Tag Archives: renovations

A Tree Grows in My Bedroom

 “Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?” – Walt Whitman

A bitter, alarming storm blew up the river and through the village a few weeks ago. Swaths of trees were felled in an instant, looking like a gaggle of giants had stomped through.  The rain blew horizontally, and with such force, that a small waterfall appeared on the inside of one of my old, unflashed windows.  The phone line dropped and the power went off as lightning and thunder pounded the sky. Three of my kids were on a bus somewhere between school and home.  My eldest and I sat quietly on the main floor and waited and hoped.

A few minutes later the sky returned to blue, the little ones arrived safely, and we walked the neighbourhood to survey the damage.  Fortunately, our enormous birches, maples and evergreens fared well.  Some neighbouring trees, not so much.

This weekend I picked through tree carcasses, looking for an ideal piece to integrate into the master bedroom. I found a fine piece of maple that had a sexy and distinctly feminine curve and form.   I cut the branch to rough size then fiddled with placement, searching for the appropriate alignment.  I toenailed it into place, added one ‘peg’, and tinkered with introducing a third branch to create a tripod for a hand-made birds nest.  I had my heart set on a birch tree (my second favourite species), but I am liking the smooth, greyish bark of the maple.  It will sit ‘as is’ until the next ah-ha! idea reveals itself.  It will be a hanger of sorts, but I’m undecided whether its nature will be utilitarian, aesthetic or a combination of the two.  In my house there is really no such thing as ‘finished,’ only more of what matches my vision.  And I love not knowing exactly what will come next.

Last week I installed a partial wall in the bedroom to break up the awkward, open space and create a modest walk-in closet.  I strapped out the walls and installed cedar t&g that I had sitting around for that purpose.  In the Fall I will build the custom closet spaces.

My drywalling skills have jumped measurably, although I am still slow.  The new wall is immaculate and I am very pleased with my repair of drywall over a large and tricky patch of existing lathe and plaster.  As always I am contemplating what I could have done better.  As always, there are several things on that list.

I’ve wanted to get rid of the furniture in the room and build custom pieces that better fit the needs of the space itself.  The built-in headboard/storage runs the length of the main wall.  I framed it up, correcting for the sloped floor and created purpose-built box inserts from leftover pieces of 2GS plywood.  I used the reclaimed lathe from the Quiet Room walls to face the piece.  I did a temporary install of cedar deck boards on top. What I’m leaning towards, though, is a concrete topper embedded with fossils and small stones we’ve collected on family vacations.  The headboard is a collection of positive and negative spaces and I am creating some interesting pieces to frame and hang on the lathe where the boxes (purposely) don’t exist.

Ceiling work, trim, more closet and fine work yet to come.  If I waited for magazine-perfect completeness, though, I don’t think I’d ever be writing or posting about my building/carpentry work.  But I have the lovely luxury of time and lateral thinking when the house is my own.

I am pleased with the results so far, which is saying a lot.  I anticipate, and embrace, those large, melodious and creative thoughts my new tree is apt to bring.

Picture Perfect

Patricia McCarney and I are related and unrelated at the same time.

Three summers ago she knocked on my front door. “I’m Patricia McCarney,” she said. “This house was in my family for more than fifty years.”

“I know,” I replied, inviting her in. “I’ve been expecting you.”

She told me that she woke that morning with an intense desire to visit the house. My neighbour, Doris, gave me the heads up that an older woman had stopped by a couple of times over the past years, not finding us at home. I worried that perhaps she had passed on before we had a chance to chat, but here she was on my/her porch and was delighted to be invited in. We took tea on the upper balcony where she had slept with her sister, Curly, in screened in comfort, on hot summer nights.

Patricia was born in Smiths Falls Hospital and grew up in my house until she was sent away to boarding school in Ottawa, returning for the holidays. There was no transportation available for she and her siblings to the high school in Kemptville, just fifteen kilometres away. After school, she took her vows and became a nun. Although she wasn’t cloistered she was forbidden to return home to visit her family, which, she noted, explained her lack of absence in later photos. Her grandfather owned the woollen mill across the street, the village’s largest employer, until it burned down under mysterious circumstances in 1951. Her father was a rep for two tea companies and he ran his business and kept his supplies in the “tea house”, in what is now Doris and John’s house across the street. The family sold “Rustic Manor” in 1976.

Last month she dropped by, unexpectedly, with her charming friend, Michael, for another look around and more delightful chat. This time we made plans for her to come back to the house with her nephew, John, along with the family photo albums.

Last week, on a gorgeous summer’s day, we toured the house again, although Patricia had noticeably slowed down. She rested in the garden, with my daughter for company, while John and I negotiated the steep basement stairs, discussed the stone cistern, and talked about the subtle changes to the house over the years.

We gathered at the table with the collection of photos of “Rustic Manor”. I recorded our conversation as we poured over each image and Patricia and John had a chance to reminisce. I numbered each one, made notes, and scanned them to create my own record. Because of my renovation work and associated building forensics, I was able to enlighten them on a few details of which they were unfamiliar.

They apologized several times for distracting me from other work, which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Their time, insights and photos are a precious and fleeting gift and I look forward to seeing them again, and learning more, before long. We may not share bloodlines but we certainly share history.


Here are a few of the photos, from different eras, that they shared.