel better:
My baby nephew.
He lives in the North West Territories with his parents .
Otherwise he'd be here at Aunt Dani's in his high chair flicking squash at everyone.
Are you a fan of coffee table books?  Me too.  I'm trying not to buy any more books, I read them on my Kindle instead.  Coffee table books are an exception, they are so pleasing to look over, works of art really, don't you think?

I saw this on Pinterest and I thought you'd like it, it's pretty much our manifesto as Mop Philosophers:
via Pinterest
Be well my friends,

Friday, October 10, 2014

Mop Philosophy Book Club: Middlemarch

"It was wicked to let a young girl blindly decide her fate like that, without any effort to save her."
-chapter 29, Middlemarch

I feel that we are in for an extra special treat at our next Mop Philosophy Book Club.  For starters, we are reading one of the finest novels in the English language:  Middlemarch by George Eliot.  However, the best bit is you won't have one host but two: our very own raconteur of the blogging world, GSL, will be hosting the club with me on Saturday November 22nd.

GSL suggested the book and very generously offered to help me host knowing I am a bit overwhelmed with my house project.  Thank you GSL!

I'm looking forward to putting my feet up at the end of the day these next few weeks while getting lost in the world of Middlemarch... I hope you will all join us.

The book is available through Project Gutenberg free, right here.

Stay tuned for updates and please mark November 22nd down on your calendars.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Tailored House

A mixture of spare and layered.
I've been thinking about writing this post for all of you who are interested in decorating, renovating or just have an interest generally in old houses... or maybe you are in the position of considering moving house as we were, and you'd like to know the criteria we considered in our decision to stay and renovate.

Hence the title: The Tailored House.  (This title is a reference to my favourite decorating book of all time: The Private House by Rose Tarlow.)  I should think most people tailor their houses to suit them specifically, and while I've been interested in de-cluttering and paying our mortgage off these last few years I wouldn't say I was really thinking about our house and how it worked for us.  I knew that I wanted a new kitchen and of course we had renovated the bathrooms pretty thoroughly, but in many ways our house felt smaller than we liked.

The settee in the front dining room window.
This is why we considered moving and even put in an offer in on a much bigger house in May of this year (we were outbid handily in the first round, there was never really a danger that we were actually moving).  That house and offer process was just the jolt we needed to get down to business and really think about our home.  The night we signed the offer I felt absolutely sick as we walked up our porch and into our house, I thought about how much we really enjoyed living here, the location, our wonderful neighbours... but the thought that really grabbed me was that we hadn't lived here to the house's full potential.   It was with no small measure of relief when we heard from our real estate agent the next day: we had been outbid and we were free!

Shortly afterwards we hired a designer to draw up plans for an addition to our kitchen.  This designer has been wonderful: she is so talented and organized, really understands old houses and has worked on  massive projects and homes.  I have admired her work in the historic neighbourhoods in my city, from small decorating projects to really large renovations and additions.  She has brought a fresh, professional eye to our project and though we didn't go with the initial plans for the addition we did hire her to go through the entire house, develop a floor plan to maximize space and flow, and of course she has designed the renovation of the kitchen within the footprint of the house.  She has also hired most of the tradespeople doing the work on our home, and is scheduling them all too which is no small feat.

Many of you suggested that I read the "Not So Big House" books written by Sarah Susanka and I have to thank you for that.  I read all of her books and they made me realize that our house is actually a really good size, that we weren't using our rooms properly, that adding on would mean that many rooms would become redundant (and that we would lose some of our lovely garden) and that I needed to focus on ideas of "refuge" spaces balanced by "outlooks" to create a home that felt cozy yet spacious at the same time.
One particular benefit of renovating our house within its own footprint is that we can focus on the finishes.  This means that we can do things like install crown mouldings, new baseboards and hardwood floors throughout the house.
The crown moulding in the powder room: now we're talking.
We have already renovated the three bathrooms on the upper floors and used similar finishes in each to maintain flow.  We went with classic white fixtures, white subway tile and my favourite honey marble on the floors:
The honey marble used in the powder room, main bathroom and the master bath.
Our master bath might be my favourite room in the house and I would have been loathe to leave it behind.  It is quite large (which is a nice balance to our bedroom which is tiny) and it feels like a refuge with pretty lighting and art:
The painting in the master bath.
A fun part of our project is thinking about the fabrics used throughout the house on draperies and upholstery, these sort of layered details are really pleasing to us.  We like a spare look with layers of texture, and though I abhor clutter I do like pattern and colour:
The fabric for the master bath drapery.
Our fourth bathroom, (which is in the basement) will really be tailored for us: we are planning to convert it to a walk-in dog shower for Scout.  There is currently a bathtub there which we will pop out and re-tile as a Scout shower, as well as a toilet/sink combination which will be sectioned off to create a handy biffy just off of the new rumpus room.  That project is one we will tackle this winter, and I'll be sure to take before and after photos for anyone who is interested.

