a peek inside the fishbowl

07 May, 2011

Reno post #007 – a small unveiling and several big thoughts

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Home/reno

I need to sort out my thoughts on the reno, so forgive me if I ramble.

I think I’m going to start devoting the weekends to reno and home design posts here too.

So, to begin. This is our house, as painted by Sarah. I think she pretty much nailed it. In fact, I might have this framed.

Sarah's painting of our house

This is the floor plan for the main floor that we are currently considering, at least, the general layout of it:

Suggested floorplan, main floor

Click on the floorplan to view some extra notes.

This is not a final plan. We’re still tinkering. For example, we are in desperate need of a pantry and I am determined to find a way to make it work in this general layout. Also, I would like a wee computer station in there somewhere… although I am not convinced it will happen. Boo.

And then there’s the mudroom. In my estimation, this area needs:

(a) a floor-to-ceiling closet. A good sized wardrobe from Ikea might do the trick, like this one, which comes in a version that’s 200 cm wide, has a mirror, and (space-saving!) sliding doors.
(b) a mail sorting / key-holding station. This can be as simple as an open shelf with taller spaces between the shelves.
(c) a small bench and some hooks, because a hook is more likely to be used than a hanger, and better for dripping wet outdoor clothing.

I have really had to think hard about how we use our space, and make sure that what we’re dreaming up is actually useful. I’ve been pouring over some Sarah Susanka books I borrowed from the library to help me better formulate what’s going on in my head.

For example.

I want my home to be practical, comfortable for my family and I, and welcoming for others. We’re adding on to our house because we need to solve some space-related issues we’re having. I’m not designing to impress. The concept in my brain includes words like cozy, and not grand. Modest, not mind-blowing.

I want to make less do more, and not the other way around.

I want to live in a smaller footprint; both environmentally and economically. My mantra is think big (in terms of ideas), think small (in terms of everything else). We need smart space, not a ton of extra space. We don’t actually need a lot of extra room in order to increase the efficiency and comfort of our house.

I’ve been thinking a lot about big homes, ones that are bigger than the occupants realistically need them to be. How much is enough? I think the overall issue of “too much” is one of the biggest problems we have in Western society today. Somehow we have grown to live in a culture of entitlement. Bigger is not always better. I will not supersize my life. Living smaller doesn’t just translate into a smaller abode, it trickles down into many ordinary things and daily decisions. Living small means that I cannot in good conscious create a monster home which has one bathroom per occupant. It means that I won’t be buying a dining room that seats 12, just in case we have company. It means driving one car, and a smaller one at that. It means not owning as much stuff. It means eating less crap.

We can get by quite well with less. And amazingly, we can be just as happy.

Susanka is big on a few key things that really resonate with me, namely, finding a balance between open and closed spaces. A family needs both. The kitchen/family room creates a great open space, one we are drawn to and tend to gather. How many parties have you been at in which everyone ends up in the kitchen? At the same time, I think it’s a mistake (at least it would be for me) if the entire main floor was opened up to create one giant room. It’s certainly doable, and it was one of the early floorplan options our architect showed us, but I couldn’t live in a totally open space. If the kids are watching TV and I want to read a book I would like to go somewhere (relatively) quiet that isn’t the office or a bedroom. Also, I don’t want to stare at my dining room table all of the time.

According to Susanka, everyone needs a nook. She calls it the “away space.” I think it makes sense. That’s why there are two living spaces on the main floor in the floorplan pictured above.

In my last reno post I was suffering some degree of reno paralysis. Design for today, or for resale? It still haunts me a bit, but I think I’ve come to terms I can live with.

We are not planning anything crazy that would make the house seem overly odd to potential buyers in the future. I want to design for who we are today, with a small eye to the future, but not let that future and potential resale issue weigh me down. So what if we don’t end up with an enormous walk-in closet, or ensuite bathroom? Or a garage?

Here’s the other big issue. Because of limited funds (read: my hesitation to take on a giant mortgage) it is looking more and more like will have to minimize the amount of work that gets done on the upper floor. I would still need the bathroom enlarged, or should I say, gutted with all new stuff. I am a little sad that we probably won’t be able to afford larger bedrooms. The girls have especially small bedrooms, but I wonder how much of this is just an organizing problem. Can our issues be remedied with smart design and new furnishings, and not by knocking down walls? This is where I really need help.

