Fear of a beige planet

As reported earlier, when M and I first agreed to buy this house in Longueuil, we were under the impression that it didn’t really need to be painted. It’s not that the colors were specifically to our liking, but they weren’t particularly offensive and we figured we could live with them for a while. Then, when we finally took possession last week and saw the place empty, we had second thoughts.

So lame

There are a number of problems. For one thing, the previous owners took a lot of stuff off the walls when they left, leaving gaps in the paint where the clips holding up mirrors and such used to be. In fact, the paint all around had been very badly applied — they had painted over light switches and electrical sockets the way careless landlords do.

Now keep in mind that these people built this place — its not like the face plates were already painted over when they moved in. No, they were just very careless. This boggles my mind, because not only does it look sloppy and amateurish, but it essentially condemns future paint jobs to the same fate unless one is willing to remove all the face plates and replace them with new ones. I did that in my condo last year and that one detail made the place look so much better. We’re doing it again in this house.

It’s so easy to remove a face plate. Just a few little screws, that’s all. Remove the face plate, put a bit of masking tape over the socket or the light switch, and your walls will always look fresh and new. To not do so — particularly in a newly-built house with virgin face plates — is careless and stupid. And while we’re discussing painting tips, you should not paint over baseboard heaters! Doing so makes your house look like a cheap apartment!

What a mess

Anyway, there was also the problem of all that beige. Beige! It’s bad enough that I have three pairs of beige khakis, but now it’s all over my home!

The outside of the house is made of some kind of vertical vinyl siding that is … beige. The entranceway is painted in a nice shade of … beige. That particular beige is really annoying because it has hints of salmon or peach. Ewww.

The living room is sort of a buttery yellow that in certain light looks… beige. The kitchen, fortunately, is red and white, but the dining room is sort of … beige.

The second floor (the bedrooms) and the basement are all just plain white — thank gawd. But just when I thought I had seen all the beige there is to see I stepped out into our back yard to look up at the glorious turning leaves on our mature old trees and I noticed that the fence all the way around the yard is… beige.

Step out of the dining room
and look up…

Something had to be done. Fortunately, this was a long weekend in Canada. So we tackled the living room. These things always take much longer than expected, so we didn’t get as much done as we had hoped, but we did make significant progress. The main thing is that we transformed the living room from that silly buttery beige to… a different shade of beige.

Wait wait wait! Instead of buttery, it’s now the color of Haagen Daz coffee ice cream, or really milky café au lait. It’s a sophisticated beige… a beige for the new millennium!

And of course it looks better than you can imagine, because we painted the ceiling a nice crisp white, and the trim (the baseboards and the door frames) is now white, so the color is a feature and not just a boring suburban cop out. To make the color stand out more, the fireplace will be painted in a very, very light beige from the same palette (imagine adding more milk to the coffee). This will all work very well with the dark chocolate brown floor in that room.

We probably won’t get to it before the move (next week), but we bought the paint to transform the dining room. We will brighten it up with a lively white on the ceiling and the long walls, and the short walls will get the same light green that M used in her apartment last year. That green will also be used in the powder room on the ground floor.

At some point we will get rid of the peachy beige in the entranceway, but that will be a tough job because of all those doorways and corners so we will likely get put that off for a while.

I also managed to find time to clean the grease out of the range hood. What a disaster area that was! I don’t think it had been cleaned in ten years, so it the grease stank up the house. It was made worse because the outside vent was fused shut (with grease) so when you turned on the range hood it wasn’t venting, just blowing around. Gawd knows how long its been like that. To make matters worse, the previous owners had removed a lot of the coverings inside the hood (such as the cover over the light) so everything — including the light sockets — was covered in old slimy grease. There’s only so much I can do, so it’s not exactly sparkling, but at least it isn’t dripping grease anymore, and it’s venting properly.

The house has five exterior lights, and only one worked. It was mostly a matter of changing bulbs, but one of them — the one at the end of the driveway — still won’t work, so that’s a challenge for another day.

The main floor has a powder room, and upstairs are three bedrooms and a bathroom. Between them all, only one door closed properly. It’s not because the walls shifted, but because the doors to those rooms are quite new and they were all badly installed. That’s another thing I fixed this weekend.

The joys of home ownership. If you’re still reading this I thank you, and I promise I will try not to turn the blork blog into some kind of chronicle of suburbia — or if I do, I’ll at least try to make it interesting. Maybe I’ll give you the David Lynch version, for example, where all the neighbourhood dominatrixes wear beige.

