Devil in the details
DETAILS make the difference between a first-rate renovation and a disastrous one. Two obvious details that speak to the overall excellence of a reno are joinery and paint. Bevel joints for baseboards and mitre joints for window and door frames should fit tightly with no gaps or tear out, a sign the installer was in a hurry or unconcerned about his workmanship. Similarly, compound angle joints on crown molding, (commonly used to bridge a gap between the top of a kitchen cabinet and a ceiling), should be snug and clean, even if a corner is not exactly 45 degrees. A renovation that fails to meet these requirements suggests below par craftsmanship, which will manifest throughout all parts of the house. Paint also speaks volumes about a renovator’s concern for or indifference to a reno. A careless painter will quickly roll on a top coat, leaving visible skips or drools on a wall or ceiling. As well, failure to use a drop sheet will result in drips or blobs of paint on floors, carpets, furniture and appliances, which are impossible to remove once the paint has set. Finally, there is the egregious sin of painting over wall outlet and switch covers due to laziness, unconcern or hurried work. If you’re in the market for a renovator, examine his or her previous work with an eye to the details mentioned above. If they are poorly executed, the rest of the renovation will be equally sloppy. And though you may be quoted a lower price by a contractor, the money you ostensibly saved may be lost to fixing the errors he committed. What you want is a renovator with ‘arete’, an ancient Greek word roughly meaning a commitment to excellence or quality. It so happens that the work of a local reno company exhibits the devotion to craftsmanship, expertise in design and proficiency in management that meet the high expectations denoted by the Greek word. Zoe Austin, owner and lead designer of Arete Design, recently showed me through a former bungalow at 270 Niagara St. in River Heights which she and her four-member crew had renovated from cellar to gable, transforming it into a two-storey marvel. Austin is somewhat of an anomaly in the reno business in that her main focus is on revitalizing older homes in River Heights, Tuxedo and Charleswood. To this end, she purchases houses that have fallen into disrepair yet remain structurally sound, giving them a sublime makeover in the process. “I bought the Niagara house last December, my construction team had it renovated and on the market within five months,” said the savvy young entrepreneur, a former well-travelled actor with a life-long appreciation of art and architecture. Austin does the design work and her youthful team of experienced carpenters (one is Red Seal qualified) and a skilled labourer transform her concept into a three-dimensional reality. Their craftsmanship and attention to detail is impeccable, featuring precision cuts and joins on everything from outdoor CanExcel siding to indoor crown moldings—no paint drools, drips or lazy shortcuts to be found here either. Austin has an enviable ability to blend traditional and modern styles in such a way that the final outcome is a house with charismatic appeal to adherents of both the more is more and the less is more schools of design. “When we complete a project, we invite neighbours to view the reno, a large majority have favourable things to say about the quality of work and how quickly we finish a project. They also comment on the affability of our crew members and mention how happy they are to see that our renovated homes fit in with the character of the neighbourhood,” said Austin, referring to a recent brouhaha over a “monster” house on nearby Montrose Street that took a long time to build, dwarfed neighbouring homes and was the object of local ire. Aside from youthful enthusiasm—the average age of the Arete team is 31—there are many other reasons to consider purchasing a renovated house from the company. Though extra features can be ordered, an Arete home comes complete with many modern amenities a buyer is unlikely to find in an older house. For example, the knob and tube wiring in the Niagara house was supposed to have been completely replaced by the former owner. On inspection, Austin discovered that only the visible wiring had been updated, leaving the rest of the house with potentially dangerous knob and tube circuits. “We rewired the entire structure and included a 200-amp service, which is not mandatory but has become an industry standard for new builds and many renos,” said Austin. Along with the wiring, the plumbing was completely upgraded to meet code, and a manifold was added to control separate water lines. Other new equipment includes an HRV, a high efficiency forced-air gas furnace, air conditioning and a 60-gallon water heater, as well as major kitchen appliances. An extended bathroom was built in the basement to accommodate a new plate-glass shower stall with white porcelain tile walls and marblelike floor tiles with grey swirls. All the bathrooms and the kitchen feature Caesarstone counter tops and under mount sinks on custom-built, painted maple vanities. The master bathroom has in floor heating, a jetted tub, a glass enclosure with a rain head, body wand and much more. The open-concept kitchen and living room include walnut-stained engineered T&G maple flooring, white ceiling beams and trims, as well as recessed and drop down lighting and a chandelier in the main entrance foyer. A cleverly designed bench seating/storage unit includes an area above with coat hangers and cubicles for hats, mitts, scarves and other items. As a person who appreciates wood, I was drawn to a gas fireplace in the living area covered with reclaimed barn wood and complemented by a recycled mantle beam from the 1800s. Indeed, the home has wood accents in most of the rooms.
The new second storey contains the master ensuite with a walkout cedar deck and separate bedrooms with a shared bathroom. Windows throughout the house are triple-pane high-efficiency units; walls have been insulated inside and out. In total, the home has four cedar decks totalling 350 square feet of outdoor living area, as well as a Barkman paver stone patio. Another unique feature, especially for older areas like River Heights, is a fully insulated double garage with a heated concrete floor. If that weren’t enough, the entire exterior of the 2000-plus square foot home, (including an extra 850 square feet of basement living space), is covered with 25-year warranty CanExel Ced’R-Vue granite-tone siding. For accent, cedar shingles highlight the lower part of the front elevation and three gables. It’s impossible to mention all the fine features of this remarkable renovation. The home recently sold for $750,000 pre-MLS listing. Logic would suggest that attention to detail equals caring, commitment and quality, which sounds like a definition of arete.