Jan 31, 2011

The Mid Century 'Black Spot'

This is a cautionary tale. And one of many for those who own 'not quite' heritage homes.

A few months ago we decided to do some re-jigging of our mortgage which required an assessment by a qualified appraiser.

Hubs and I were worried. We are not in a typical situation by any means. Prairie house is neither new, nor is it on a local heritage inventory. It's in house purgatory, so to speak - not quite old enough to be heritage but far enough away from new - considered dated, redundant, inefficient.

Preservationist forefather, John Ruskin referred to this period of time the 'black spot of fashion'* This alludes to a period of time when a particular style or historic house is at its most vulnerable for demolition. Ironically, the black spot occurs just before they become highly valued to a society. Victorian houses for example displayed their black spot during the '60s and '70s, much the same as some mid century modern and Brutalism styles (and even early pomo) are under fire lately.

Brutalism (if concrete wore a tux): Calgary Board of Education building. 1969 (Stevenson Raines Barrett Hutton Seton) Photo by Entheos_fog (Flickr)

What makes the situation more difficult is that we're not upgrading the house to what what the federal government deems 'energy efficient'. You know where I'm going with this (I know, I'm a total preachy pants) - Energy Star vinyl windows, new doors and walls - ugh. For us to get what we needed for this refinancing, the appraiser had to understand the idea of restoration and of retention and maintenance over replacement. So yes, we had a reason to be worried.

So I cleaned the house, H to T (head to toe for you non America's Next Top Model viewers - everyone has their vices) and sent the kids to the park with hubs. The appraiser was at our place for almost 2 hours and I explained to him in detail (read: followed him around with a book of my before pictures) what we had upgraded for energy efficiency and why we were keeping as much as we could.

He was great in the end. In the business for 30 years and really understood why houses such as the Prairie House are still in excellent condition 55 years later, and why some built as late as the 1990s are rotting and falling apart**. He was also a realist and knows the Calgary market well. He warned me that despite being responsible stewards for this house, by keeping certain elements we were impacting the assessment value of the house. According to the appraiser, the wood panelling in the living room, for example, is actually detracting from the value of the house and would be better served to be replaced by gypsum wall board. (REALLY????)

Taken just after we moved in. The original Royal LePage curtains still on the wall - they were in tatters. See you never. Hubs was ecstatic that I'm not that much of a purist.

And the laminate counter that we selected for the kitchen to replace the original laminate gone bad was also causing us to lose some notches. And the windows (saw that one coming) and the pink fixtures and the oak floors (??) and the original plaster walls. And on and on and on.

When the assessment quote came back to us a couple of days later, we heaved a sigh of relief that after all of that, he did get it.

But as we soon found out, the appraiser was only the first blockade. The bank took one look at our assessment and we were denied based on it being too high for a house of that age with all of its original parts. They decided to send their own appraiser, a woman this time, who lived in a new house in Airdrie. Perfect. She didn't understand what we were doing at. all. Came back to us with an assessment $100,000 LESS than the first assessment. We were floored. And denied for a second time.

We had to bring in a third assessor who I was sure to follow around with my before and after pictures much like the first one. And he came back with a number close to our first assessor and we were able to get the help we needed to finish off our restorations.

I found this process emotional and frustrating but I am proud of us for persevering. Frustrating because we are penalized in our society for trying to preserve the black spots of our future heritage and saddened by this level of 'quality materials' that our society values as a whole (vinyl over wood, white fixtures over coloured ones, laminate floors over wooden).

The moral of this tale is to always keep your home's best interest and long term preservation goals in the forefront. Money for a restoration will eventually come and the value inherent in the elements you are fighting so hard to retain will eventually pay off. And most importantly, always always ask for a third opinion.


* See Aaron Lubek's excellent new book Sustainable Building and Historic Homes: Green Restorations (2010).

** The quality of building materials has a lot to do with this. A house built 100 years ago with first or second growth timber, even if shoddily built, has a good chance of making it to their 100th birthday merely on material quality.

Jan 26, 2011

The El Pinko Plan

After a full year of tile and paint samples, endless tile and flooring stores and scouring every new and used (online and in the city) we have finally reached a consensus on El Pinko (she's thrilled). We are working with a few contractors on quotes as we speak and will get started this Spring.

Like the downstairs bathroom and kitchen, we will be balancing old with new, re-using whenever possible, retaining character defining elements (such as the pink fixtures) and using green whenever financially feasible. This restoration/renovation is also a balance of personalities. Hubs would prefer to gut and start over (read: get rid of pink fixtures) while I am skewed towards keeping allllll of it. So we met in the middle. Which is fair.

