Grand designs

My partner and I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about whether to stay in the house we have lived in for the past 11 years or sell it and move on to something different.

There’s a lot to like in this house: a great kitchen, a beautiful sunroom and gardens that can make us forget we live in the city. Plus, of course, we already live in it, which counts for a lot when compared to the work involved in moving.

But, it’s not perfect: we live with the noise and dust caused by the bus route along our street, our bedroom is small, we have never really liked the bathroom, our ageing bodies are tiring of the stairs, and those beautiful gardens take a lot of work.

After equivocating for months, and seeing nothing for sale that both fell within our budget and met our must-have list, we decided in late winter to stay put and make some improvements to our house: changes to the garden to reduce the ongoing maintenance requirements and a redo of the upstairs to give us a bigger bedroom and a better bathroom with a walk-in shower.

The garden transformation took place in the early spring, with much of the work done by my partner’s son. It will require less work in the future and is more beautiful than ever: a perfect spot for relaxing with a book or entertaining in the spring, summer and fall.

What could go wrong?

Time to turn our attentions to the house. Given the pandemic-fueled home renovation craze, our biggest concern was whether we’d be able to find someone to do the work and come up with the materials.

We got lucky on both fronts: a carpenter whose work we knew and liked told us he could be available almost immediately, since he was on strike from his regular job. He figured the job would take two weeks, three at the most, even if the strike settled, because he would work evenings and weekends. Everything we needed in the way of supplies was readily available.


Given these early successes, I turned a deaf ear to the persistent voice in my head that kept reminding me how much I hate living in a space that is anything other than well-ordered and calm, and how unreasonable and unpleasant I can become in those circumstances. My little voice also pointed out that renos never go as smoothly or quickly as planned.

At this point, we had our third win, one that settled that little voice into silence: the work would be completed during the three weeks I was in Pembroke at the inquest.

After all, we were just tearing out a wall, putting up a bit of drywall, doing some painting and installing a shower enclosure.  Well, mostly, that was all we were doing. How hard could that be?

We picked paint colours, ordered tiles and a shower enclosure, bought light fixtures and a sink and began to imagine life in our new upstairs. I happily packed up my office and clothes, keeping out only what I would be taking with me to the inquest. Our cat made herself comfortable with our friends where she has a second home, so she could be out of the fray. Off to Renfrew County I headed, leaving my partner and his son to do the lion’s share of moving everything out of the second floor.

The best laid plans

The first derailment took place on Renovation Day One, when the carpenter’s strike suddenly settled. We knew this was a probability, but did it have to happen the very day that our renovation was set to begin?

Nonetheless, by the middle of the first week, most of the smashing out of walls and demolition of the bathroom had been completed, so I felt hopeful. However, before the end of that week, my partner was not so quick to return my calls and, when he did, he occupied the time by pressing me for details about the inquest, so I scarcely had time to ask about the renovation. I decided to pretend that his lack of information simply meant that he wanted to surprise me with a completed job when I returned home.

Our conversations grew increasingly vague, then terse, over the next couple of weeks. Naturally, some unexpected hitches had arisen, requiring re-thinks and do-arounds. Not surprisingly, the carpenter often could only work for a couple of hours after his day job; the father of three young kids, he had to take them to baseball practices, gymnastics classes and so on. My partner, who was sleeping on a bed set up in the dining room, surrounded by towers of our upstairs goods and chattels, was feeling the strain of tracking all the moving parts.

I knew we were in trouble when, a couple of days before I was due home after the longest separation we had had since before the pandemic, my partner suggested that there was no real reason for me to rush back.

I ignored his suggestion and arrived home on schedule. I will admit that, upon seeing the dust-coated surfaces throughout the house, the cramped sleeping arrangements in the dining room and the piles of both debris and building materials, I may not have been my best self. I took a deep breath and headed for the peace of the garden.

I made a noble, although not entirely successful, effort not to think about the calm, tidy hotel suite I had just vacated, where someone came in every four days to clean and change the linens, but serious despair set in when the plumber pulled a disappearing act for several days, bringing all other work on the bathroom to a complete halt.

We have now joined our cat at our friends’ place while they are away for a week, where we have a comfortable bed, space to spread out and no dust. I can work well away from construction noise and activity. The cat is confused to find us here — she knows we belong somewhere else — but seems willing to tolerate our company.

We turned a major corner earlier this week.The plumber reappeared and did what was needed so the other bathroom work can get started. The work in the bedroom was completed. My partner’s son arrived to paint my new office space and a few other spots in the house that suddenly looked a bit dingy.

My partner, our cat and I plan to settle into our renovated space by the end of the weekend, but I’ve booked a hotel suite just in case. Why tempt fate?

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