“Amass a collection of things you love..”-M.Briand

A couple of weeks ago, my little home was “featured” on a new Instagram account called Halifax Living Space. The account spotlights the interiors of apartments, houses and homes in general of Haligonians and each feature shows very different interior design concepts and interior design tastes.

Participating in the account got me thinking about how far my little “close-to-retirement-aged-house” has come over the past five years. Buying an older home is not for the faint of heart. Old homes can come with equally old plumbing, plaster walls, small/awkward room sizes and little-to-no storage. They can come with layers of chipping paint, scary basements and windows that are painted shut. On the flip side, older homes can come with the kind of character that is difficult to replicate. Solid wood trim, retro built ins and walls that have witnessed years of love and life.

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When I bought my house, I knew there was a lot of work ahead of me. I knew it needed an oil tank and gallons of paint. I knew the windows needed replacing, the floors needed refinishing and I knew that I would have to pick away at things over the years. I also knew that it would be a process and that there would always be another project waiting in the wings. I realized that new furniture would have to wait, that kitchen reno’s likely wouldn’t happen for a decade and that I was going to have to get creative. What I didn’t realize was how expensive renovations can be and the importance of learning a few handy skills to make your space livable while remaining affordable.

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Over the years I have replaced the roof, the oil tank, exterior doors and thirteen (!!) windows. I have re-painted every surface at least once and many are going on their second or third paint “face-lifts” because paint it cheap and can transform anything quite dramatically. I have had the floors refinished, I have slowly replaced some furniture, upgraded light fixtures and I have thrifted endless amounts of DIY decor. Yet, there is still so much to do!

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My renovation list for the near future includes kitchen flooring , shiplap in the bathroom and a new vanity (but for now my retro one is getting it’s third “paint-lift”). I still have light fixtures to install and more paint for the bathroom walls waiting in my basement for a day where I have a little spare time. Eventually, I would love to tear down the wall between the kitchen and dining room and reimagine the whole thing into a more practical, storage savvy place that makes better use of the small footprint. I just need another five years and some extra shifts at work.

My advice to people who are struggling to find a style, to renovate on a budget or to pair down an existing collection into key pieces would be to amass a collection of things you love. Peices that are authentic to you regardless of style, price or vintage. What will result is a home that reflects you. A home that tells your story!

-m

 

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”- W.C. Bryant

I am spending my day off studying, drinking coffee and cleaning up my gardens if the coffee gives me enough energy to do so. My flowers and herbs have all begun to go to seed and I have noticed pumpkins and fall mums inching their way onto the doorsteps and porches of neighbouring homes. The first day of fall is tomorrow and it is my very favourite season.


Last week my mother hosted a couple of her girlfriends for a “wreath making and wine drinking afternoon”. My mom is exceptionally crafty and after looking at what she created (while enjoying wine) I was inspired to make my own fall wreath. Fall wreaths can be a lot. I always scout them out at Home Sense and Michaels but can never find one that I like. Personally, I am into simple wreaths. Wreathes without giant bows, that are small and understated. My door is bright enough and easily crosses the “too much” line so I picked a small grapevine wreath, some eucalyptus and a sprig of white berries at Michaels (all half off). I also grabbed a bag of little acorns and pinecones from the dollar store (I should have bought a couple bags because they are really cute!). Using some wire cutters and my hot glue gun I simply arranged my decorations where I wanted them and glued them down. That was it. So simple and cost less than $15 dollars including the glue!
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If you have never whipped up your own wreath, they are exceptionally easy. Pick a wreath, grapevines are really easy to work with and super inexpensive. Pick up some flowers, berries, bells, sparkly springs or whatever you love that suits your season. Snip them, arrange them and glue them (hot glue gun works very well). That is it! You can add bows and ribbons, you can use sea shells from the beach, star fish, dried flowers and even pom-poms. Many of the decorations can be bought at the dollar store. It makes for an inexpensive project that anyone can do. One that is best enjoyed with a group of friends and a splash of wine.

