It takes a whole lot of ballpeens to tackle a home renovation largely on your own—and even more to open your doors to the world during the process. But if anyone can do it, it's Kyle Lin. The self-taught DIYer has a lot to be proud of in his impressive Roncesvalles Victorian reno in Toronto's west end, a labour of love he's painstakingly documented in his blog from the moment he and his wife, Heather, bought the house back in 2007.
We sat down with the handy family man to see what we could learn from his reno success story.
By Beth Maher
Before tackling your Roncy Vic, what was the biggest reno project you'd done to date?
Lin: I used to share an older home with my brother; it had a worn-out '50s kitchen and broken appliances. We originally hired a professional to take on the renovation, but he was never around, having left our home to hired hands, who didn't have much renovation experience. We eventually had to fire them and complete the kitchen on our own. While it wasn't a great experience, I learned a lot and picked up many of the skills I have today.
What lessons did this reno teach you that you wish you'd known before?
Lin: 1) You can never plan enough, especially when you're doing some of the work yourself and hiring professionals for the rest. Scheduling, sourcing, planning and coordination are crucial to a smooth project. Before you begin, it's important that everyone be on the same page as far as what's going to happen and how it's going to end up. 2) The last 10% of any project is always the toughest. Once a space becomes usable, you're usually so tired of the project and ready to move on to the next one that it's easy to procrastinate over those final details. It took me some time to realize that seeing the finished room is the greatest reward.
Let's talk money: Do you have any tips for setting a reno budget?
Lin: Many people (myself included) initially set their budget based on finishes and underestimate the cost of all those things you don't see. It takes some practice to develop a sense of how much money you'll also need to set aside for hidden, less glamorous expenses, such as waste disposal, building materials (e.g. lumber, screws, drywall, joint compound) and tradespeople. Doing some of the work yourself will help you save money, but it is important to know what you can realistically tackle on your own without throwing your schedule out the window. There are some jobs that require licensed professionals (e.g. electrical, natural gas, plumbing, structural work) and others where it just makes more sense to hire a pro because they can do the work faster, better and cleaner than you can. With any home-reno project, doing as much research as you can up front will help you come up with a more accurate and realistic number.
Living through a reno is tough on anyone, especially a young family. How did you keep the dust off your relationship, so to speak?
Lin: I am very lucky: Not only is Heather really understanding when things don't go perfectly, but she's also incredibly helpful. She was even painting baseboards while she was pregnant with our daughter, Sidney! There is, however, one piece of advice I'd offer couples living through renovations, and that is to finish what you start.
What DIY project are you most proud of?
Lin: Our principal bathroom [at right] really pushed both my design and DIY skills. From an aesthetic point of view, laying out the panelling was challenging. I wanted to ensure that the vanity and sconces were perfectly centred on the wall and that all the other panels around the room were similarly proportioned. Even more challenging was then executing on that design, which really pushed the precision of my carpentry skills.
How has your vision for your home changed since you began the renovations?
Lin: Our Roncesvalles renovations have spanned four years—enough time for our tastes to change as well as the way we use the space, especially since the arrival of our daughter in 2010. Before Heather and I moved in together, I was definitely more traditional. My old home was furnished with Sheraton-style antiques—think figured mahogany with satin-wood cross-banding—while she was more mid-century modern. Over time, we've been able to find a lot of middle ground, and our house is now a mix of our different and ever changing styles. And with Sidney around, durability and liveability play much bigger roles in any design decisions than they used to.
Where is your favourite place to spend time in your home?
Lin: I love our open-concept living/dining room [at top]—especially midday when the sun is coming in through the stained glass. The flow really works with the way we live and entertain. We can see what Sidney's doing from anywhere in the room, and the openness gives her a lot of freedom to run around.
Where do you find your design inspiration?
Lin: I think when you love design, you just become a sponge for it. Design that resonates with you can come from anywhere in your daily surroundings as well as more obvious sources like the internet, magazines and TV. More and more though, I find inspiration in other blogs because I like seeing that connection between the design of a space and the owner. To me, a beautiful room becomes more real when I know something about who is living in it.
Who do you turn to for reno/construction advice?
Lin: I like HomeStars for finding professional tradespeople. While you have to take the reviews with a grain of salt and do your due diligence, it's a good starting point. Other design and reno bloggers are also really good resources. Chances are, if a blogger recommends someone, then they've had a good experience with them. Also, don't be afraid to reach out to bloggers directly.