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The Porch – by Guest Writer Heather Beveridge

Dark green paint was the colour of almost every two-story house in Toronto’s east end.

Blog Photo - old semi with green front porch

If you were very bold, the house was painted deep red with an ecru trim.  My mother didn’t want to stand out in a crowd or cause a row in the neighborhood, so she insisted that our house exterior be painted the standard dark green trim with a white porch. The porch floor was painted grey.

Painting the outside of the house was always a big job. First, the extension ladder was borrowed from my grandfather’s garage. Extension ladders in those days were not light aluminum ones; nevertheless, my father would walk to my grandparents’ home at the top of the street and come home carrying the wooden ladder while I sat on the porch and waited.

Blog Phot - Father and children on porch steps

No one ever painted over the old paint. Perhaps there were too many layers. A blow torch was used to soften up the old paint. The torch had a brass barrel, never as shiny as the ones that I see at auctions.

Next came the lighting of the gas.   This wouldn’t have stuck in my memory if my mother hadn’t been such a worrier. My mother expected an explosion whenever there was fire, gas, or even matches.  My father would quietly ignore my mother’s admonitions, light the torch and begin peeling the paint. It gave off a beautiful smell like burning leaves on a fall day.

Peeling the paint was right up there with helping my grandfather shave wood. Over and over, my Dad and I would clean off the old paint from the porch. Twisting off those silky strips of glistening paint and pulling ever so gently and slowly to try to get the biggest curl of paint yet.

Our porch served many duties. The huge baby pram with its great big belly like a whale was always on the porch. My baby brother always slept outside during the daytime – even on the coldest winter days – buried beneath piles of blankets with an old coat thrown over the top of the pram. It was Nana’s idea of child-rearing:  she insisted that children must sleep outside even in winter, and my mother had no choice but to follow her determined mother’s ideas.

Blog Photo - Baby in pram and Heather

The porch was also where I was put on house-cleaning day:  “Here – take your toys and play on the porch. No, you can’t come in until the floors are dry.”

There was no furniture on our porch. At the time, I never questioned why – but I remember the Duncans’ house down the street had a glider on their porch with striped cushions.

Ours was a ‘playing porch’ – an open porch with steel-grey painted wood floor and bars of white cut-out shapes with a smooth enamel green railing on top. The railing was just the right height for me at five years old to imagine that I was standing on board my pirate ship and waving goodbye to all those scalliwag friends of mine.

Out I would go into my land of adventure, sticking my head in every so often for more toys. Especially on rainy spring days, my friends and I would gather on the porch.

Blankets dragged from the house and kitchen chairs became Indian tepees or, more often, a pirate ship. The enemy was hiding just around the corner in the alleyway and the tepee or ship had to be put in just the right place so the baby carriage wasn’t bumped, setting off wails. Occasionally, we ventured off onto the lawn to retrieve weapons tossed overboard in the excitement of the moment.

That porch served us well as children. I couldn’t imagine a house without one.

It wasn’t until our own home was built that a glider was installed on the porch. It wasn’t quite the same with railings that were laminate and no paint to peel. And a cement floor would never be as fine as the shiny warm planks that served double duty as a pirate ship.Blog Photo - Porch Exterior Wide shot

THANKS TO HEATHER FOR THIS STORY.

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At Home With Valerie Rowley – Pt. 2

Interior designer Valerie Rowley and her husband Chris took a big risk in 1993 when they bought their future home.  For one thing, the countryside house north of Toronto was quite run-down.

“We immediately saw the potential but we hadn’t sold our existing house and it was during the recession.  So did we play it safe and wait?   Nah!  We bought it and just fervently hoped our other one sold (we were up against another bidder so really had no choice).”

The other house sold, in the nick of time.

Blog Photo - Val house steps with flowers Looking at the house today, you wouldn’t know all the work Val and Chris took on. Blog Photo - Val Patio “We virtually rebuilt the interior of this home.  And made the garden almost from scratch – unless you count the few scrubby six-foot cedars that we inherited. It took many years which is why we feel we have so much of ourselves invested in it.” Blog Photo - Vals Kitchen Val’s favourite interior spaces are the kitchen and sunroom.  Blog Photo - Val Sunroom“The sunroom is full of light all year round. It’s also where I raise my vegetable and flower seedlings, grow watercress, herbs and salads through the winter, take cuttings of summer geraniums. To have this area full of pink, salmon and red blooms through the snow season makes the monochrome of winter bearable.” Blog Photo - Val Homegrown SeedlingsFavourite outdoor spaces?
Blog Photo - Val flower Bed The garden is an important part of “home” for Val and Chris. Blog Photo - Val Peonies on hillside “Luckily, Chris enjoys physical work a lot more than I do, so it’s a good partnership.   I grow things and prune and he digs holes and chops down branches.  And we have a young weeding lady who is also a budding opera singer!” Blog Photo - Muskoka chairsIn late summer and early fall, there’s the harvest. Blog Photo - Garden Produce
It takes work. But as you can see from Chris’ smile, it’s work they love doing. They plan to keep doing it for as long as possible.

Blog Photo - Chris Apple Picking

Many people today are drawn to houses that look like they belong in a glossy interior design magazine. Valerie, an interior designer, and her husband Chris, a TV producer, didn’t do that.  They bought a run-down place and worked hard at it for 20 years.  Today, for this couple, this place is  — quite simply  — home.

