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Renovating an Older Condo

In March of 2016 I started looking for a new home. As part of the BBA Design team I have worked on several fantastic projects and have seen some pretty amazing spaces so I had a very good idea of the space that I wanted to create for myself. The decision to buy an older condo and renovate was a quick one. How could a designer pass up the chance to renovate a condo!

After 4 months and a chance drive-by, I spotted a “For Sale” sign on one of the buildings in my neighbourhood that I was most interested in. After viewing the condo and making an offer, I am now the proud owner of a 2 bedroom, 2 bathrooms, 880 sq. foot condo with a balcony in a 1970’s, 6 story brick and concrete building.

The great feature of older (pre-80’s) building is that their rooms and layouts are more spacious. Plus I had found that in the older neighbourhoods many condos are still in original condition ready to be updated.

Now the fun could begin: Space planning, lighting plans, electrical plans, sourcing materials and fixtures, shifting and tweaking, inches here and inches there. I explored the open concept of kitchen, dining and living room but the wall between the kitchen and living room carried the main plumbing lines and waste line so opening the wall entirely was not an option. If there is an option to open up a space I would recommend keeping a partial wall between the kitchen and living areas – a bit of screening from the messy kitchen.

The condo had been renovated once before in 1995 but was essentially a cleaned up version of the original 1970’s interiors: textured ceilings, wall-to-wall carpet with no baseboard, cast iron tubs that were only 12” high, re-tiling jobs that had been done four times by simply adding tile upon tile in both bathrooms, re-piping in one bathroom that was completed on top of the existing tile (to save money with not opening the wall up), continuous hydronic baseboard heating, no ceiling lights in the rooms (except a strangely located dining pendant) and concrete perimeter walls.

The first order of business was to remove the wall-to-wall carpet. The carpet came up easily but the concrete slab was like a skate park. The term “leveling” was not applicable; we were talking simply flattening the valleys. Then the walls around the kitchen were partially removed, as were the two doorways from the entry (this had a pocket door) and to the dining area.

I looked at the lighting and where junction boxes had been poured into the concrete. There were no ceiling lights in the bedrooms and only an entry and dining ceiling light. The challenge was to try and light the space more efficiently and with recessed lights. I ended up dropping the ceiling over the kitchen and installing LED recessed lights. This drop also became a chase for the electrical; under cabinet lights and outlets, to be fed back to the electrical panel on the other side of the kitchen. Recessed lights in the bathrooms, undercabinet lights in the kitchen and switched outlets everywhere made lighting each room more flexible.

Another feature of older buildings is the textured ceilings. There were 3 methods of removing texture – scrapping off the texture, adding a layer of drywall or skimming overtop with plaster. I chose the skimming method as this would be the most cost effective and best solution. The results are beautiful smooth ceilings that make the space seem larger and more modern.

In choosing the finishes: wood floor, plumbing fixtures, kitchen cabinets, countertops and tiles, the choice was quick. As my furniture and art is quite colorful and rich, I wanted a neutral, pale backdrop: natural oak floor, white kitchen cabinets, white large format tile and soft grey counters.

When looking at kitchen designs and manufacturers I really wanted a line that was fully customizable and had a lot of selections of cabinet sizes and Ikea filled that requirement. I added feature cabinets in a dark, wenge finish and have some cabinets with flip-up doors. For the countertops it was Caesarstone, Stone Grey. I used a full slab for the kitchen counters and bathroom counters and backsplashes. For the kitchen sink I love the Blanco “Silgranite” sinks. It stays dry all the time. I purchased a single bowl in their grey colour, which matches the countertop. For the backsplash I chose the “Roccia” 12”x36” porcelain tile from Ames Tile as it creates less grout lines and has a subtle marble pattern. I took the kitchen faucet from my last home; the HansGrohe “Talis S” – the best faucet ever!

The bathrooms are small and compact. To run into the bathrooms, I selected a luxury vinyl plank from Mannington to match the natural oak wood floor. With a bead of silicone around the room the floor is waterproof. In the ensuite I installed an acrylic shower base with a glass wall (no shower door), a white gloss wall hung vanity and an Electric Mirror.

In the 2nd bathroom I installed a Hytec “Wellbrook” tub, matte white wall hung vanity with a bamboo countertop. I used Grohe faucets and shower fixtures in both bathrooms. These small spaces are bright and flow well from the main living spaces.

All in all I am very happy with my renovations. If I were to do it again I think I would put more colour and texture into the bathrooms; a stone-look tile on the walls (there are some fantastic stone porcelain tiles) and a tiled base in the ensuite. I am most happy with the engineered 5” wide wood floor. The natural oak hides dust, scratches and dents. I’m also very happy with the Ikea kitchen.

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