-m

 

“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”- C.S.Lewis

2015 has ended and I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for friends that have grown to be family, new beginnings and evenings that lasted till the early morning. 2015 sent dozens of challenges my way beginning with a new job (unlike any job I have ever had before!) and ending with me taking control of my health and being better to my body.  2015 brought weddings and new babies to many of my close friends. I traveled, I made new acquaintances, I strengthened old bonds and was often reminded of how lucky I am to have such a strong, supportive (and sometimes loud) family. In 2015 I worked hard, that hard work usually paid off and I was reminded again and again of how much I have to be thankful for.

As for 2016; what are my wishes for myself?  I wish to continue to make my health a priority, I wish to read more, I hope to finish all of the projects that I begin and I want try my best at being a kinder person.

What are my wishes for you?  I hope you challenge yourselves, that you take opportunities when they turn up and that you don’t say “maybe” when you really want to say “no”. I hope you take the time to see the beauty in your surroundings and that you take the time to be good to someone other than yourself.

Now that the formalities are out of the way I wanted to share a little project that I was working on throughout the fall. For Christmas I refinished the cutest little hutch for my sister. I bought it off of a friend for $30 dollars and with a paint sample, some sand paper, a coat of varnish and a little elbow grease, it had a total transformation. I cleaned up the original hardware and I lined the drawers with a lovely piece of high end wrapping paper that I snagged at a paper shop for just $5. The entire project cost about $40, maybe $45 if you include the supplies I already had on hand.

Happy 2016!

-m

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“Christmas: The only time of year you can sit in front of a dead tree and eat candy out of socks…”-Unknown

I am long overdue for a post, I have been a bad blogger and although I can provide you all with a tirade of excuses, let’s just chalk it up to life getting in the way….

Last week I had a very interesting conversation with a friend about holiday traditions. She had been listening to a radio program that was discussing how those traditions, no matter how small, are what shape the holiday season for so many people. When adults think back to their childhood Christmases it is very seldom that they can recall the gifts but they can quickly rhyme off the traditions their families held that make the festive season really come together for them. A comical discussion comparing our traditions quickly ensued (they were so different!) and it got me thinking about what makes the holiday come alive for me..

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In our household we always have had a slew of long standing traditions when it comes to the holiday season. Some are pretty universal, my mom made shortbread (find link to incredibly simple and well loved recipe here), we trimmed the tree, overindulged in holiday movies and we always attended Christmas Eve mass. Christmas morning was spent in our new pajamas (which my dad still gets us!), strategically passing gifts around while mom and dad drank dark coffee in long, slow gulps, trying very hard to wake up and be lively. Living away from family for the most part meant that Christmas morning was punctuated with dozens of phone calls, visits from neighbors/friends and sometimes our Christmas day even included packing up the car and making the 3 hour trip to Halifax to see the people at the other end of the telephone line. A few things have changed, mainly that my sister and I are now also enthusiastically pounding back coffee in our jammies and my career means that I spend every second Christmas with my chosen family as opposed to my biological one. I wouldn’t change a thing.

As for more unconventional or at least “less common” traditions, we have a few and they just so happen to be my favorite ones. Every Christmas Eve after mass we have always had fried ham sandwiches. Yes, they are exactly what they sound like; fried ham with some HP Sauce, served on soft white bread with a side of crisp pickles. It’s a weird one (I freely admit this) but we have just always done that (I think my mom may have grown up doing the same). You don’t have to take my word for it but very few things come even close to being that delicious and maybe it’s the tradition that makes it taste so incredible for something so simple.

One of my very favorite traditions growing up was that my mom and nanny always gave my sister and I Christmas ornaments. We were allowed to open these Christmas Eve (after the ham sandwiches, clearly) and hang them on the tree. We each had our own shoe box filled with these treasures and we were each responsible for hanging them every year. Over the years we have amassed quite a collection. When I bought my first house my mom gave me my shoe box of ornaments and now the best part of decorating for the holiday is enjoying my sentimental collection.

As for new traditions? Ornament exchanges with friends happen annually and donations are collected for local charities that help abused women and children. Food banks are visited and sweets are baked for coworkers who are busy taking care of other peoples loved ones. If I am lucky enough to make it home to the little island on boxing day, all of my lifelong friends (my other chosen family) convene at a house party and usually end up dancing the night away at The Old Dublin Pub. Last but not least, mulled apple cider is enjoyed with a healthy splash of spiced rum. It tastes and smells like Christmas, basically the holiday season served up hot in a comfortable mug (seriously, it beats the hell out of egg nog and rum!).

