The dining room was inspired by our love of the outdoor restaurants and cafés we enjoyed while travelling.

There was always something unique dining with a view of the past. An ambience that was both relaxing and stimulating. One that set the stage for long conversations and unhurried enjoyment of the meal, by it’s casual and comfortable backdrop.

 

Dining Room

Ambience of an outdoor cafe.

Cabinet Tops

Dramatic mood lighting.

Wall

Handmade brick adds character.

Kitchen to dining room transition

Reclaimed terracotta corner, New York City- circa 1905. I made the bottom piece and finished it to match.

Door to hallway

Dressing up what was an ordinary doorway.

Dining room ceiling

Taking advantage of a very high ceiling.

There are many lighting options to get the lighting just right for the tone you’re trying to set.

Curtain wall

A tie-in to the ceiling and a visual anchor for the window.

Kitchen cabinets

The cabinetry was designed to be both functional yet aesthetic. Varied cabinet height, scale and proportion of trim, leaded glass inserts and lighting were all considerations while developing the final design.

 

 

Mosaic Tile Projects

Sunshine and laundry, a perfect pairing. I will now admit that this was a more ambitious undertaking than I had envisioned. It took me 6 weeks to do this floor.

This floor and space offered the perfect opportunity to explore the ancient use and style of mosaic tile art.

Another perfect location for incorporating mosaic tile in the design was in the main bathroom shower. I tried to create a “falling rain” effect with the green mosaic diffusing into the beige wall colour.

 

A path to connect old and new. With the spa interlocking area complete, it was time to finish the remaining interlocking work.

Path & Pond Patio

Everything has a starting point. At first,  it’s not much to look at.

The starting point for interlocking is properly grading to any fixed structures or ground levels.  The goal is that the interlocking surface needs to be planar to prevent tripping and water needs to be able to shed properly.

The flat portion of this interlocking project needed to be done last year in order to accommodate the delivery of the new spa.

By laying the pavers end for end along the path joining the spa pad area to the small pond patio, visual interest was created that also functionally defined the three interlocking areas.

Over time the original pond patio had sunk and needed to be regraded.

Did I mention that it had been a number of years since the original installation of this patio.

Making sure to mark the old centre of the circle was critical to this step going well.

Just a detail I thought turned out well.

Nothing left to do now but relax and forget all the hard work it took to make this a place to relax.

 

 

A leaning retaining wall and stairs that needed to be a bit wider; seventeen years after first breaking ground, it was time for a do-over.

 

Stairs & Retaining Wall

Well this looks messy. (2000) Half the yard was dropped down by two and a half feet in 1996 but a formal retaining wall wasn’t needed as the transition was handled by stairs, large landscape stones and gardens.

The original stair layout maximized upper patio space but had a narrow pinch point at the top. In my defence, there was a lot to process at the time, I was designing on the fly and rather new (read 1st time) to landscape designing on this scale.

The embarrassing picture quality is due to the camera I borrowed “in the day” was less than a 1 megapixel camera that used a 3.5″ floppy to save the image on.

To fix the issue of the stairs being a bit narrow at the top the decision was made to move the retaining wall (and therefore the stair opening) back about 4 feet.

Wow, I’m having déjà vu  looking at this picture.

With the decision to move the retaining wall came the inevitable “snowballing” of the amount of work this project was going to take to complete.

The well rooted trees represented only the first of a few details (read challenges) that needed to be overcome.

After saving and relocating the plant life came: excavating part of an old cinder block barn wall, rerouting the underground sprinkler pipes, removing a still well anchored 6″x6″ pressure treated retaining wall and of course 6 cubic yards of clay.

A bit of  “time laps photography” to show the progress of the stair build. Planning the stairs was necessary before committing to the exact location of the retaining wall.

I know, it’s a bit of a spoiler to jump ahead to include in the photo completed stairs.

With the old wall and a whole lot of clay removed, there was a sense of urgency in rebuilding it. I didn’t want to have to deal with the upper patio collapsing/sagging/slumping down into the lower pool area.

