Backyard makeover: the before


If I were a realtor describing this house’s yard, I’d use phrases like “full of potential” and “ready for your personal touch.” In other words: neglected, unprepossessing, and in need of work.

We spend most of our time on the deck, but it has seen better days – the wood is rotting and mossy, railings are loose, the bottom step is propped up with bricks.


Even at its best, the deck has always been awkward in size and layout. It seats two or three people comfortably, but as soon as you add a fourth, you find yourselves shuffling and scooching chairs each time someone wants to get into the house or down the steps to the yard.


We barbecue all the time in the summer, but there’s no room for the grill on the deck. It sits at the side of the yard, in a grungy area with a few pavers and a cracked cement pad.


The lawn, which covers the majority of the yard in an uninspired rectangle, looks the way lawns look when you don’t put continual effort into maintaining them: shaggy around the edges, with plenty of weeds and bare patches.

So what’s good about this backyard? Its proximity to our neighbours’ much nicer yards! We get to enjoy the canopy of their mature trees and the view into their lovely, cultivated perennial gardens. Which is all very well, but really, it’s time to give our own yard a bit of love and attention.

Let the project begin!

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New hardwood floors



The new hardwood floors are done. There’s new quarter-round along the baseboards, and the trim has been freshly painted.


At last!


I’m willing to entertain area rugs, but I NEVER want wall-to-wall carpet again!


Of course, now I’d love some new furniture to go with the sleek new floors…but I’ll have to wait for my budget to recover (or find some miraculous Craigslist scores).

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Life in plastic, it’s fantastic

Main floor crammed with furniture and boxes? Dust everywhere? Just when you thought things couldn’t get any lovelier around the house, here comes plastic sheeting hung over the doorways!

Plastic sheetingIn theory, this is supposed to limit the amount of sawdust filtering into the parts of the house not actively under construction. The dust increased exponentially today as the contractor started sanding the stairs.

Stairs with sanded treadsI must admit, the stair treads look like new.

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The new floor arrives, and so does the dust

Happily, I won’t have to look at the ugly subfloor for long: the new hardwood is already snapping into place.

floorboards-back-bedroomI’m going with pre-finished oak. While one contractor warned me that pre-finished will never give you the perfect glassy sheen of wood that’s been finished in place, I just couldn’t face the thought of all that sanding and sealing, with the additional time, dust, and polyurethane fumes it would involve.

The pre-finished boards just snap neatly together –  which means that, as of the end of the first week of work, we already have a nice, finished-looking section of floor.

Prefinished hardwood flooring installationOf course, even without having the floor sanded on-site, dust is unavoidable. The boards still have to be cut to size, and sawdust is making its way all over the house.

Dust coating the stereo

Dust coating the stereo

I’m sneezing a lot, but I have to consider it short-term pain for long-term gain – at the end of all this, a carpet-free home should make it easier to keep my allergies under control.

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What lies beneath: subfloor and old newspaper

The contractor ripped out all the carpet on the first day (yay!) and got most of the old hardwood out of the way as well. The good news is that the stairs (which were also covered in carpet) appear to be in good enough shape to refinish.

The stairs, minus carpet

The stairs, minus carpet

The subfloor looks…well, the nicest word I can think of for it is “primitive.” There are big gaps between the boards, and cracks in some of them. No wonder the floors were so squeaky!

Subfloor in the master bedroom

Subfloor in the master bedroom

Subfloor at the top of the stairs

Subfloor at the top of the stairs

With trepidation, I asked the contractor, “Is everything OK? Can you fix it? Will you be able to make it solid and not creaky?” He assured me that it’s fine. He will add dozens and dozens of screws to tighten everything up. I’m looking forward to having this ugly reality hidden away again.

Historical note: When the contractor pulled away the old floorboards, he found bits of the July 12, 1975 Globe and Mail stuffed into a gap along the baseboard. Could’ve hoped for something older, given the age of the house, but even a 38-year-old newspaper provides a glimpse of a different Toronto.

Globe and Mail fragments

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Another reno: replacing old hardwood floors

I’m at it again, tackling something I’ve wanted to do ever since moving into this house: ripping out the wall-to-wall carpet on the upper floor and replacing it with new hardwood flooring.

The carpet was almost new when we bought the house seven years ago, but it has seen a lot of wear-and-tear since then, and a light cream coloured carpet can only stand so much traffic. Plus I suffer from allergies, and I don’t think any amount of vacuuming can every really get the dust and cat dander out of wall-to-wall carpet.

The old wall-to-wall carpet

The old wall-to-wall carpet

There was hardwood beneath the carpet, but it was very old (original to the house?) and in bad shape. Every contractor who looked at it said the same thing: when the nailheads are showing, there isn’t enough wood left to refinish.

The old hardwood floor under the carpet

The old hardwood floor under the carpet

So it’s time to start fresh. When I saw a flooring contractor at work on a neighbour’s house, I grabbed him and asked for a quote. I got a couple of additional quotes, because that’s the right thing to do, but the first one was the best, and we were ready to go.

Our neighbours had the luxury of being able to stay at their cottage while their flooring work was underway. No such luck for us: we’ve had to move ourselves and all of our stuff to the main floor and basement. Given that this house is a tiny old Toronto semi, it’s a bit of a tight fit – but I’m congratulating myself that the “master plan” involved renovating the basement first, so at least we have somewhere to sleep and a rather nice bathroom at our disposal.

The main floor is packed tight with boxes and furniture from upstairs

The main floor is packed tight with boxes and furniture from upstairs

Let the fun begin!

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Rec room/guest room

We’ve finally got the main area of the basement set up in comfort and style.

Basement rec roomWhat took so long? Finding the right couch. We needed a couch that:

  • Could seat two people comfortably for TV watching
  • Was not too long for the width of the room (7 feet or less, end to end)
  • Could convert into a double bed for guests
  • Comes apart so it could be carried down the narrow basement stairs
  • Was not outrageously expensive like the ones at the fancy condo furniture shops on Queen St. and King St. West

And Ikea let us down! All their sofabeds were too long for the width of the basement. At The Bay, we found a really nice fold-out couch that was the right length, but it came assembled and was too wide to squeeze down the basement stairs. So we began making the rounds of stores selling “condo furniture,” only to discover how pricey they can be.

Anyway, we finally found the right couch at a condo furniture store outside the downtown core. It’s a sectional that comes as six completely separate pieces that can be arranged in different ways.

sectional couchTo convert it into a bed, you just push the pieces together into a rectangle.

modular sectionalNow the basement is fully functional and enjoyable living space. We spend time down there every day (when we don’t have guests, that is – three guests have already passed through, and summer’s just beginning).

I love it!

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