Today marks exactly one year since we moved into our little house. A year ago this evening we were sitting amid piles and piles of boxes, still fretting from our run-in with surly movers and our inability to locate toothbrushes or pyjamas for the children. Last Christmas was a cluttered mess with no decorations except for a tiny pre-decorated tree. The months ahead would be full of frozen convenience food because our stove was unusable (although very funky!), dim lighting, long walks to daycare, and the crustiest old linoleum I had ever seen. When I look back at it now I wonder how we possibly got through it, but at the time it seemed all right. Kind of.
So after slogging through a long and unChristmassy December in the new house, we interviewed a few contractors. Mostly they didn't seem to want to have anything to do with us, probably because I got a list of recommendations from a friend of contractors from the suburbs, and I bet they don't care to bother with little houses with no driveway and tiny doors and muddy access lanes when they can find a million suburban clients with huge houses and lots of land to park their dumpsters on. But we finally found a guy who was really nice and seemed helpful and smart, and seemed to understand what we wanted, and who cost a billion dollars. We were very sad. We looked at our reno plan and started making cuts, and got into big fights; Blake wanted to take down the walls and make do with the kitchen, I thought I couldn't possibly make do with the kitchen and the walls were aesthetic and could wait. We cried. Well, I cried. It sucked.
Then finally Andy made us meet with Stephanie and her company, and they agreed to do the whole job for about half the price the other dude was asking. Half the price. We had to make sure they hadn't made a mistake about what we wanted, their price was so low. Well, the fact was they were doing a huge favour for Andy because he's such a swell guy; they made us promise never to tell anyone else what they charged us because they would go out of business if they did any other jobs at that rate. (It's good to have a really charming father-in-law!) So we didn't have to compromise. We got it all: we took down the walls on the main floor, we got a whole new kitchen, we tiled the front hall, we redid the electrical in the whole house and painted. It all took only a couple of months, and to Stephanie and her team's credit, they did everything to the exact same high standard that they set for their richer clients, because they take personal pride in doing their jobs properly.
In fact, just last week I discovered that the trained monkeys who installed our Ikea kitchen had neglected to install the forced air vent. They didn't just forget, they actually saw that it should be done, didn't do it, and willfully assembled the cabinetry so that the venting was very hard to install, because that was the easy thing for them to do. Cory had left a piece of venting there to show them where they would need to work around, and they took it out and tossed it aside, and then installed a cabinet with the legs directly in front of the vent hole in the wall. So last week when I realized there was no heat in the kitchen, I emailed Stephanie. She sent Cory in, Cory arrived with his tools, assessed the situation, figured out a solution, implemented the solution, tidied up and was out of there in a couple of hours. No bill, no invoice, nothing; it was considered part of the original reno, which is already paid for.
Stephanie has also sent members of her team back to repair and paint cracks in the walls where the new drywall settled, to fix a sticky latch on a gate, and to clean up some foam caulking stuff which someone had spilled on the floor. Stephanie believes in leaving a perfect site, no matter how long it takes.
The reno wasn't a lot of fun to live through. We set up a makeshift kitchen (microwave, toaster oven and fridge) next to the laundry sink in the basement and spent our days there, in the tiny corner of the living room which was cordoned off with a plastic sheet, and at Baba and Zaida's house. Oh, that sucked and it was a very long eight weeks but it passed as inexorably as any other eight weeks, and one day it was over; appliances installed, plaster dust vacuumed up, paint dried. Suddenly we were normal people with a normal (mostly) house. What bliss! What joy!
Now we have a house with lots of space on the main floor (well... relatively speaking), a bright, sunny, organized kitchen which gets a lot of use, tons of electrical outlets and lights, and a huge back deck. I'm really starting to like this house. I did suffer a pang of jealousy sitting in my friend's south-facing living room. We don't have any south-facing windows, and the west windows are in the kitchen and Delphine's room, and they're really pretty small. So we don't get that ocean of warm sunshine we used to get in the condo, and I miss that on sunny winter days. I hope that a couple of skylights will make the house brighter. One day.
A year ago today, cold, frustrated, tired, missing the condo and wondering what the hell we had done, I consoled myself with the thought that in a year everything would be normal and happy again, and I was right. Yesterday we spent the whole day putting up our (really rather huge, in this place) Christmas tree, spangling the mantelpiece with tinsel and lights and tiny china Santas (and a menorah, poor thing), and stringing J'Anne's beautiful handmade stockings all up the staircase. The house is warm and cozy and full of love and giggling little girls, and I could hardly be any happier.