The story behind this corner was that I wanted the rough face to be visible on both faces of the outside corner BUT didn’t want the joint over time to open up from either the pressure of the soil or due to the winter’s freeze/thaw cycle. So I did something that comes naturally to me, I made it complicated.

In case you’re curious, I used stainless steel rods to pin the stone blocks together.

Soil pressure over time had caused  this wall to lean heavily. I wasn’t happy with the performance of the plastic clips that came with these wall blocks. So once again I chose to do something slightly more complicated.

Each block received one or two re-bar “L” pins. These were inserted into the existing, but modified, precast hole features in addition to a liberal dose of PL Premium 8X urethane adhesive.

Pictured are the horizontal re-bar pieces that were being positioned to be welded to the “L” pieces sticking out the backs of all the blocks on that layer.

Eventually these horizontal re-bars were tied together by welding vertical re-bars to them which were first driven two feet into the ground.

I still maintain this was not overkill….:P

Every so often a vertical re-bar member was intentionally left three feet longer so that eventually it would be bent over to be buried under the pavers. After it was bent into a channel made in the screenings, another two foot piece of re-bar was staked into the ground near its end and then welded to it. This was intended to act as an additional anchor point to help prevent the wall from leaning over time.

And who says I can’t learn from my mistakes?

Commercial grade filter cloth was draped into the gap between the retaining wall and clay of the upper patio. Weeping tile was placed at the foundation level of the wall  and clean 3/4″ gravel was used as fill.

Once everything was compacted the filter cloth was folded over the top to keep the finer lime screening from washing into the larger stone fill and causing the patio to eventually sink in that area.

The last course of wall stone couldn’t be tied in and welded to the rest of the wall since there would have been interference created between the re-bar and the pavers.

To give the last layer the same ability to resist sideways movement, I pinned this layer using non corroding 1/4″ aluminum spikes.

I should also mention that I used two rows of butyl caulking tape on each layer, to help keep the blocks in place.

Even though the curved portion of the wall was not being moved, the new method of using re-bar for reinforcing the wall required that it be rebuilt as well.

As the expression goes, ” The foundation to building a good wall is the foundation”.

Okay so I made that up.

Creating the base for a straight wall is relatively simple. However I always struggle with a curved base. This time was no exception.

I was working with wall blocks that were 17 years old and so there wasn’t much of an option to go buy more.  This fact lead to my using foam blocks carved to fill the gaps in order to help keep back fill from finding its way through to the front of the wall.

Later I used spray foam in other areas of this project.

A detail that may not be visible is that whichever method I used to fill the larger gaps, I always had to put a piece of black garden filter cloth at the front so that the blue or yellow colour of the foam couldn’t be seen when looking at the front face of the wall.

As the wall started to come together it was time to start adding filter cloth and weeping tile. The space behind the blocks was fairly cramped so welding of the re-bars was done after each layer was added.

A design feature that further complicated the wall build, was that I had planned to have LED lighting in the wall.

First I needed to lay out the light’s locations and then drill 1″ holes through 8″ deep cement blocks.  Then came running wires, installing the lights and connecting them. All this meant that I couldn’t back fill and compress the aggregate behind the wall until the lights were installed and tested.

Feels like progress!

After a month and a half  of some fairly physical work, it was rewarding to start seeing some results. (even incomplete)

I’ll end the wall move here and start a new gallery for the work that followed.

 

The scope of the project continued to grow which now included removing a raised deck and built in spa, to create a larger single patio area and a relocated spa.

Hot tub & Deck removal

At some point repair  just isn’t an option any more. This was just that point.

Making it easier to dispose of required it to be “Humpty Dumpty’d”

The area was already looking much better…more open.

The next step was to remove the Eon PP decking.

I discovered that there is a downside to how I build things; they’re a lot of work to take apart.

The liberal use of  joist hangers, 3″ deck screws, extra reinforcing members, extra screws, 12″ spikes, re-bar and urethane glue where you least expect it to be, all contributed to this taking longer and being more difficult than expected.

Progress can be seen in the form of finally seeing dirt with nothing above or on top of it. But it was like a mirage, only offering false hope.