Plenty of nothing…

After a pretty gruelling move last week, things are finally starting to shape up at the new Chez Blork sur le Plateau. While I still haven’t properly organized things in the kitchen, it’s at least good in good enough shape that I can put together a meal.Friday night was declared “do nothing night.” As such, on the way home from work I stopped into the Andes store on The Main and picked up some soft corn tortillas, tortilla chips, cilantro, limes, avocados, and a few other things. At home, while waiting for M to come over and join me in doing nothing, I started putting together a meal.

I began by putting together my famous salsa of chopped (peeled and seeded) tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, jalapeño pepper, and lime juice (with a drop of vinegar). I covered it and set it aside to mature.

The next task was the Spanish rice. I fried a bit of bacon in a heavy iron pan until it was very crispy. I removed the bacon and sautéed some onion, green pepper, and garlic in the bacon fat, then stirred in a cup of uncooked rice. I browned the mixture for a few minutes, adding some cumin, and finally dumped in half a can of tomatoes and about a cup and a half of chicken stock. Then a can of small red beans (drained) and a scratch of black pepper. I stirred it all together, covered, and dropped it in the oven at 400ºF.

By then M had arrived, so we tucked into the Mayan tortilla chips and salsa. Then it was time for the tacos. I prepared a few bowls of goodies like green onions, avocado, and cheese, and set them aside. Then I coarsely chopped up some skinless and boneless chicken and some onions, which I sautéed together while tossing off a quick and cooling salad of lettuce, grated carrots, and cucumber. By then the Spanish rice was ready (about 35 minutes). I transferred the hot things to warmed serving bowls and quickly warmed up the corn tortillas in the oven.

We sat down to eat, with five different hot sauces to choose from. We quaffed Mexican Dos Equis beer and Chilean red wine with the feast, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal and ensuing evening of nothingness.

bubbles...The feastivities continued into Saturday. Two-and-a-half years ago, when I left Discreet Logic, they gave me a lovely bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin vintage reserve 1991 Champagne. In a Herculean act of self restraint, I managed to not drink the thing, claiming I’d save it for a special occasion. (I’ve had a number of special occasions in that time, but I always drank other bottles of Champagne.) When I started thinking about buying a condo, I decided that this bottle would be the one that “christens” the place once I’ve moved in and at least a few boxes are unpacked.

That time had arrived.

Late in the afternoon, M and I went on a quest for foie gras. We found some at the Festin de Babette store on rue St. Denis, not far from Chez Blork. Back home, I toasted some thin strips of the bread I had bought that morning from the boulangerie artisanale down the street, and cut a bit of old cheddar cheese. Then I popped the cork on the Champagne!

salud!M and I sat on my red sofa in my not-quite-ready-yet living room and quaffed the Champagne while indulging in the foie gras and cheese. Later, I prepared a salad of lettuce, cucumber, artichoke hearts, and palm hearts, with a vinaigrette of dijon mustard, oil, and lemon juice. Another night of nothingness ensued.

I think I’m going to enjoy living here!

Say goodbye to Westmount…

This is my final blog from my apartment in Westmount. Local readers know that Westmount is Montreal’s staid and uppity Anglophone enclave–the donut hole in the middle of the city. Back in the day–when Montreal ruled Canada–it was in this fair burgh that most of the money resided. The economic foundations of Montreal were laid primarily by Westmount-residing Scots, along with a few Englishmen, who built family fortunes in the 19th and early 20th centuries–fortunes which to this day spoil apple-cheeked Anglo children high on the hill.

So what the heck am I doing here? Frankly, I moved here because two years ago I couldn’t find an affordable apartment on the Plateau. (For any New Yorkers reading, that’s like saying I moved to the upper east side because I can no longer afford Greenwich Village.) I ended up with a choice between a really expensive loft in Old Montreal or this less expensive (but very nice) apartment in Westmount. I thought I’d give it a whirl–my Westmount experiment.

Truth be told, I am not in the most savory part of Westmount. Indeed, my building runs along rue Ste. Catherine, and is only ten minutes by foot to the Atwater Metro, so in some ways I feel more “downtowner” than “Westmountais.”

There are not very many reasonably priced apartment buildings in Westmount, and most of them are within a few minutes walk of mine. This is the ghetto–the low-rent part of Westmount, if such a thing can exist.

I will miss some things about Westmount, as I’ve mentioned before. Westmount Park, the Westmount and Atwater Libraries, the Westmount Public Security officers who phone you and ask you to move your car instead of giving you a ticket. Even the blue-haired ladies with their shitheads–I mean shitzus.

But enough about that, let’s talk about the new place! The past few days have been very intense. First it was the paint job–the Paint Babes did a stupendously marvelous job. The place is luciously colorful. I did some of the painting (almost all of the bedroom), so yes, I was involved!