What are some of your traditions?

Need some last minute gifts? Be sure to check out Dots and Loops, a beautifully curated shop filled with handmade gifts and many local products. It is quirky, fun and I guarantee you will find something for even the most persnickety person on Santa’s list. For all you online shoppers, shipping is fast with a fantastic flat rate but if you prefer to shop in person, it is located seaside in picturesque Lunenburg (go for gifts stay for the view!). The customer service is incredible (seriously, I received a hand written note with my order!) and it feels great to support local business! Happy shopping!

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-m

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Life is a great big canvas, throw all the paint you can on it.”- Danny Kaye

Don’t get me wrong, I love my middle aged house, in my middle aged neighborhood, in the city that I adore. Win, win, win. I love at least 86% of what my house has to offer, which is a great statistic. It’s cozy, has a great yard and it is full of character. Sure, the kitchen is the size of a postage stamp and I am currently saving for all new windows but those are things I can change with time, money and patience. What I can’t change is the lack of storage that often comes with homes built 50+ years ago. It is an issue I grapple with on the daily. I have three closets, one of which is a “coat closet” that will fit three coats total (two if they are heavy winter ones). My hats, scarves and mitts live on a shelf that I can’t reach without a step stool, a ladder or a tall person’s assistance (I am gravitation-ally enhanced, standing a full five-foot-nothing with shoes on). I do find this just a little bit aggravating. Unfortunately I can’t easily change the footprint of my house to include better storage, nor can I go back in time (where is Doc and Marty McFly when I need them?) to convince the contractor that an extra closet and maybe a slightly bigger kitchen would be beneficial for potential re-sale value and the future owner’s mild case of OCD.

The answer to my “winter gear conundrum” came to me while I was cleaning out my bedroom closet (seriously, just a PSA, I think I may hoard clothing…I donated bags and bags!) and I noticed the little black dresser that I came to own after my sister moved to Fredericton for school. This dresser is solid wood, a little too big to be a nightstand but not quite big enough to be used for sweaters and it had been left by previous tenants in one of the old apartments my sister called home while she was in school. Knowing I would one day find a purpose for it, it was placed in my closet to be used to house bathing suits, tights and all other random apparel that didn’t quite have a place.

I took it down to my entry way and it just so happened to fit the small nook next to my stairs but to be honest, it looked like crap. It had previously been painted with a high gloss black paint that was too shiny and chipped. Really though, it was nothing a little paint couldn’t fix. I bought a sample sized paint at Home Depot for $2.97 and I found some satin finish Varathane deeply discounted because it had a dent in the can (bonus!). A quick sand, two coats of paint, another quick sand (with some fine grit paper to distress it a bit) and two coats of Varathane later, I now have the perfect place to store my mail and all of my winter gear where I can easily grab it (without the use of a chair or step stool….). Total cost $11.00 taxes in, total time to complete the job, 1hr without drying time! Another example of how paint can breathe new life into almost anything! Happy up-cycling and re-finishing all!

-m

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To Improve Is To Change..

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”- Winston Churchill

Change can be hard. I recently transitioned to a new role at work and everyday I am faced with new experiences, challenges and expectations. It isn’t always easy to get into the swing of a new job when things are so vastly different to what you are used to and to what would be your comfort zone. The change has been good and I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and about my career path. I encourage everyone to mix it up every few years whether it is with a career change or even something as simple as a different hair cut or colour of paint on your walls. It often takes change to realise what you like, what you are good at and it usually takes change to continue life long learning.

I have lived in my house for over three years and the fireplace has been one of the only things I have been hesitant of changing. It is a focal point in my living room, it’s original to the house and consists of a white, pre mid-century style mantle with simple scroll work and boxy sides. It has bronze brushed black brick and it really is quite lovely.  A couple of years ago I elected to paint the inside turquoise as I felt the black that was originally there was a little black hole and didn’t allow me to showcase my little stove or my lanterns, it just kind of sucked everything into it’s darkness. Black to turquoise was a big change and I loved it! But for some reason painting the brick white, although it has been on my mind from the get-go, was too big of a change. I feared I would regret it and that it would take away from the character and charm that my little middle aged home naturally possessed.