We are going to tile the entire back wall by the sink and surrounding the tub with this pretty little tile. The floor tile (not yet selected) will be some type of 12x24 grey ceramic deal-eo.

Inspiration for new floating vanity. Counter will be either caesarstone or Crystal Crete (in Crystal Clear). Vanity will be clad in similar coloured wood veneer (the real deal).

New undermount sink (I'm throwing in the towel for an old one) by Kohler (Ledges in Cast Iron - just like the bathtub) We'll have it colour matched by Granor Bath in Calgary who did our bathtub. The faucet is by Danze - Parma line in Chrome of course.

And some finishing details - Retro atomic starburst toothbrush holders which I hope to find on Ebay (image from Retro Renovation) and vanity door handle from Rejuvenation (already stored in my basement).
I've learned a lot from our previous restorations. Like investing in good quality faucets (Ikea should stick to furniture) and taking care of portions of the demo and final touches ourselves to save on costs. I also monitor waste to ensure that the everything that can be recycled is separated out. This annoys contractors immensely but Mother Earth is happy about it...

Will keep posted on new developments.


Jan 24, 2011

Weekend Scores

I am officially breaking up with ReStore in Calgary. Hubs and I have faithfully visited every one of the stores on countless occasions and have found almost nothing in the way of mid century treasures.

I read in the paper on the weekend that ReStore had combined all of its stores into one big gigantic warehouse of potential awesomeness in the Northeast so we headed out yesterday to check it out. He had one last chance...

You would think that with 28,000 square feet of space that there would be some room for little delights donated from at least one of the oh, 4 million mid century bungalows in the city. Mais non. In fact, upon arrival we noted that the 28,000 square feet is actually devoted to reject sinks and faucets from retailers, bad 1980s couches (you know the dark blue and green velvet kind with wood trim?), a very healthy supply of vinyl doors and windows with yellowed trim and brass pendant lights circa 1991. Woh woh...

Lucky for us, ReStore was only half of our weekend o' thrifting. We dropped by Mid Century Dweller (hubby's first time) on what was hopefully one of many future Saturday afternoon dates sans kids. Bit of antiquing in Inglewood, faucet/sink shopping at Robinson Lighting, and a quick dinner at the bar at Mercato. Divine. We found a couple of really great items for the house at MCD (a million thank-you's Dinah!).

Here's some pics from our weekend scores:

Art show print by Richard Mortensen, a Danish abstract painter (1910-1993). This one dates to 1961.

Pink scale for El Pinko!! So cute! The glass magnifies the numbers and it lights up. So I can weigh myself in the middle of the night. Or on the sly after I've eaten one too many handfuls of chips.

I am on a sink rampage for El Pinko so will have lot's of updates on local new and used's in the City.


Jan 16, 2011

The Cow Town Low Down: Mid Century Dweller

I'm pleased as punch to present the first interview in my new series, The Cow Town Low Down*, profiling mid century modern shops, trades and products in Calgary.

The lovely Dinah owns Mid Century Dweller - freshly opened in the heart of Inglewood (1222 9th Avenue SE). Dinah has a brilliant eye for high quality and well designed pieces from the '50s to 70s for purchase, consignment or rental.

Opened since Fall 2010, Mid Century Dweller is chock a block full of divine pieces of furniture, art and decor from sources she just wouldn't share with me (I tried). Dinah posts regular updates on new stock on her website and her Facebook group Mid Century Dweller.


A few of the many jewels at Mid Century Dweller

LMCMHP: Just when I had given up hope that all of Calgary was about new, new, new, you opened your store, Mid Century Dweller in Ingelwood. What do you love about MCM that inspired you to open a store?

Dinah: Well, what inspired me in particular believe it or not was a 1960's (expo) wood coffee table! I had found it at a person's estate sale. It had wood in two colors and the shape was round and so organic but it had this floating wood section in the middle. The whole structure was so sculptural, so sleek and so clean. So that was it! Mid-Century Modern and I had now begun to date!

LMCMHP: The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Did you have an inkling that there were so many of us MCM nuts in Calgary?

Dinah: In the back of my head I had a feeling, I couldn't personally find anything for myself and I began to notice a trend of MCM popping up in several places. Now that the store has opened, I must admit the MCM collector is a quirky breed, they are eccentric and enthusiastic plus they have a skip in their step when they approach their newly found object.

Sublime little wall unit

LMCMHP: A friend of mine just found a mint condition teak surfboard coffee table in someone's garbage. What is your secret source for these stellar pieces? I'm hoping it's not the garbage.

Dinah: It's a secret... shhhh

I love me some lamp.

