Why not renovate my detached house in Toronto’s leafy Riverdale neighbourhood, sell it for top dollar, buy a fixer-upper in the country and invest the profit so that I never have to work again?
That was the plan, but now I love the makeover so much, I don’t want to move out.
The upgrades — costing $81,000 for materials, labour and upgraded lighting plus additional electrical outlets in every room — were done during the pandemic. My priorities were to create a separate basement apartment, put in an ensuite bathroom in the principal bedroom, and find a graceful way to stow my big double-bass vertically instead of laying it down on the living room floor where it takes up a lot of space. (I was principal bass in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.) As well, I wanted to and add back-to-back rows of shelving in the centre of the basement to relocate some of my 23,000-LP vinyl collection from upstairs.
Plus, the main bathroom on the second floor was greatly in need of an overhaul. It was the most tired-looking room in the house, since doing an upgrade in the kitchen.
The bathroom’s burgundy ceramic tiles on the floor and around the unused whirlpool tub, screamed early 1980s. The shower was a tight squeeze for one adult. The sliding, mirrored closet door, trimmed in a brass finish, were seemingly filched from a budget motel.
Now the new bathroom lifts my spirits with its thermostatic shower big enough for two and with jets fore and aft, plus a rain shower and wand; a heated floor and towel rack; a thermostatic tub faucet; and a floating vanity.
COVID lockdowns, trucker blockades and persisting supply-chain disruptions meant buying supplies online from selections in stock. So … hello Amazon, Bath Depot, Home Depot, Ikea, Lowe’s, Rona and Wayfair.
That dictated my choice of finish — polished chrome: eternally popular, readily available — for metal bathroom items such as the towel rack; shower jets, door frame, towel racks, toilet-paper holder and tub faucet.
I hate glare. This drove my choice of frosted-glass sconce lights flanking the mirror, the recessed ceiling lighting and the matte, faux-burlap finish for the porcelain tiles on the walls. A bold pattern that looks great on a showroom sample gets exponentially bolder as its area increases. So, I decided against Calacatta or Carrara marble, say, with their honking big, dark veins on a light field. Besides, they’re cliché. For a bathroom, as the late Ontario premier Bill Davis said about his government: bland works.
Still, I needed a colour pop somewhere and opted for the vanity top and backsplash. Caesarstone had played a starring role in my 2013 kitchen renovation, but for the bathroom, I wanted the real, natural thing — not man-made quartz composite. Having settled on a cool colour palette for the walls (green for the tiles and pale-blue paint for drywall), I wanted a complementary, warm-toned stone for the vanity.
Googling stone suppliers in the GTA, I stumbled upon a material I’d never seen before: Vintage Royal Crema marble, at Marble Trend in North York. Its butterscotch random swirls create an illusion of three-dimensional depth. The product was marked down because the quarry in Spain had closed and only eight slabs remained, adding exclusivity and snob appeal to the purchase.
My 45-square-foot slab was shipped to Stone Art in Concord, where they cut holes for the vanity-top sinks. The leftovers furnished the shower curb and niche, a new tchotchke shelf atop the fireplace extension in the living room, and a new wow-factor work surface for the office desk in my third-floor man cave. And here I’ll pay tribute to my renovators, Mike Peck of Toronto-based Silverfox Renovations and Alan Martin, my partner in David Lasker Photography when he’s not busy with construction. I’m still amazed that they could shlep that 300-pound marble desk slab up the stairs.
New flooring for the bathroom and shower was an easy choice: penny-round tumbled porcelain tile, the most slip-proof surface money can buy. Your toes latch onto the circles even when the tiles are soaking wet, making it physically impossible to slip.
In the renovated master bedroom, tall, slender rectangular forms predominate. They recur in the sliding barn door with translucent panels in front of the ensuite bathroom, the floating shelves and the narrow mirror I hung beside the shelves. Riverdale residents often set out used but perfectly good items on the sidewalk. The mirror is an objet trouvé I conveniently spotted in front of a neighbour’s house just as the reno finished.
Along the second-floor hallway, a new closet was built between the master bedroom and main bathroom in space found by Alan. As well, the closet was given a waterproofed floor, and plumbing, electrical and exhaust connections for a stacked washer and dryer that will enable the upstairs and basement to function as separate units.
Inside the ground-floor bulkhead housing the fireplace, Alan put empty space to use by inserting a new platform and recessed niche. His innovation does double duty by freeing up real estate on the living room floor while displaying my circa 1790 Tyrolean bass as a beautiful sculptural object. When the dread day comes to sell the house, shelving will fill the niche.
For now, my bass reposes near an oil painting by my artist father (Joe Lasker’s works are available at Liss Gallery in Yorkville) depicting my 18-year-old self and that same bass that was a high-school graduation present from my parents. I always get the urge to practice for gigs, this season with Oakville Chamber Orchestra and Ontario Philharmonic, whenever I walk by this corner of the house, a shrine to continuity and change.
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