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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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Almost There – John’s House Pt. 5

Ever get the impression that this blog is my way of living vicariously through others?  That I write stories about people who do things I wish I could do — or used to be able to do?

If so, you’d be partly right.

But what John Garside is doing – almost entirely by himself – blows my mind.   And now, as he nears his self-imposed deadline for moving Ann and himself into their house in Prince Edward County, I find myself holding my breath every time a new email comes from John.

Blog Photo - John Yellow Room and Scaffold

Will this be the email where John finally confesses that he needs a break from all this work, and that – promise or no promise –  the idea of moving in this spring is ridiculously un-do-able?

But it never is.  Not when he has to repair major cracks in the coach house foundation (below).  Not when he undertakes the delicate restoration of original ceiling medallions.  Not even when he is clearing out the basement.

Blog Photo - Johns Coach House

Blog Photo - Johns House Medallion

A lot of the work has been onerous.  As for the basement, John says it “was very crowded — 100 years of clutter — and cut up with old wooden partitions etc.  This was totally removed by me. 6,300 lbs. of stuff!!”

Right now, John’s working on finishing up the library.

Blog Photo - Johns House Library in Progress

The more John restores the house, the closer he feels to it, and the more he learns about its past.   He’s made a few intriguing discoveries.  Like the original signatures of the first owner and his young son, written in concrete.

“William W. Bedell,” explains John, “was the father.  Willet V. Bedell was his only son.  The boy would have been only 7 or 8 years old when he did it.”

Blog Photo - Johns House  Signature in concrete

Sadly, Willet died as a young man.  It was during the First World War, “on a Troop Ship in 1917 en route to France”.

The second family to own the house were the Wards, though John doesn’t yet know who exactly “Envers” was.   There’s still a lot to learn about the home’s history.

Blog Photo - Johns House Name on wood

John’s original move-in date was April 30.  But life follows its own course.

Just a few weeks ago, John’s mother’s health declined suddenly.  She died within days.

This spring is a time of change for John, Ann, and family.

It’s also a time of renewal.

After a rough winter, a flock of tiny blue scilla flowers is blooming in the garden.  It’s one of the first flowers of spring.

Blog Photo - Johns House Blue Scilla

And inside the house, John keeps repairing and restoring.

Another room done, one left to go. Then, after all the cleaning up, comes the big move.

The movers are now booked for May 7.

We’re cheering you on, John!

Photos by John Garside.

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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.