Monday, March 20, 2017

Necessity: the mother of design invention

Last week was full of exciting design adventures at the house that sprang from Eaurg! moments - you know, the sound you make when something you thought would be easy or wonderful turns out to be Not?  Sometimes when I hear myself responding to these surprises, I wonder how the conversations would go if I were more rigid or demanding or focused on our renovation budget (which I should be: this is a failing, for sure.)  I don't think I would enjoy the process so much, you know?  But as it is, there is room for fun.


And once again: illustrating the top of this post with a random pair of socks because we want to keep Hugs colourful and right now the house is still just black and white and blonde all over.  (ironically, these are socks I made for myself while testing out needles a size smaller than I usually make, which is how I managed to achieve my dream of knitting socks for my neighbour Beth, whose feet are very small.  When I went to knit a pair for Monique a few doors further down, I had to do it on purpose.)

There are two current design crises at the house.  Which to tell you about first?  Fireplace or powder room vanity?  hmmmmm

Let's start with the fire.

I wasn't able to be at the house when the fireplace was installed and just gave direction over the phone.  I said I wanted a mantel, and that the unit should be installed flush with the front of the cabinets on either side of it, and here is what that turns into:


That right there folks is a big honking exhaust pipe going up about four and a half feet from the floor and out through all the spray insulation in the exterior wall.   As I understand it, that's how high you have to go when you are venting this particular gas fireplace that far out from the wall.  Oops!

Any mantel that could go above that pipe would be above eye level, which doesn't work so well in a narrow room with a tiny fireplace.  So the mantel will have to go out front, which is fine if you don't mind eating an extra foot into your living space and losing maybe five square feet of viable storage space on top of that.  Which, given that our house is still quite small, we do.

After much thinking and debate and Googling of fireplaces images we came up with three options, all of which involve moving the fireplace back to be flush with the wall and designing an attractive fireplace surround and mantel with a lot of depth.  Ready?  Or do you need a nap first, because I've bored you so much?

Okay, here we go...

1/ vent the fireplace out the back of the unit, or out the top of the unit and then immediately turn it 90 degrees to vent out of the house.  Both involve cutting an extra hole in the insulation and putting the vent at about shoulder- or head-level for anybody passing by outside.  We're putting a safety cage on the vent so nobody burns themselves but still: it's a pain (potentially literally for anybody who smacks into it.)  And the mantel top would be a little over two feet deep, which might be a little weird.  In fact, this would have been the result if I'd been on site on installation day, so I am beating myself up a little less about that.  Bonus fact: apparently the wall is 2' deep behind this point, owing to the location of the previous fireplace's chimney, so venting out the back of the unit is not even possible.

2/ leave the vent where it is, box it in with drywall in front, install an attractive 10" deep mantel, and hang a painting.  This is the cheapest option and would look the most conventional and clean, but it does mean the loss of all that storage space.

3/ commission a cabinet to go on top of very deep mantel once it's installed, to provide storage space on either side of the boxed-in vent and provide the illusion of a 10" deep mantel in front of a paneled wall.  This is the expensive option and means any painting we 'hang' over the fireplace would probably just lean on the mantel and have to come down any time we want to open the doors. Which is fine, if we store seasonal stuff back there or other things we need to keep but not access much.  There is an amazing amount of stuff like that in life, have you noticed??

After several days of planning on Door Number Three, we realized the clearances around the pipe would minimize our storage options even further while costing the same.  So now we are looking Door Number One, with a boxed in 'shelf' at the back of the mantel to make it look shorter and provide a sort of frame for a painting.  I know that sounds bad too but it works in my head and that's a start, right?

And it may also be an end, depending on how far up the wall the previous chimney started to angle sideways, resulting in a thinner exterior wall.


This picture has nothing to do with anything but I felt we all needed a breather.


Now let's look at the powder room, aka the one room in a renovation project where the trend-conscious owner is allowed, and even encouraged, to go wild!

(I don't know why that is, because unless you are blessed with a bathroom of conventional size that can be addressed by big-box hardware store products, the job is hardly ever DIY and definitely never cheap, and the sooner something dates or gets overwhelming to look at, the sooner you are redoing it.)

Our powder room faces a common challenge for powder rooms, which are generally squeezed into leftover gaps: it's not deep enough for a proper door swing and a standard-depth vanity.