“I guess because everywhere  I look, what I see is immensely satisfying to me,” says Valerie.   “The flowers (growing, not cut) that I always have everywhere, the artifacts that Chris and  I have accumulated from numerous foreign countries over the years, the carefully chosen furnishings and the general knowledge that we have constructed a home  that is very personal and comforting to the two of us.  It all works.”

Blog Photo - Val Home2

“We have no intention of leaving,” says Val, “ until we physically can’t handle the work it entails – and it does entail work!”

“It’s about staying as healthy as one can as one ages,” says Val.   “I think it’s important for everyone to realize life doesn’t have to stop when the wrinkles and aches and pains start. “

Bravo, Val and Chris. You’re an inspiration.

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Down to the Wire – John’s House Pt. 4

I have not had the nerve to ask John THE question: 

“Will the work be finished by April 30?”

Now that the electrical wiring is all done, John’s been working hard to meet his  self-imposed deadline.  But I know he’s had a couple of major life events to deal with recently.  So I waited a bit before checking in.

I find John working throughout this Easter weekend. For him, this is not a time to kick back and rest for the holidays.

As usual, he’s well prepared for this phase of work  — the plastering and painting.  He’s stocked up on supplies……

Blog Photo - John Paint Cans

For patching holes in walls and baseboard ….

Blog Photo - REd Room with Holes in Plaster

Repairing the plaster around the new light switches ….
Blog Photo - John Plastering Around Light Switch

Priming walls and painting the woodwork….

Blog Photo - John Yellow Room Primed

And the most delicate work of all:

Blog Photo - Green Room with Yellow room in BG

The walls and ceiling of this room.

Blog Photo - Hohn Rebuilt Green Room Medallion and CM

See that thing in the ceiling?  No, not the black thing – the white thing, to the left.  It’s a finely crafted medallion  – a gem rarely seen in houses today.  This medallion – along with the plaster ceiling and crown molding, was badly damaged by a water leak from the floor above some years ago.  John, intrepid soul, decided to repair them both.  But first, he had to stop the problem from recurring:

“A new eaves trough and downspouts solved this, which is what I did just after taking possession of the house.  Since then there has been no more water leaking into (the house).”

Blog Photo - John's Work on Ceiling and CM and Leaded windows

The features in this room are remarkable. The high ceilings. The medallion. The deep crown molding. The leaded windows.

Is there progress?  Heck, yes.

Blog Photo - Green Room and Leaded Windwos Complete

Have a look at this:

Blog Photo - John Yellow Room and Scaffold

And this:

Blog Photo - John Red Room FinishedAnd this:

Blog Photo - Finished Green Room

And this too.

Blog Photo - John Yellow Room Painted

Plus, John also finished up the wood flooring on the third floor.

Blog Photo - John finished floors

Seems to me like John just might get to keep his promise to Ann – that they’ll move in by month-end.  After all, he’s been working like the dickens.   But I don’t have the heart to ask him this, on top of everything he’s gone through lately.

So we’ll just have to find out together.

Stay tuned.

Photos by John Garside.

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The Dreaded Knob and Tube (John’s House, Pt. 3)

Ever heard of knob and tube?

Old knob and tube along with new wiring
Old knob and tube along with new wiring

It’s the kind of wiring used in old houses.  Like John Garside’s.

The gracious old house in lakeside  Prince Edward County, Ontario, has beautiful features.

Blog Photo - Picton Staircase 2

But behind those lovely features is knob and tube  — on the second and third floors of the beautiful home.  And that old knob and tube wiring can be dangerous.

Blog Photo - Picton House Exterior 2

“I knew the wiring was not quite fine,” John says.  “The chief electrician, Dan, and I spoke about the house and the work.  My comment: ‘ I want it to be beyond code’.  He replied: ‘very good’. ”

Blog Photo - Old wiring

It made sense to go above the basic requirements, or “beyond code”.  John didn’t intend to replace the new wiring for a long time.

He knew the  job would take a lot of time and involve “lots of new switches, plugs and all new wiring everywhere!”

Blog Photo - electrician and red walls

Which meant punching holes in beautiful plaster walls.

“Yes.  The holes are 4 inches in diameter and these allow them to fish the wires through the ceiling and around the joists.  Very complicated and very time consuming.  But it saves the plaster and the crown moldings!!”

Blog Photo - electrician working on ceiling

Blog Photo - Yellow room,s econd floor

The plaster and crown moldings in most of the rooms are remarkably beautiful.  (I’ll show them to you in next week’s story.) They’d cost a ton of money – and time –  to replace today.

But boring 4 inch holes isn’t enough access to remove and replace all of the wiring.  John had to rip up the floors on the third floor.

Blog Photo - Old floors more ripped up

“To get rid of all the knob & tube wiring on the second floor it was a better to remove the 3rd floor flooring so we would have access to the ceilings and walls of the 2nd floor”, John explains. ” That way the new wires could be sent up from the basement to the third floor, then dropped down into the appropriate room on the second floor.  This saved a great deal of grief!”

I think I understand that…..

Electricians Bob and Brian did the wiring work.  That left John to do the rest… the re-plastering on the second floor,  the replacement of the  flooring on the third.

“I am working on it right now!” John says.

Blog Photo - Old floors and work stand

Blog Photo - New Floors in progress wide shot

He’s working hard.  Time flies when you have a promise to keep.

Blog Photo - John's third floor - new floors in progress

John  promised his wife Ann that they’d move in by the end of April.  That’s three weeks away.

And there’s still a lot to do.

So, fingers crossed…..

And good luck to John.

Photos  by John Garside.