The sprinkler line that went through the 6″x6″ pressure treated retaining wall had to be dealt with. The conduit feeding power to the existing hot tub needed to be removed and rerouted to the new location. and most of the sprinkler lines needed to be shifted to avoid them being under the planned location of the new retaining wall of the deck extension.

The hot tub had additional structure under it that still had to be removed. 24″x 24″ patio stones to act as base to support the wight of the filled hot tub as well as a platform that partly raised it out of the deck.

We’re almost there.

A natural gas pipe ran along the final piece of retaining wall to feed the BBQ. It needed to be properly (safely) removed before the final piece of the retaining wall could be removed.

 

 

 

Technically the size of the patio didn’t change but extending it seemed to double the usable surface area. With the hot tub no longer taking up space on it and with the height change gone it gave the illusion of being so much larger.

 

Extending the Patio

The extension needed a retaining wall built that would frame the new patio area. Simple to say, not so simple to do. step one was to project the slope and level of the finished interlocking surface such that it would meet existing features at the correct level. Then the footing of the wall needed to be dug and made to the correct level.

No big surprise that the sprinkler line “super highway” ran right where the retaining wall needed to be and had to be moved.

Skipping ahead; “let there be wall”.

I decided to keep the wall back of the fence for a number of reasons. The first was in case the fence needed to be repaired or replaced, the setback would give better access. The second reason was to maintain a path for water to drain towards the front of the house as per the original drainage plan approved by the city. The last but important reason was to be able to wash the patio along the fence line without the water flooding my neighbours gardens.

Even though this retaining wall had way fewer blocks making up the required height, I still went with the re-bar and welding approach used in the higher walls, to ensure it wouldn’t bulge or shift over time.


The summer of 2016 was a very hot one, especially as compared to the rainy, overcast and cooler summer we are having this year. Working under patio umbrellas or an event tent helped but I still found myself needing to run a fan to cope with the heat. Unfortunately the option of working shirtless and in shorts wasn’t practical when I was constantly MIG welding and using oxy-acetylene to bend the re-bar.

I was having to reuse blocks that were previously modified for their duty in a curved wall so to keep the screenings from migrating over time into these voids I used spray foam in addition to the landscape fabric (filter cloth).

The last four or so feet of retaining wall posed a greater challenge than all of the rest of the wall. Before it could be set in place and glued and welded, anything that would need to pass through or under it had to be planned and installed.

As it turned out there was a lot of “things” needing to pass under and through it in this localized area.

Two junction boxes were needed to handle the patio heating wires and the conduit running from them went under the retaining wall.

It was decided that the spa wiring was going to be run in a special plastic coated flexible aluminum conduit that would be buried just outside the perimeter of the wall.

The fourth junction box contained the low voltage wires and one direct bury Cat6 Ethernet cable that would create a wired outlet for a faster internet connection.

A 120V outlet was to be added on the fence side of the patio.  This time the junction box was inside the house so only a LB conduit body was needed to start the conduit run.

Eventually all the rough-in wire runs were complete and it was time to start adding crushed gravel and finally screenings.

In total I had to make 14 trips to get the gravel/screenings needed to fill in the area inside of the retaining wall. Each trip added yet another half a cubic yard of gravel/screenings, that needed to be shovelled off the trailer into a wheelbarrow and moved using the temporary plank path that was needed to get through the terrain.

There were moments of hope during the construction of this patio; seeing what looked like an almost finished patio was one of them.

Unfortunately there was a lot more to do so it was very short lived.

Adding Heat

It seems that there is always one more thing that needs to get done before you can do the actual activity you were trying to do.

Before I could start laying pavers, I needed to first install the  patio’s heating system.

This first involved laying out 3 rolls of custom ordered meshed heating wires in accordance to the layout instructions supplied by the vendor.

The “cold” end of the heating wires needed to run to the conduit that would take them safely under the retaining wall to their respective junction boxes.

The plan was to put the BBQ on this small patio area. The heating wire needed to be laid from its furthest end, working towards  where the cold lead would enter the conduit.

