Welcome to a blog on housing, culture and design by a cross-country Canadian and Toronto realtor!
If there ever could be ‘good news’ about a global pandemic, it’s having governments confident COVID-related travel restrictions can be relaxed so citizens can travel freely again. Who isn’t looking forward to this? As borders reopen and protocols relax, we will literally be able to expand our horizons as the world reopens. Which means we can all soon stop sharing the minutae of going on ‘a day trip’ when the only thing we did was drive to Walmart to buy a new pair of sweatpants. Not to condemn anyone for being this way, because after living in isolation under lockdown mandates for nearly two years, we’re all wired a bit differently now.
It stands to reason there will be those who will be tentative about going back into the madding crowd. This makes sense, because even if your physical health has not been compromised, the mental and emotional strain navigating Covid has been taxing. So just as one might dip one’s toes into the water to gauge the temperature, I suspect a good portion of the population will start small, choosing to reintegrate into the world by sticking to domestic travel. Think ‘Staycation’ with folks traveling to familiar locations, like taking a leisurely road trip or a short flight to reconnect with their family and friends.
This means you should probably anticipate overnight visitors soon. Or the arrival of your in-laws for a month. Which means, with regret, that ‘Work From Home’ office you cherish will have to be converted back into a guest room. Good luck with that!
Because the odds have increased you’ll be having friends or family staying under your roof at some point in your future, I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks on how to create a space for your guests that will have all the appeal of ‘Home’, no matter how brief their stay.
I’ve been flexing my creative muscles at The Black House On PEI – the comfortably furnished triplex situated in a late 1880s vintage manse located in Charlottetown – that my bestie James and I have been elevating ever since we bought it in 2008. It’s both a ‘Home Away From Home’ we enjoy frequently and what I call an ‘incubator of domesticity & design’.
The path to purchasing this property began when James, back in 2006, started chatting about his potentially buying a personal bolt hole to occupy when he came from Toronto each summer to perform in the Charlottetown Festival Orchestra – a contract he’s held now for 20 years. At the time I was visiting PEI, and James, for the first time en route to a friend’s wedding in Cape Breton. I found PEI magical. Having spent my formative years growing up in Victoria on Vancouver Island, BC, it reignited memories of eating fish and chips on Willow Beach next to the marina where I learned how to sail, and my fascination with all the sealife in the tide pools next to the boat ramp at Cattle Point. I didn’t know then the omniscience of being present in an elemental landscape attuned to a tidal rhythm peppered with notes of windsong. Nor that the unique conditions of ocean islands – comprising nature’s trilogy of earth, air and water – is said to improve our metaphysical balance.
When I suggested to James we buy a place together, he instantly saw the upside of a joint purchase. It would increase the budget and purchasing power, spread the time and energy required to manage a property located in another province to one of shared responsbility, and mitigate financial risk should unforeseen circumstances impact our personal or professional lives. As our conversations progressed, the idea was we co-purchase a triplex so it offered us a range of flexibility in terms of income generation and personal use that could change over time. To begin, one apartment would be reserved for James each summer, but otherwise the 3 suites would be in the rental pool, with a focus on reducing debt and building equity. Later, in our Golden Girl years, James and I could each occupy an apartment to Age In Place while the third apartment covered expenses. “Why Not?” I said, “We can grow old under the same roof and yell at clouds together!”
So we bit the bullet, and here we are 13 years later! Here’s How We Came To Transform A Vintage Home In Charlottetown, PEI
When Covid made its arrival in March 2020 – and the necessity of lockdowns and isolating became the new norm – we pro-actively shuttered the weekly VRBO / Airbnb vacation-rental program James operated each summer. Instead we continued renting the suites for 8 weeks or longer as we did during the off-season. In due course James called confirming the Charlottetown Festival had been cancelled (as it subsequently was in 2021) as well as the news that the ‘Atlantic Bubble’ – representing the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland – restricted people from entering the region except for residents, their immediate family members, and those who could prove they were permanently relocating.