When we considered moving to a bigger house (and we did look at several houses, not just the one that we bid on back in May) one of the rooms that we were anxious to establish was a study for MrBP.  He has really wanted a room of his own for his personal writing and reading: a desk, bookshelves, a comfortable chair and space to hang art and family photos.

In looking at our floor plan we realized we already had such a room on our second floor: one of the five bedrooms in our house has been used as a room for the television these many years.  This was a room that was cozy but irritating as well: the sports television at night drove me crazy.  MrBP, an avid sports fan (and night owl), would crank the hockey or baseball or whatever he was watching... it was noisy for those us trying to read or sleep yet we hadn't thought of moving the television to its more natural location:
The new basement Rumpus Room.
Since I took this photo of our new rumpus room I've had professionals come in and install the tv on the wall above an antique cabinet as well as wire up our sound system properly.  What a difference this has made!  We didn't think we'd like our television in the basement but it has quickly become a favourite room for all of us.  It's much quieter upstairs for those of us not interested in listening to the ball game late at night and it is also closer to the kitchen for snacks.
The former tv room is now becoming a study for MrBP.
A fairly large portion of our budget for this renovation is being allocated towards furniture.  We've been in that "make-do" phase for many years, as most people with young children are.  We have a couple of inherited antiques, a few good rugs and an antique dining set that we purchased 8 years ago but we needed to buy bedroom furniture, sitting room furniture (properly sized for the scale of our house) as well as furniture for the new rumpus room and MrBP's study.
We've donated our too-large furniture to charity and Ole Rascal took the large Ikea sofa that was in the former tv room to his new apartment on September 1st.  I still have an armchair and an old desk to donate and they'll be hitting for the curb for the first taker on Saturday morning.
My renovation binder is bulging with receipts, quotes and contracts.  I finally put this together last week: I had been storing everything in a basket and it was starting to become a huge mess.
I have my decorating book in the front pocket along with a historical paint colour chart from Benjamin Moore.  The rest of the binder is divided into sections representing the five large aspects of our project:

The five areas undergoing renovation are as follows:

Windows and Kitchen Door
Furniture/ Floor Plan

One of the areas of our house we really wanted to change was the access to the garden.  These french doors are in our sitting room (which was previously the dining room):
These doors will become the window seat which will provide more seating.
A window seat also provides an "outlook" from a cozy "refuge" space.
I have really missed not having a door in our kitchen for quick access to my herb garden and clothesline.  There was originally a door in the kitchen which we are restoring... and this set of garden doors are being torn out to create something on my wishlist: a box bay window seat.
CC's plan.
Along with J our designer we hired our good friend CC who is a landscape architect to draw up plans for the window seat, new kitchen door as well as the landscape work involved in this alteration: a new back porch and steps to the garden as well as a slightly altered terrace.
The outdoor portion of the window seat.
The window seat is actually a complicated aspect of the project.  We need a building permit for it for one, but it is also a construction project that requires both carpentry skill as well as knowledge of an old house with a stone foundation and double-brick walls.
The new porch will be built of stone with pillars for pots and a long staircase down to the garden.  We originally landscaped the front and back gardens in 2009 (which CC also designed) but because we had to rebuild the driveway at that time we decided to delay building the back porch.  The wooden one that we've been using these nine years has been slowly eaten by the squirrels: it's very sad looking.
The same crew which did the work on our property in 2009 are returning to build the porch: Ernie the stone mason should be here the week after next, it's going to be a pleasure to watch him work with the stone.
Side profile of the window seat with the new porch in profile behind it.
I can't wait to have a kitchen door with a stone, squirrel-proof porch.  To be able to pop out for some basil when I'm making dinner or to bring my laundry basket of wet clothes outside for hanging (without bumping into loads of furniture on the way) will be a real treat.
The new kitchen door with canopy.
The roof portions will be built of copper.
Another benefit of bringing in a designer like J is that she has access to some really talented tradespeople who she has used for many years.  She has a list of people she likes to work with for their skill and reliability, and they are specialists in their own field.
The man installing our new hardwood floors only does flooring and specializes in custom, site-finished floors.  When we decided to renovate within our footprint we came to the conclusion that our best bet for creating visual flow, continuity and a sense of space was to have the same hard flooring throughout the house, on all three levels.  Right now we have very old, thin and splintering hardwood on the main floor, a mixture of old hardwood and carpet that needs replacing on the second floor and yucky carpet on the third floor.  Hardwood is a permanent solution that is also easy to clean with a large dog in the house, and of course it suits the vintage and style.  The new oak will be stained on site so that we acquire the exact medium brown shade we are looking for, and the baseboards will be replaced without quarter-round ( which takes up an extra inch of space all around the perimeter of each room).
The basement is finished in a white tile which will remain: it ended up being a great choice when we installed it 9 years ago, it is neutral and easy to clean.