The finished grade of the screenings needed to be 1″ lower where the heating wire was to be buried. I chose to re-scrape the finished height of the screenings down by that inch to make sure that my pavers ended flush to the wall top while maintaining the recommended distance between the heating wires and the pavers.

It was important to keep the wire pressed down when adding the screening on top to ensure the correct depth was maintained.

I’d gauge this as a successful install.

 

 

Patio Railing

There’s a multitude of reasons to install a railing. Chief amongst them is that it is required by the building code. The decision to install one was then a relatively simple one.

However, deciding on what will be the driving factors that determine it’s design,…well that’s another matter entirely. In my case, wanting the view and space to feel open was near the top of the wish list. Short of listing all of the factors that influenced this particular design, I’ll just say that what was there before greatly influenced what was put back.

The view overlooking the pool needed to be unobstructed yet it needed to feel private. The original patio had the garden as the natural barrier to the pool below. The planting added the needed “softscape” to soften the feel of the “hardscape” elements.

To add colour to the predominant green of the shrubs a stand with hanging baskets was previously used. It made sense to incorporate the stand into the railing’s design.

I know that I represented the “design” phase as being difficult but I would now like to correct myself on that point. Fabrication proved to be a far greater challenge; especially when I had to make multiple copies of the parts.

Maybe I should have went to the local garden centre and bought an already made version.

When it finally came time to weld all the bits and pieces together, in my overly optimistic mind, it seemed a lot simpler than it turned out to be.

I’m thinking that it was worth the effort. Two basket holding top assemblies are now fabricated and in the spring will be attached to the main posts. After that, all the metal components will get a nice hot galvanizing bath before getting painted and installed.

The four posts are on their way to being made but winter and indoor projects put that on hold till spring. A handrail a the post nearest the stairs still needs to be created and incorporated into the railing’s design.

…..Stay tuned

 

If one thinks of a renovation as a journey along a unfamiliar road that others have travelled before you, then my experience would be this…The road is not straight, smooth or as short as you’d like. You can’t always see what’s around the next bend and invariably that person that travelled the road ahead of you did something that will impede your progress to the point of bringing it to a crawl….

 

EnSuite Guest Bathroom

We all have our ugly little secret; the one we don’t want anyone to know about. Well, this bathroom hands down is mine. Of note is that my ugly little secret is truly just that,…UGLY.

…okay, except the toilet; that’s new.

Gutting It

To my eye this already started to look better.

The plan was to install a walk-in shower with a footprint larger than the tubs. This of course meant moving a number of things which proved to be more complicated than I first imagined.

The list includes all water related piping, some electrical wiring and a ceiling fan.

Overkill… Perhaps?

Unfortunately moving the toilet stack required it to pass through a joist. To maintain the load carrying capability of the joist I reinforced it with 1/8″ thick x 9″ steel sheet. I know it appears to be overkill but these joists are 20 feet long and already the floor felt like you were walking on a trampoline. (More on that point later)

So Much Work

All that was involved in creating a lowered shower pan proved to be a lot more complicated and took a whole lot more time to execute than I had imagined.

The idea was to create a barrier free shower threshold that would be safer for more elderly users as well as providing easier access to someone recovering from an injury that’s using an appliance to walk.

Plasma Cutter Fun

No there wasn’t a deal on sheet steel by my local supplier. This is part of creating “flitch” plates.

This Won’t Move

A  liberal amount of urethane glue was applied between surfaces of both the flitch plate and sister joist before being assembled.

Well That’s One Done!

Many clamps were “pressed” into service to hold the assembly together while holes were drilled through one joist and the metal plate in a pattern similar to the 5 dots found on dice. The final step was to drive lag screws.

Half Wall

The half wall I built here was not part of the master plan. It corrected for a number of issues the original builder created. The main vent stack’s diameter was greater than the wall thickness which resulted in a drywall “speed bump”.  The water lines feeding the faucet were routed outside of the studs to meet code which doesn’t allow running them inside an external wall. Very attractive! The half wall allowed me to create the space to properly route the plumbing while conforming to code.