LMCMHP: I know you've only been open for a short while. What type of clientele are purchasing items from your store? What style of houses are they furnishing?

Dinah: OMG, I have seen the most extraordinary homes in such a short while, when delivering pieces, whilst staging! The MCM clientele is so warm and so appreciative. They oogle and stare at objects with sultry stars in thier eyes. [LMCMHP note: I swear I don't ever do that]

My clients have ranged from young people in thier 20s to the most respectable collector of 80 years. I have seen condos, eco homes, bungalows and even motorhomes. One thing is for sure, they all have the most ecclectic of tastes.

LMCMHP: Love your angle of displaying newly acquired pieces on Facebook. Has the public been receptive to this type of marketing?

Dinah: Yes, visual images are good, especially the original photos from the era, it's nostalgic and it fills one with the sepia of how people lived and how we can now incorporate these items in our modernness.

I'm a sucka for a teak planter and an art show silkscreen... that actually matches my dark blue bedroom. Can I put this on hold?

LMCMHP: What items would you just have to keep if you sourced one out? How about for your new dear friend Laura?

Dinah: I have kept so many pieces now that havent even reached my showroom, mostly scandinavian pieces that are unique or are signed. The object has to move me, it has to beckon my attention. I have a great collection in just a short period of time.

For my dear Laura I am sourcing some fibreglass plant pots and trying to find her a great new set of dining room chairs. [LMCMHP note: YES PLEASE!]

Hello chrome side table. Would you like to come home with me?

LMCMHP: Finally - our readers are dying to know - we've all noticed a relatively large unused space next door to your store. Any plans to expand in the future?

Dinah: Jajaja, (I laugh in Spanish) yes I do want to expand, but to another location but in the same area, the building I am presently in will be demolished in 2012. Let me put it out there, if anyone knows a place for me to relocate that would be a good dwelling for Mid-Century Dweller let me know.

The idea initially was to keep overhead costs down and see if this crazy idea of mine actually worked. Thankfully it has ... with the support of the Calgary community and the ever-obsession of MCMers... I am having a ball! Come, join me.

Thanks Dinah for being our very first guest interview at LMCMHP!

Mad mad love for Mid Century Dweller.


* Hubby deserves kudos for coming up with this title.

Jan 12, 2011


Ta da! A new look for LMCMHP. My spanky new blog header was designed by the endlessly talented Jessica over at Very Designs. I told her I wanted something with prairie atomic flare...

Love love love.


Jan 4, 2011

A New Year's Up in Pink Smoke

Sooooo. Not such a hot start to 2011. Whole lot of us have the flu. And not all at once, no, that kind of luck is for the Irish - (and we're Scottish/Italian/English/Canadian) - but spread out one by one over 5 days. I've never spent so much quality time trapped in our house with bowls. Boredom naturally leads to experimentation. In an act to conserve insanity I proposed ringing in the new year cuddled around the glow of our original 1955 fake fireplace- yet to be plugged in since we moved in last February.

The fireplace, a lovely half width fireplace that serves as the centre piece of the living room, plugs into an outlet in the wall of the fireplace. Original outlet, original plug and likely unused for many many years. (Doesn't sound like a winning combo, does it? Don't worry, we had a fire extinguisher on hand.)

Jason precariously plugging in the fireplace to appease whiny wife.

Hubby is deathly afraid of fires so he must have felt pretty sorry for me last night as I lay curled up in a ball, whimpering over our lame start to 2011. I don't know, maybe he just wanted me to just stop talking. Whatever the reason, he plugged in the fire.

Original outlet at the back of the fireplace; light switch to turn on fire and cord in nearly perfect condition. We must have been sick. This doesn't look safe.

We heard the whir of whatever little motor was in the cute fake logs that hadn't been started in 10 some odd years, followed by a billow of smoke. Aaaaaaaaaaannnnnd that was the end of our cosy sit by the fake fire.

So - in honour of our crap start to the year, I kick started off the upstairs El Pinko restoration by ordering a custom colour kit for our blasphemously mismatched and oversized El Pinko toilet seat from Color Direct Toilet Seats because:

a) I was trapped in the house with the family flu for 5 DAYS with a bowl and four whiny people including myself

b) You ever tried to find a replacement pink toilet seat?

and c) Because it is the most apropos compliment to the start of 2011...


ps. In related news, the New York Times just ran a spread on the return of the pink bathroom for 2011. See Retro Renovation for the scoop and this link for the full post.

And this year's forecasted colour trend of 2011 according to Pantone? That's right. Pink. (Honeysuckle Pantone 18-2120)