We will put wool runners on the two staircases and this is another detail that J is looking after for us, we'll find a neutral wool that will hopefully match well with Scout's fur!

The demolition, new baseboards, plumbing and electrical alterations involved even without adding on to our house are mind-boggling.  Luckily there is a contractor who is in charge of all these bits and who will also take care of the painting and fixing and re-hanging the doors at the end of the project.  J is working closely with him to be sure that no details are missed.
This capable man will also be installing our new range hood (something we have never had in this house, that has driven me crazy!) and the range itself after our flooring is finished but before the cabinetry is installed mid-January.  We will be living with a temporary kitchen for about six weeks.

Wendy mentioned that she'd like to see the layout of the new kitchen (she's going to need to know her way around the next time she visits with Barry) so I've taken pictures of the elevations and the floor plan as well as details of the new range.
The elevation of the wall with the range and range hood.
The range will be the focus of our kitchen.  It is fairly large but also quite pretty with lots of nice detail: it will be stainless with copper trim.
Our countertops will be fairly simple in design and the sink will be undermounted which will provide maximum counter space.  Due to restoring the door in the kitchen we are losing some counter and cabinet space, consequently the space around the sink will be very important for prep work.  I'm looking forward to having my sink in close proximity to the range.
The layout.
The new cabinets will go the full height of the room which is 10 feet.  My current cabinets end a couple of feet below the ceiling which just creates a cabinet top that is a magnet for dusty grease, they've been a real nightmare to clean.
Cabinets to the ceiling for storage.
Notice the unit with the open shelves and large drawers.
J has designed a large unit with open shelves and drawers below, inspired by the idea of an English Dresser.  The shelves will be wooden and there will be a countertop as well.
The window wall is another important feature and the picture window is being replaced with three windows that open which will be handy for bringing fresh air into the kitchen.
Another air quality improvement: the matching La Cornue range hood.  The venting is tricky and the thing is huge but I think we're really going to appreciate being able to clear cooking fumes out of the house.

Detail of the windows:
Windows that open!
Detail of the kitchen door:
The new door to the garden.
The new windows in the sitting room and the kitchen, as well as the kitchen door, are being custom made by Norwood.  We just heard yesterday from our window guy that they'll be in on October 19th, I can't wait to see the finished product.

In the meantime we'll be very busy packing up this weekend as the countdown begins.  Once we have moved to our rental apartment I'll get down to sewing up the new drapes and linen towels for the new kitchen.  That's the part I'm looking forward to!  The packing up of the whole house, not so much.  I have made a good start but there is still lots to do.
The fabric for the foyer drapes.
I've been taking "Before" photos so that we can compare with the "After" when the work is completed... it will also be fun to look at this post which is all about the planning.  How will the plans and ideas compare with the finished product?

I should also mention that in considering renovations as opposed to looking for another house a huge factor was our location.  You know what they say, and it's true: Location, Location.  We live in the historic downtown and we can walk everywhere, MrBP walks to work, we can walk to the market, restaurants, the  library, the bank and even the cinema.  We also live on a pretty street with gorgeous homes which means our outlooks from every window are inspiring.

We spend lots of time looking out of the windows so that's an important consideration!
Scout contemplating the outlook.
If you have any questions about the process please let me know, and thanks for taking the time to read this planning post.