Reno hell & redemption

Photographs by Ashley Fraser

It’s been a long five months for the Badour-Saunders family — much of it spent making meals on only a hotplate and microwave. But it was worthwhile now that their dramatic reno is done.

The old kitchen, shown here, was dated; the new, at left, features Shaker-style cabinets from IKEA

There’s reality television. And then there’s reality. When it comes to home renovations, Brent Saunders and Michele Badour fall into the latter category where extreme makeovers take more than just a few days and demand more than a touch of fortitude.

The Orléans couple and their daughters, Amanda, 18, and Maiya, 9, recently abandoned their basement, where they’d camped out for more than two months while the main floor of their three-decade-old, semi-detached home underwent a massive transformation.

Suzanne Martin, of Ottawa-based Luxurious Living Studio, created the design. Her husband’s company, Michael J. Martin Luxury Renovations, did the construction. Style tracked the progress.

Mid-October 2011

At top, the renovation included a dramatic new window and a re-upholstered couch in the old living room, shown below

“I’ve spent 18 years gritting my teeth, waiting till the mortgage was paid off,” says Saunders, glancing around his crowded kitchen with its collapsing cupboards and weathered linoleum floor.

It’s just a few days until demolition starts.

“This kitchen is like a boat galley — it drives me crazy. You visit neighbours and see the work they’ve had done, and you just decide to do it.”

As we navigate storage boxes on the main floor and negotiate our way into the basement that will be kitchen/dining and living room/laundry area for the foreseeable future, the gregarious real estate law clerk offers a running commentary on what is and what will be.

Gleaming hardwood floors will replace the long-expired carpeting in the living and dining rooms. A new, half-round window will be punched into the main living room wall, providing a visual connection with the sunny backyard. The kitchen gets a total makeover, including new cabinetry, granite countertops and a tiled floor.

Also on the to-do list: The tired powder room off the main hallway, a badly designed closet in the back of the house, an ill-placed door to the garage, stair railings and carpeting.

The old dining room set has already been scrapped, a favourite couch will be re-upholstered and everything from new occasional
tables to updated light fixtures is in the offing.

He says a family accumulates a lot in 18 years; in their case, some of it’s bound for relatives, charities or the dump. The garage has to be emptied so the construction team can stow materials, but the cavernous mobile storage unit outside is already half full. Just a hot plate and microwave for cooking in the basement will be a challenge, he says, but at least they will have their bedrooms when they need privacy.

“We contacted Suzanne in March and started getting organized about three months ago. There’s lots of compromising for me and Michele to agree on things — Suzanne’s like a marriage counsellor. It’s hard because we both work all week and on the weekend there’s soccer for the
kids and we’re running around looking at samples of flooring and carpets and trying to get everything ready for construction.”

Badour, out with Maiya the day I stop by, later tells me, “You have to be patient, go with the flow.” A physiotherapist and as laid-back as her husband is restive, she continues, “I’d rather be out in the park, but having a deadline has forced us to buckle down and get organized. It’s been fun looking at (design) magazines and being creative.”

The renovated powder room is a beauty, especially when compared to its previous aquamarine incarnation

She says they love their well-treed neighbourhood and have friends close by, so renovating, not buying new, was the only real option.

There are challenges here, says Martin. “The house isn’t that big (about 1,500 square feet) and we can’t really open up the main floor because of bearing walls and because they want to keep the powder room. We also need to get more storage space, especially in the kitchen.”

Total budget: around $100,000.

Early November

A Friday evening, and there’s clearly no turning back now.

The kitchen’s been gutted, new electrical outlets promise more convenience, and the construction crew has discovered — and fixed  — an ineptly installed window.

In the dining room, metal furring channels to which new wallboard will be fastened, span the joists where a now-vanished stipple ceiling used to be. “We decided to do that because it gives a straighter ceiling,” Mike Martin says later. “It will look a lot better when it’s finished than if we’d just tried to fix the old one.”

Tools and a Shop-Vac are piled neatly off to one side in the living room, where the old ceiling has also vanished and insulation, damaged by mice, replaced.