As it stands, we have about two inches between our fully-open narrow-ish door and the front of the vanity, which is about as tight as I can agree to.  And the vanity is just 19" deep, leaving... not much space for the 17" sink I found (the smallest standard white undermount sink I could find that isn't square.)


You will be surprised to learn that this 1/4" scrap at the back of the sink is not actually enough space for a set of taps.  It's sink or taps.  I mean we sort of knew this going in, but we had hoped to find a smaller sink in the time we had before the countertop was being measured, and it turns out nobody but me was open to the idea of a stainless steel bar sink, and I couldn't persuade anybody else on the crew to spend 25 hours looking at sinks so they'd come on board to my mental state.  So....

Ray is redoing the plumbing to fit the vanity with a wall-mount faucet.

Tears sprang to my eyes when he suggested this solution, and I had to force them back because I was on a site visit with a bunch of guys who would not get it.

But I think you might, right?

It was because I looooove wall mounted taps! 

We had them in our kitchen before the renovation and they were my favourite thing, and the hardest to give up for the new kitchen, but I decided it was more important there to have a pull-down spray nozzle this time around than to never have to clean around taps on the countertop.  I thought about some for the bathroom at the start of the project, but at the time you couldn't find nice ones (our old kitchen set was hospital grade, and sized to match.)  Then all of a sudden wall mount bathroom sink taps started to be a design thing, and now you can buy them pretty easily.  Sadly by then we had already plumbed in for surface mount taps and I couldn't justify the time it would take to change them.

Just the day before The Terrible Discovery, I had been e-mailing with a friend who is just starting on a big home renovation.  She had been visualizing a very classic, traditional powder room and was coming to terms with the fact that the room she has is too small for the furniture-style vanity of her dreams.  Instead, a floating vanity had been recommended, to maximize the sense of space.  My opinion after nearly three years of working with all kinds of different people, each with their own (usually modern) perspective on design, is that you have to stick to your own vision or you will end up with a house built by committee, most of whose members aren't going to be living in it.  And a floating vanity is always going to look very very modern unless you actively work to make it otherwise.

I felt sad for my friend.  I mean, I had dreams for my powder room too, most of them dashed by budget considerations.  Like the wallpaper I love irresponsibly, and which costs over $300 a roll before you even install it or think about the cost of removing it when, many years later, it starts to curl off the wall.  And the marble I adore but which isn't really practical for us.  So I Googled images of floating vanities with a traditional look and found one with a wall mounted faucet and - this is the kicker - a solid marble backsplash that soared upward in the middle and back down again, to frame the faucet installation.

Of course, the minute Ray said he'd change the plumbing and I'd finished welling up, I found the image again and showed it to Andy to ask whether we could do the same thing, and we can!  With quartz, but still.  A wild design!

Faucets have proved to be the bigger hurdle because even though it's possible to buy nice ones now, they tend to fall into two camps: Very Modern and Very Victorian.  (well, there's also Very Expensive, but we are ignoring that one.)  Added to the problems of polarization, I need a faucet that sticks out no more than eight inches from the wall and preferably seven.

So to go with our Restoration Hardware Bistro light fixture...


we are choosing between one we love from Riobel, which is half an inch too long so I'm not even going to show it to you, it will just break my heart, and this one from Kohler, which is just right but pretty starkly modern except for its flanges:

Exciting times.

I have to say, I kind of laugh now at the luxury of flipping through decorating magazines and talking with friends about dream homes and the perceived horror of choosing taps and lights and doorknobs and so on as a reason not to follow through with a renovation idea.  The fact is, there is VERY little choice.  The 'horror' is sifting through the things it turns out you can't have, because every early choice impacts later ones.  Even with the shift to wall mounted taps, I was restricted to chrome, because I'd already bought the powder room's towel bar, light fixture, and cabinet pulls.  But if I was starting fresh I would have had more faucet options because there are some cute ones that aren't offered in chrome.

Anyway that's what I learned last week.

Sometimes you have to step back from dreaming over endless knitting patterns or beautiful rooms, and look at what you have to work with right now (stashed yarns, body shape, fiber allergies; stashed light fixtures,  room size, budget) and move forward from there.

That's where the creativity really happens, don't you think?  Within the boundaries of constraints and needs.

Hope your weekend was wildly creative and I'll see you again soon!