Also, the architect is encouraging us to go full basement – citing our space needs – but I have to wonder. Is this bit of extra space worth the extra cost? I flip flop on this ten times a day. Personally, I think if we cleaned out the basement (it is just storage right now) and built floor-to-ceiling cupboards/shelving across the entire back wall it would be just fine. We’d insulate it, add some great lighting, replace the hot water tank with a tankless system, rough in a future 3-piece bathroom, and dedicate the rest to laundry and living space.

Ack. There is just so much to think about.

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19 Responses to "Reno post #007 – a small unveiling and several big thoughts"

1 | coffee with julie

May 7th, 2011 at 4:24 pm


Hi Andrea,
As you know, I’m living vicariously through you on this reno. So, even though your post does not end with any questions for your readers, I hope you don’t mind if I throw in a few thoughts/things to think about?
1. On the bathroom front: it sounds like you will end up with 3, perhaps 4 (the roughed in one in basement). On the “live small” front, perhaps you can use the space where the current half bath is on main floor to become the pantry area?
2. For the mudroom area, I’ve seen a lot of houses with this setup lately. And for me, I’m not keen on it. Mudrooms are kind of messy/family spaces and it means you need to send guests through that space to use the washroom if they are over for dinner, etc. I’d consider if there is a way to keep the mudroom and main floor half bath as separate spaces.
3. For the basement. You have to dig a basement for the extension in Canada, no matter what. You might as well have it be a full basement. It will cost virtually nothing extra and could be used as a teen retreat/future-stay-at-home university student abode.
4. On the kids bedroom front. If the girls will be doing homework or playing with friends in their bedrooms, then you might want to enlarge them. If, however, your family has a mainfloor space where homework is done, it might not be as big of an issue.

2 | bushidoka

May 7th, 2011 at 6:12 pm


Good for your for keeping it small. I could not agree more that people go way too far with those ginormous houses. Mind you we could stand to add a wee bit over here – squeezing a family of 5 into 1000 sq ft is very challenging! By the time the baby hits 5 I’m hoping we’ll be able to afford to add another 500 sq ft or so.

3 | Tiana

May 7th, 2011 at 8:18 pm


Is a basement pantry just impossible? Also, you have cut throughs on both sides of the kitchen which will dramatically reduce upper storage space. You may want to evaluate that loss against your want of a pantry. Would you need it if the kitchen is more closed off? What is more important to you?

4 | Fiona

May 7th, 2011 at 9:57 pm


Having a full basement is worth the money ie: hardly any extra cost since you already have to dig. If nothing else, that can become tons of storage, even if only marginally finished.

Its always great to see in situ ideas you are considering for your own house so go to every darn (real estate) Open House you can, because boy will you notice people’s renovating mistakes, and then you can avoid them.

5 | Stefania

May 8th, 2011 at 9:40 am


Love the painted picture!

I’ve been thinking of your proposed layout. I don’t want to confuse the matter but…why a TV/sitting room and a family room? Isn’t a family room a place to watch TV and hang out? Looking at the layout I thought you could make the kitchen bigger and more open (have some room for a pantry, breakfast counter) and include a place for a small couch, comfy chairs, etc. So you get a roomy kitchen and a place to hang out (no separation between kitchen and family room). Maybe that’s what you have already. I can’t tell. Are you taking down the wall that separates the dinning room and the kitchen (perhaps this is where you can put a breakfast counter…)?

6 | Stefania

May 8th, 2011 at 9:47 am


I’m no architect or interior designer. Great idea to have a bathroom in the mudroom. I agree with the other comments about a full basement. Use it as a place for organized storage, to work out, hang out, do crafts, etc.

7 | andrea

May 8th, 2011 at 10:11 am


Perhaps I’m being too quick to cut out the basement. ;)

Julie – I hear what you’re saying about visitors and mudroom mess. Hopefull we set it up in such a way so that it can be relatively tidy. I never thought of making a pantry out of the office bathroom. Hmm. I can’t picture how it would work though.

Tiana – storage is a premium, hence the cut-through into the dining room. I have seen some great ideas and I think we can make this work.

Stefania – I think a room re-label is in order! What has been called the “family room” in the floorplan above will be a sunny, tv-free place to hang out. It essentially replaces our current back porch. I don’t know what to call it other than a family room! That’s where I’ll be if I’m reading a book. That’s my “away” space. :) The other room is for the TV and the Wii.