Fast forward to last week. For some reason I got up the nerve to crack open the can of “wedding white” semi gloss paint I had painted the trim and mantel in originally. I grabbed a brush and just spontaneously “went for it”, mildly regretting it the second I started. Turns out, brick is a real b*tch to paint. The seams and creases were so deep I eventually had to revert to using a small paint brush to get into all the cracks and crevices. It took three times longer than I anticipated but boy did it ever look lovely when I stood back to inspect my handy work. The room magically seemed to open up and even appeared a little larger. Yay! I was however, faced with a predicament. My mirror was dark brown and stood out like a sore thumb. Not being emotionally attached to the mirror  (I have have had it since my very first apartment on my own), I bombed off to the shopping centre checking out my favourite haunts for a nautical, light coloured mirror to suit my needs and the room. I was in no luck. Everything was heavy and dark or far beyond the meagre budget I had set for myself. I did however pick up some great, brightly coloured throw pillows for half off, which turned out to be a great pick me up and room brightener. I also picked up two miniature lampshades to update the hideous sconces that frame the fireplace. When I got home the mirror was still irking me so I went to the basement and pulled out a small sample jar of paint that had been deeply discounted at a hardware store because it was, you guessed it, a mis-tint. It just so happened to be mint green and I very sloppily slapped it on the mirror. I didn’t hate it, I put it up lengthwise (why hadn’t I done this before?!) and turns out I had just what I was looking for all along and all it cost was a foam brush and one dollar. If that isn’t thrifty, I don’t know what is! I then decided to paint the interior of my front door with the rest of the green paint on a whim. Guess what? It is great! Change is a good thing my friends. See some poor before (it was so spontaneous I forgot to take pictures!) and some of the finished project below! Happy changing all!
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Before…sorry for the poor quality!
After!!
The brick was awful to paint…
Awful little sconce shades before..
Door before…well started!

I Believe in Pink…

” I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing a lot. I believe in being strong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is a new day and I believe in miracles.”- Audrey Hepburn

Pink. Every single person who knows me assumes my favourite colour in the whole, wide, world is pink. Why? Because the front door of my house would make Barbie envious. It is the pink that every little girl wishes she was allowed to paint her bedroom. It packs a punch and nearly blinded all of my neighbors when I painted it (it had always been traditional black). I have a confession, pink is not my favourite colour. I don’t really have one, I love mustard yellow, mint green and turquoise. I love black clothing, peach blush, white tulips and red shoes (…and red wine). The only time I opt for pink is when I am buying or applying lipstick. Nothing in my house is pink, it is all greys, blues and mints. I painted my door pink ’cause I wanted something modern on an otherwise traditional house. A pop of character.

The problem with painting your door pink (and really, it’s the only problem) is that you then have to decorate the exterior with complimenting colours. Traditional red and green Christmas wreaths clash, flower choices look best when they are pink and white. This year I opted for the first time to not buy hanging baskets. My front step is breezy and they just dry out so fast, it is almost impossible to keep up with their thirst. Instead I filled my flower pots with begonias, impatiens and dusty miller and I filled my window boxes with corn flowers and sweet peas. It looks lovely, but without the hanging baskets, a little something is missing.

As a rule I hate fake flowers. No offense to anyone, but they never look authentic and they are dust magnets. The only time fake flowers are acceptable is if and when you live in the Arctic tundra, or somewhere fresh flowers don’t grow and aren’t readily available (I swear, I am not opinionated). They are also OK in flower crowns because let’s face it, flower crowns are gloriously fun. Today I broke my rule. I bought a grapevine wreath for six dollars at a craft store and half a dozen bright pink silk (gah!) flowers to affix to it. I don’t know what possessed me. But with a little hot glue and some strategic placement of the fake (sigh…) flowers, I ended up with a pretty cute little focal point for my bright pink door. The wreath cost a total of eight dollars taxes in and you can find pictures of my adventure to the dark side of fake flowers below!
Happy crafting/beautifying !
ps. first time not using my iphone and using my fancy camera, hence the kitty at the end!
-m