I can look back now and see how my anxiety grew as Covid19 exploded into a global pandemic By June 2020 my Coronaphobia burned bright, with lockdown measures and isolation making me irritable and depressed. So when James called saying the Atlantic Bubble had just announced secondary property owners were allowed entry provided they quarantine, and The Garden Suite at The Black House was vacant, he wondered if perhaps I might like to go east? My immediate response was “Yes!” I was so desperate to escape the grip my Coronaphobia had on me that within a few hours I had packed my suitcase and my car, with laptops and electronics, books and art, and a prized case of wine I couldn’t wait to savour around the dinner table with my PEI friends. As “Toronto Under Lockdown’ disappeared in my rearview mirror, and I decompressed admiring the beauty of the Canadian landscape driving east for the first time, I realized how lucky I was to be enroute to a destination that had come into our lives more by chance than by intention.
It takes three days dedicating 6 hours each day to drive from Toronto to Charlottetown (spending the first night in Montreal) or one can complete it in two days driving 9 hours each day (spending the first night in Quebec City). After completing the drive, I rolled my Samsonite suitcase into the Great Room of The Garden Suite. Standing still, breathing deep, and exhaling slowly, I was filled with an enormous sense of peace. This home that we had purchased and substantially transformed using a blueprint of our life’s design was, in fact, serving our purpose and greatest good. When I most needed refuge, serendipity ensured I could live on North America’s most safe, secure, and health protocol regulated islands, and heal my pandemic fears. The gift of buying this property 13 years earlier was priceless.
I know it sounds corny, but The Black House wouldn’t exist without the serendipity of friendship, and a willingness to purchase a house together that was too daunting to tackle alone. Transforming a shared dream efficiently, systematically and cooperatively with passion and patience suggest that what we manifested by chance was completed through intention. The result for us is a place exponentially more enchanting than the sum of its parts.
An Incubator For Domesticity & Design
The Black House has always served as my incubator for domesticity and design – both as a refuge to experiment & play with the multidisciplinary facets of housing and home, as well as a respite to research & write on the shelter industry and economy. Although the house tends to be labelled a passion project, its elevation and operation as a short-term furnished rental property also serves as a barometer to gauge what’s trending or waning when it comes to the wishes, wants and needs of the prosperous informed shelter consumer.
For example, since the pandemic’s arrival, every prospective tenant has inquired about the strength and reliability of our Wi-Fi communications, and asked if the second bedroom can be converted into a space dedicated for Work, Study, Creativity & Reflection. I can confidently say that unrestricted access to the internet and a separate private room devoted to privacy, utility, function and refuge are now considered essential by those seeking furnished short-term rentals. Also, although tenants aren’t inquiring about meal-kit delivery services like Hello Fresh, they’ve become extremely popular with our single and 2-person households, so we know our well-equipped kitchens are being used.
A year ago I wrote, How To Create A Productive ‘Work-From-Home’ Office Space During The Pandemic, when I noticed that most Toronto real estate clients filling out our Online Housing Profile were listing the need for a WFH office before even mentioning the number of bedrooms they required. It demonstrates how top of mind it is for many Buyers today.
Last month, when the couple renting our Attic Atelier for the past year decided to head to Spain, I decided the former second bedroom they had used as a ‘Yoga Chill Out Room’ was ready for a little makeover magic as a dedicated WFH office. And because I sometimes dream of hosting my own HGTV show, I made the easiest IKEA-hack in the world by creating a Trestle Desk. Forgoing the purchase of IKEA’s easily-damaged hollow-cardboardesque desktops, I instead butched it up by refinishing three 150-year old barn planks using a belt-sander, some varnish and a brush, that were then bolted onto two IKEA grey metal trestles.
How’s that for Simple. Honest. Easy?