8 | Carrie C

May 8th, 2011 at 12:42 pm


My parents added on to their last house, and made the choice to do a crawlspace rather than a full basement underneath and always regretted not going the full basement route.

For the amount of work and materials that it would have taken, they still can’t figure out why they didn’t. You don’t have to use it right away – in their case it would have been fantastic storage space for seasonal decorations, cold storage or any number of things.

Can I second the rethinking of the office bathroom space? If you can flip the bathroom and the closet, can you carve some pantry space out of that?

9 | Finola

May 8th, 2011 at 3:03 pm


Such great comments and ideas here! I am looking forward to seeing how you organize the small bedrooms because we have the exact same problem here.

And we love living small too. We have 1100 sq.ft. and with the renos we have done, it is so efficient.

10 | Stefania

May 8th, 2011 at 6:11 pm


How ’bout a reading room? That’s what we call our space that was once used as a formal living room. Every home needs that kind of room. :-)

11 | Nora

May 8th, 2011 at 9:11 pm


I think renos are so exciting – a new beginning! The floor plan looks great. For what it’s worth, here are my 2 cents. I would consider shortening the run of counter space where your fridge is & putting your pantry as a built in around the corner on the stair wall in your dining room. I know there isn’t a lot of width there but you could make it as deep as a box of cereal. Then I would consider using the designated pantry space in the living room for built-in bookcases and a computer nook. As crazy as it sounds, I would also think about taking out the bathroom in the office. I am sure it’s been very convenient but I would sacrifice it for more storage & perhaps a window for more light. I vote for the full basement too – great space for now, the future & with resale in mind. Good luck with the designs….. so much to think about!

12 | Sara

May 8th, 2011 at 9:32 pm


On the mudroom/bathroom front, I totally agree with Julie about walking through the mess.

Could you reorient it so the entrance is actually on the family room/reading room side? This will have a problem for space but you can make sure the door opens out and don’t position furniture in that room so ppl could get knocked. And then because the previous entrance to the bathroom can be used for mudroom space (making an U shape), you could give more room to the bathroom.

Pantry in the bathroom near office could work. It’s not common but you could make it work. Reposition oven and you could fit a door through to the space there. Otherwise, a pantry in the basement works (for cold storage as well). And you could work out a dumb waiter as well.

Definitely think you should go with a full basement. As long as you insulate it, you can leave it to later to decide what you want to do with it. If you do a full basement, then I think you can safely leave the upstairs bedrooms the at the size they are because you have the space downstairs – when the girls get older, downstairs can become their homework/study place.

Are you contemplating an air lock around the mudroom on that second door? I think it is a wicked idea personally (it is on our plans for when we build on our land in 3/4 yrs time).

Have you thought about doing wider doors on the new entrance at the back? I’m thinking of wheelchair width personally but also logistically – so much easier to lug a pile of crap through a door when it is wider.

And I agree that the best thing to do is to go to Open Houses to see real life renovations. Both professional and do it yourself. You get great ideas for things done well and things done not so well.

13 | Charlotte

May 9th, 2011 at 4:09 am


Hi Andrea,

this is so weird … here I am … a complete stranger living in NZ but I feel like I have to chime in. This has brought me out of lurkdom!

I agree with a lot of the comments that have previously been said. But I also have a biggie that no-one else has mentioned. I watched your video tour again and saw that you started at one of your key problem areas … the entrance and bottom of stairs. While I love the open-ness that has been created at the bottom of the stairs in your concept plan, I wonder how that will work in reality. I assume that for the family you will try to use the mudroom as the main entrance and that’s where you’ll leave your coats, bags and shoes, but what about when guests come? Where will they hang their coats? Also … can you change your habits and no longer leave things on the stairs?? Have you considered a closed entrance porch outside the front door? I don’t know if it’d work but it could be a place for a sideboard, umbrella stand, coat rack etc etc for guests and all those little bits that always accumulate.

Two toilets on the ground floor seems like a luxury. My question to you is would you rather have guests walk through your office or your mudroom? I’m thinking along similar lines to Sara about re-organising that mudroom area. I have no idea where your existing services are, but how about flipping it so that the toilet is adjacent to the “TV Room” and the mudroom on the exterior wall. Then if your mudroom wasn’t completely organised people wouldn’t actually be walking through it.

Is the wall between the office WC and kitchen structural? If not … then I would defintiely look at puching through it to make the kitchen larger and or create a pantry.