“You hear these horror stories about renovations,” says Brent, “but
I come home at night and there’s not even any dust.”

Adds Badour, “It’s funny having strangers in your house all the time. They’re very nice, but it takes a bit of getting used to.”

Dec. 24, 2011

Badour’s wrapping presents when I call to wish them season’s greetings, but Saunders has a minute to chat. They’re heading to Kingston to spend Christmas Day with family, he says, because their kitchen’s not quite finished, and the other rooms are still a construction zone.

“The rest of our street looks like Las Vegas. We dug out a plastic Santa for outside and a little fake tree that revolves.”

Mid-January 2012

Mike Martin and the crew tackle the project

The changes are startling.

A cumbersome pantry that once chewed up space in the foyer is gone, and the linoleum has been replaced by glazed Angora Capri porcelain tile from Euro Ceramic Tile that continues into the kitchen to the right.

There, a rich countertop from Mountain Granite and an expanse of maple, Shaker-style cabinetry from IKEA anchor the room. L. Lapierre Construction & Renovations, the cabinet installers, have concealed the range hood behind a maple panel. The kitchen has been painted a restful “hearts of palm” green (Sherwin Williams).

There’s a new refrigerator and oodles of under-cabinet lights that Brent can’t resist flipping off and on for me.

The “kitchen” the family used for five months

Those long-awaited hardwood floors, though still protected by cardboard while the finishing touches are put on the rooms, have been installed: three-and-a-quarter-inch rustic grade maple in a luxurious caramel from Gaylord Hardwood Flooring. The dining room ceiling is  finished and the living room ceiling, damaged by a roof leak in December, fixed.

Light floods the living room from the new window and patio doors.
A solid oak mantel ($75 from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore) awaiting installation leans against the brick wall that separates the living and dining rooms and houses the original wood-burning fireplace.

“Check this out!” says Saunders, piloting me to the powder room. The new low-cost vanity from Home Depot looks perfect, but it’s the soft-close toilet seat that tickles his fancy the most.

“The money tree’s stopped producing so many leaves,” he jokes as Suzanne Martin, who’s there to get the last design details ironed out, urges her clients to decide on paint for the rest of the main floor and carpeting for the stairs.

And they really do have to pick which light fixtures they want for the hall from all those they’ve lugged home from Lowes and Home Depot (apparently it’s no problem returning the unwanted ones).

“We have to decide today,” Martin says, emphasizing the word “today.”

Badour, who’s offered us fresh-baked muffins and tea, says, “I’ve learned you have to be flexible in all this and not get too attached to one idea, because you might have to modify it.”

Early February 2012

The renovation, except for window treatments and a couple of pieces of furniture still on order, is finished.

“I come home and pinch myself,” Saunders says.

The fireplace was the final piece of the renovation puzzle

“This is way better than I expected,” Maiya adds. In both cases, it’s easy to understand why.

The kitchen now feels lived in, and Badour shows off a gorgeous cherry dining set, complete with a glass-fronted buffet that she found on
Kijiji. The same source yielded the walnut secretary’s desk in the dining room.

The brick wall between living and dining rooms has been stained a dramatic ebony.

(clockwise from top) Saunders, Badour, Maiya and Amanda

Gleaming new white custom millwork, another of Martin’s ideas, frames the large opening that leads from the hallway to the stairs, giving a sense of transition from one floor to the next.

In the living room, new black granite tiles glow in front of the glassed-in fireplace.

“We haven’t had time to just sit here in front of a fire yet,” says Michele. “But I’m looking forward to that.”

Amanda sums it up: “I love it. It’s like a different house, but I still feel like it’s my home.”

“Hey, look at this,” says Saunders, holding up an empty Foster’s beer bottle, an old-fashioned stubby that one member of the construction crew found lurking in a cold air return duct.

Downstairs, their daughters hunch over a children’s tiny table, polishing off dinner. The nearby washing machine is starting to rumble.

“I don’t like eating in the basement. Basements always scare me,” says Amanda, who’s been eating many meals at the University of Ottawa, where she goes to school.

“I’m going to like it a lot when it’s finished,” her younger sister says.

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