Check out my Work From Home IKEA Hack post that also explores the rising trend of ‘BLeisure’. What’s BLeisure you ask? It’s when corporate or creative professionals marry the necessity of business travel with a vacation get-away to accommodate the requirements of testing and quarantining for Covid19. Or, another way of looking at it is getting the opportunity to squeeze in some sun n surf at a time when non-essential travel is discouraged. And for many of us, who wouldn’t want a means to escape the repetitive same-place different-day monotony that has accompanied the Work From Home mandates of Covid19?
When you operate a short-term furnished rental property and a tenant exits, the property needs to be prepared and presentable for the next guest. We always use each turn-over to execute a comprehensive deep clean where every closet, cabinet and drawer is emptied, every kitchen and dining utensil is washed, while the towels, napkins & tablecloths, and bedding are laundered and even ironed. Draperies get steamed, cushions & throws are sanitized, and slipcovers are sent to the dry cleaners. Along with replacing every dish that may be chipped, we clean every large and small appliance, and we wash all the windows. Essentials – all those little things that matter when you need them – like extra wooden hangers, a kit of needles & thread, a corkscrew & bottle opener, a lighter & matches, a flashlight & candles, a large & mini oscillating fan and, of course, a first aid kit & fire extinguisher are checked and replenished as required. We also make sure each suite is filled with cleaning supplies, laundry products, toilet paper & paper towels, and even a selection of bathing products. And yes, while completing this takes time and tremendous effort we do it to not only satisfy my OCD, but one of our branding promises is that every suite will be delivered to the standard we wish for ourselves.
Tips & Tricks
Of course, when you’re turning your space inside out you might as well invest in making it present its very best, right? But for who? Am I making it more beautiful for me, or for my incoming guest? As I processed this I realized that if I asked the right questions, and I paid attention to the incoming tenant’s preferences, might I be able to create the right visual and material cues to instantly make them feel like they’re ‘Home’?
A comprehensive refresh fuels and facilitates reinvention. But no matter how clean the space is, successfully creating a ‘sanctuary of domestic bliss’ requires selecting the right scale and proportion of furniture, and then layering it with soft furnishings so the space looks and feels cohesive and comfortable. Even if you’re not a designer, and the scale and proportion of your furniture are not balanced, I believe that incorporating creature comforts aligned to your guest’ preferences and desires will help them feel ‘more at home’ which, at the end of the day, is really important. Although ‘pretty’ has its merits and – in our HGTV culture – is something we visually cultivate as a means to ascribe value and convey status, taking the time to create a personal domestic experience tailored to your guests is a much more generous gift.
If you have a furnished rental, understand that when a prospective tenant makes an inquiry about possibly renting a suite, the questions they’re asking typically reflect their highest priorities or their greatest concerns. These often centre around necessity (“Is the WiFi signal strong” & “Can I control the temperature of the space?”) or personal comfort (“Is it noisy in this area” & “Will there be enough hot water if I’m the last resident to shower in the morning?”, for example). Whatever the question, it serves to tell you how this person wants to live. And when these questions are asked, it gives you the opportunity to respond with a reply, and by asking questions of your own to extrapolate more information.
When the questions of a prospective tenant centre around comfort, it gives me the opportunity to ask how they like their environment to be. When someone asks me about comfort, I immediately want to know whether they tend to feel cold or if they run a little hot? Do they like enjoying a long hot soak in the tub, or do they prefer an invigorating shower? Do they like to sleep in or are they ready to run a marathon when they wake up? No one has ever replied that my questions are too personal. In fact, they usually appreciate it, and then I try to make every effort to serve their needs. I’ll let them know we’ve got fans for air circulation (few people have central air on PEI), I’ll buy them a sleeping mask as we don’t have black-out draperies and, when possible, I’ll pick up some bathing products that are either amazing for bathing or showering.