Is the door from the family room to the porch able to be moved? Moving it just a little bit away from the kitchen would allow you to make the bench between the two areas deeper and allow for storage on both sides.

Finally I have no idea about the basement … living in a country where they’re pretty non-existent but building a space to be finished later sounds sensible. Even if you never do it, it will always be there for someone else if they want to.

Hope that helps and all the best. I look forward to following your progress.

14 | andrea

May 9th, 2011 at 9:24 am


Ok. You’ve all convinced me to get a full basement. Sheesh. :)

I am loving all of your ideas, seriously! Keep them coming!

Charlotte – I am happy that this post finally convinced you to delurk. :)

The wall between the dining room and office is formerly an exterior wall. The office was an addition that was added in the 1950s or so. It has a crawlspace underneath BTW.

And you’re right, two toilets on the main floor is a luxury. The one in the office is existing, the one in the mudroom was suggested by the architect as a practicality. I’m not sure which is worse, having guests march through the office, or use the mudroom WC and see our boots. I hadn’t considered moving the entrance of it. Hmm. Also, great point about moving the door on the family room. WOOT!

Also, re: front entrance. If/when we have a mudroom/side entrance put in we’d start using it as our main entryway and put our things away in the closets located right beside. Guests would use the front door, and if they had coats we’d hang them in the mudroom closet. I think it’s the only solution here, because to build another closet at the front would take away space I’d like to use elsewhere.

Also, great suggestion about wider exterior doors. That’s definitely a consideration!

15 | andrea

May 9th, 2011 at 4:18 pm


I don’t know why I forgot to mention this important fact but I realized that I failed to mention that the office actually doubles as a guest room (albeit a seldom used one)! There is a foldout couch we use when company comes to visit. The bathroom should probably stay!

16 | Heather

May 13th, 2011 at 10:46 am


Crowdsourcing your design, love it. Also love to talk floorplans and design.

Since the bathroom next to your office is already there and is useful for stay over guests, then it should stay. I would recommend reworking the mudroom design to incorporate a pantry.

Two other things to think about: 1) how you entertain: We live in a 1950s bungalow, took out the wall between the dining room and living room and put in a long bar with stools where our kids often do homework and our guests have appetizers and a drink while we prepare dinner. I see that in your design, but it is on the other side backing into the family room – it could also go on the dining room side, depends how formal you want the dining room to be. Do you eat all your meals there? Maybe you want to see the family. 2) light – think about how the house is situated to maximize light. We put in a “garden door” onto our deck, 3 glass panels and one opens in and has a screen door. Huge difference, opens up the space. Also, a door that swings in or out takes up space inside or on your deck.

And good decision on the basement. You will soon have two teenagers and if you want them to bring their friends over (instead of always being at someone else’s house) then having that hand out space for them (especially if their rooms are small) is important.

17 | Reno post #10 - the mud room >> a peek inside the fishbowl

June 26th, 2011 at 12:03 pm


[…] will be showing us a floorplan that’s based up what I uploaded in post #007, along with a plan for the upper floor, which I’m also excited […]

18 | LO

July 2nd, 2011 at 4:45 pm


Hmmm you have your choice and vision and others have theirs:) Would be boring if we were all the same. And I say this because I am one of those people that have more than 2 bathrooms and what many consider a ‘big’ house and we use every inch and in fact, it was the property/land that sold us the most and they just don’t build small homes on 3 acres of forest at the edge of the city:) We were mindful in the sense of rooms. We left a small home and if not for the small kitchen and entrance I might still be there today but the kitchen reno was going to price our house out of the neighbourhood so it was not a good investment if we planned to move anytime soon…so we moved. We looked and looked at all builders etc and found a lot of wasted space in these big homes-too many little rooms and really small kitchens considering the scale of the rest of the house. Then we found what we currently have and the kitchen is the best! We always joke that it will be hard to move again as we won’t find a kitchen like that with family room….because that is the epi centre of our home:)
Kitchens are often deal breakers…….
Your reno will be great because you have put so much thought into it and what your family needs and wants so it will have a great flow that many homes don’t (like mine)

19 | Fishbowl Reno post #54: The Mudroom is finished! Well, almost. >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 20th, 2013 at 1:08 pm


[…] little much, but if you’re keen to see how it all went down you can read back to these posts: Reno post #007 – a small unveiling and several big thoughts Reno post #10 – mud room design Reno post #34 – more about the […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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