I also started moving a few things over late last week. Then, late on Thursday I got an urgent request from one of my clients (I do occasional freelance writing work). They needed 20 blurbs copy-edited by Sunday. They paid “panic rate,” so I couldn’t say no. And given that this is a startup software company, you just know nothing will be quite like they say. So yes, there were complications, culminating in a stack of 13 files so large I couldn’t even email them. So tonight, between packing and moving and finishing the painting I also had to burn a CD and painty-hand deliver it to the client.

And that has been my life for the past 48 hours–a juggle of painting, packing, moving, and editing. Packing, unfortunately, took lowest priority. Now it’s almost 1am, and the truck will be here at 10:30am. I haven’t even begun to pack up my office yet. On the other hand, the kitchen is 80% done, the living room 95% done, the dining room 80% done, and the bedroom is 90% done.

The beauty of this move is that there is no one moving in behind me. I’m paying the rent on this joint until June 30 (unless someone rents it for June 1), so that gives me a few weeks to come back with my car and pick up the stuff that wasn’t ready for the moving truck.

Now, to sleep. Up at 6am, then pack pack pack!

Very very tiny…

tiny, but cute!Caterina talks about the Microflats for sale in London for something like $200,000 CDN each. All this for a tiny (344 sq.ft.), yet very slick urban living space for young professionals. I have to admit that like Caterina, I love small spaces. This may seem ironic given the 1000 sq.ft. minimum requirement I imposed when I went condo hunting a month ago, but that was for practical reasons–it needs to be big enough for me, Spiff, and all my stuff, of which I seem to have acquired quite a bit in the almost 20 years since I left home. However, being the Gemini that I am, I have no problem with the idea of being attracted to both big open places and small intimate ones.

not to scaleMy first non-shared apartment would certainly qualify as tiny and intimate. It had only two rooms–a kitchen with just enough room for a small table, and a bed-sitting room with enough space for an armchair, a single bed, a desk, and a small bookshelf. It was on the second floor of a large woodframe Victorian house on College Street in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The limited floorspace was hemmed-in even more by the small headspace. I didn’t have a gable–the apartment was the gable. The highest point was along the wall that bisected the apartment, with the ceiling sloping down on either side. Where my bed was tucked into the corner the ceiling began about four-and-a-half feet up from the floor. If I sat bolt upright in bed my head would hit the ceiling on a glancing blow and hurl me out of bed and onto the floor. Fortunately this was just a theoretical possibility as it never actually happened.

God, how I loved that place!

You can see the front of the building in this scan from my university yearbook (pardon the crease in the middle). See the large gable in the midde with two small square windows? The same gable occured on the back of the house, and that was the apartment.

pardon the creaseWhen I first saw the place it was a disgusting mess, with moss growning in the oven, bags of garbage all around, and nails sticking out of the broken tiles on the floor. Walls and ceiling in the bed-sitting room were painted the color of dried mustard–which can be a nice accent color, but is too much when it fills the room, uninterupted. The pattern on the kitchen wall (and ceiling) paper was upside-down.

I recruited some help and set to work on it. We cleaned and disinfected the fridge and stove, and scoured the floors, walls, and cupboards in the kitchen. Then we removed (or pounded in) the protruding nails in the floor, and gave the bed-sitting room a thorough paint job. We did it in light blue, which went well with the broken tiles, and really served to brighten the place up. The wardrobe (which was a permanent fixture) was painted a bright white. I then bought a peice of light grey carpet (an end peice) which covered most of the broken-tiled floor in the bed-sitting room.

The bathroom was down the hall, and I shared it with two women who lived in similar tiny apartments on the same floor. It didn’t even have a shower (just a bathtub with a big ice cream bucket for filling and dumping over your head), but I got used to that right away. We were all on somewhat different schedules and we were all good about keeping the place clean, so the bathroom situation was a non-issue.

And that was it–I had done the work and had transformed the place. The upside-down wallpaper stayed, but that was OK because it was something of a coversation peice. I really felt like I had built a wonderful little nest for myself there, and I still have fond memories of sitting on my bed or in the big old creaky armchair while reading or entertaining a guest or two.

Back then I didn’t own a lot of stuff, so that was all the space I needed. I left my bike outside (even over the winter), and the neighbours were all good and friendly. I stayed there only one year. Circumstances changed and I moved into residence for my final year at St. F.X.U.

I could easily live like that again, but not as a permanent arrangement. If I had a “home base” somewhere and was inclined to move around a lot spending weeks or months at a time in other cities, that is all I’d need in those other places. For example, if I made huge bucks and were required to pass a few months of the year in London, I’d be first in line for a microflat. In fact, I’d probably spend more time there than in my bigger place back in Montreal!