I’ll also ask the tenant how they’re looking to use the space, so I can ensure it specifically meets the function and utility of how they live. Or, if it’s not possible to accommodate everything they’re seeking I let them know so they can make the decision on whether the apartment is the right fit for them or not. If they tell me they do Yoga to help their body heal from an accident, for example, I’ll ask them where they’d put their yoga mat followed by my suggestion I purchase a larger rubber cushioned mat to lay down first. And while yes, there may be some expenses required by me to accommodate them, spending a few hundred dollars to have a happy incoming tenant is an investment in relationship building. Believe me, these little touches are worth every penny than the scorn of a pissed off tenant protected by rental legislation.
Never hesitate to engage someone about their domestic and design preferences. Questions like whether they drink tea or coffee? Do they prefer a Bodum to a coffee maker? Do they like soft or hard pillows, blankets or duvets? If you can tailor the space and utility of the suite to fit the tenant’s form and function, and then deliver it with the material comforts they prefer in a colour palette they love, they’re going to feel “at home”.
The Attic Atelier Bedroom
Case in point, our Attic Atelier suite already lends itself to cosy, with the bedroom and Work From Home office tucked under eaves on the upper floor. We were fortunate to have the bedroom featured in PEI Living Magazine in 2018, with tips and tricks on how to make a bedroom welcoming and inviting for guests. Here’s that article –> A Black House Bedroom Takes Centre Stage In The Fall Issue Of PEI Living Magazine.
And here’s a photo:
If our homes are our safe havens, then the bedroom is its sanctuary. It’s a corner of calm to retreat, recharge and restore. That’s why refreshing this inner sanctum of a home is always welcomed and yields positive feedback.
When you don’t have the budget for a total makeover the key is to declutter, switch out or rearrange pieces including table lamps, artwork, and soft furnishings like pillows. I always add a fresh orchid or a few flower buds floating in a glass vase for feel-good refresh! I also infuse new energy into the space through the strategic use of colour and accents.
Do you know what else yields dramatic results? New bedding, which is exactly what I just did with the help of my friend April Clow from Sparkle and Shine here in Charlottetown.
I gotta say mix-and-match bedding is my new obsession. To get it right, April encourages you to consider the bed your canvas and the bedding your art supplies. By layering textures, mixing patterns with solids, and crafting a complementary or contrasting colour palette it can result in a dramatic effect. And it’s a very economical way to transform a ho hum bedroom into an indulgent sleeping sanctuary that most everyone will find appealing.
April reminded me that everyone has their sleeping preferences.
It prompted me to install a heated mattress pad with two controls so they can be set to different temperatures. And I now place both a duvet and a blanket on my beds so I’ve got both preferences covered, as well as a mix of soft feather and hard form pillows, as well as a couple of large ones for those who like to read or use their laptop in bed.
When it comes to choosing new bedding, April suggests that you acquire your collection of bedding over time in order to achieve the best results. With the shelter industry constantly creating new household products, contents and furnishings that reflect the ever-changing tastes and preferences of consumers, there’s a constant stream of new options being sold. In fact, given we’re fans of Canadian design and designers, we thought it would be a neat challenge to create bedscapes that were as Canadiana as possible. So we hit the road and took a look at the products for sale at Homesense that carries Canadian brands like Restore, Colin + Justin and Pavilion Pure, which are featured on the bed shown. And although this bed doesn’t showcase her, we’re big fans of the florals designed by Canadian Samantha Pynn that we selected for another bedroom.
As April says “It’s all about striking a balance between cozy & contemporary, crisp & comfortable”.
Talk about sweet dreams!! You can see more of April’s work @pillowtalk_pei!
Thanks for reading!
Did you enjoy this post?
If you did, here are some additional blogs related to design and real estate on Canada’s East Coast:
Incidentally, if you’re a fan of Black Houses as much as I am, here’s two of my posts on my University Student Mentorship site called Houseporn.ca which you might like:
With decades of knowledge and experience in real estate- and a passion for design and décor- I provide my clients with unique perspective and opportunity. We are here to help!
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-The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000
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*Love Canadian Housing? Check out Steve’s University Student Mentorship site called Houseporn.ca which focuses on architecture, landscape, design, products and real estate in Canada.