So Many Problems

The doorway was set into a diagonal opening which created a number of practical problems.

This arrangement only left room for a very narrow door, which as it happens I came to find was not wide enough to allow a wheel chair to pass through.

The door swung into the bathroom which again caused issues when it needed to be closed to allow someone to pass to get to either the toilet or shower. Again, very inconvenient when in a wheelchair or using crutches.

Undersized Door

The entrance to the bathroom was narrow and wasted usable space. The location of the two existing walls was not moved but rather how they met was changed from being on a diagonal to meeting at right angles.

Something Different

The bathroom door currently opened into the bathroom. This created issues getting past it unless it was closed. Having it open into the room would result in it needing to stay mostly closed to keep it from getting in the way when passing it.

Due to the limited options on where to relocate all the switches and thermostat, the option of going with a pocket door was eliminated. That’s how I got to the solution being a sliding barn door.

The 2″x6″ blocking in the wall was added at the height of the track the door will roll on.

Growing Pains

Making the door wider and taking back more usable space came at a cost; the doorway was relocated into the space previously occupied by an outlet, switches and all the wires that fed them.

Things Are Heating Up

Relocating the wires was only the first challenge. Adding a shower light and a heated floor meant finding space on the wall to locate this “electrical nerve centre”. The location had to be functional, practical (due to existing wire lengths) and still be aesthetically acceptable.

Scary, …I know.

Just Because..

All the areas of the room could always be reached by the nearest central vacuum port but I thought adding one directly in the room had merit.

Can’t Handle It

The builder originally had all 4 bathrooms on one GFCI circuit. The result of this cost saving approach to wiring was, that when two bathrooms were used simultaneously for drying or curling hair, etc., the circuit breaker would trip plunging everyone into darkness….Great way to start the morning!

I solved this problem by rewiring each bathroom to be on its own circuit. Since I was already elbows deep in electrical improvements, I decided to install extra outlets.  Doing this eliminated using power splitters and in the case of the USB charging outlets,  it eliminated having to use those bulky power adapters.

Going Big

Making the shower wider than the bathtub’s footprint had two impacts. The drain needed to be moved over to be again centred and to conform to code it needed to be plumbed using 2″ diameter pipe.

For this project I decided to incorporate a 36″ linear drain. It’s location and level needed to be perfect.

A Total Nightmare

The shower entrance needed to be on the right side of the enclosure. This (of course) made it necessary to move the shower valve to the opposite wall. The space that this bathroom is over is a garage and is therefore considered to be an outside wall, which code doesn’t allow water pipes to run in.

So, this soldering nightmare resulted from having to route the waterlines within internal walls which drove the need for this convoluted routing. (The wall will follow later)

A Bouncy Floor

This room is relatively large and had an unsupported span of 18 feet. Tall furniture could be seen swaying when someone would pass by it. I decided to fix this shortcoming at the same time as seeing if the rooms temperature could be improved. Too hot in the summer and too cold inn the winter. I planned to lift the floor and have spray foam insulation applied as the solution.

The first step was to remove the existing flooring and sub-floor.

Room For Improvement

Once the floor layers were removed and the joists were exposed, it became obvious that the original structure was not adequate for this size of span.

After researching optional methods of strengthening a bouncy/sagging floor I chose “sistering” the joists as the best and most practical solution for my specific situation. Before I ordered them I did a dry run, with an extended tape measure, just to be sure I could bring a twenty foot long 2″x10″ through the house and into the room.

It Looks So Big!

The laminate beams were delivered and stacked into the main hall (also under construction).

So it finally came time to see if in fact they could be brought up the stairs and successfully steered into the room. The best visual I can give is that it was like doing a three point turn with a car that’s longer than the road is wide and thankfully there were some well placed driveways that added some much needed room to accomplish the manoeuvre.

Let the Fun Begin!

Once in the room, the real work began.

A Real Floor!

With the installation of the LVL beams the floor started to become solid. The improved rigidity of the floor  could immediately be felt by walking on the tops of the sistered beams.