Monday, September 26, 2011

The Dissolving Floor, Neighbourhood Swap, and a Sofa

Should I stay or should I go?

So, our floor is melting. Some of you may have seen that on facebook, but for those who didn’t, here’s the shot:

Turns out, that water damage under the tiles I told the landlord about two years ago? Yeah, I wasn’t crazy. It was there, it was ongoing, and it seems to have eaten the floor. For the next week, we will have to avoid falling into that giant hole, made by the exploratory digging of my landlord. Then, for a week after that, we will be immersed in reconstruction—if our landlord can find a contractor who is available that soon. Turns out that there are so many people renovating their homes in Ottawa right now, we’ve got ridiculously long waitlists for services. Just an idea, but maybe if the landlord had believed me two years ago, we could have had this dealt with—perhaps before the water managed to consume three levels of subfloor, leaving us staring down at the soggy joists.

Sigh. Well anyway, we’re in major debate now: do we stay or do we move? On the plus side, once this floor is fixed, we’ll know it’s kosher; and that is more than most tenants can be certain of. On the other hand, there are mold problems that keep sprouting up in the building, the heaters blitz out a couple times a winter, and most frustrating of all, three noisy tenants now have moved in…and there’s only six apartments. And yes, neighbours often move along, but two of these tenants still have over a year on their lease.

Westboro vs. Wellington

Condos under construction. photo:
The reality is, too, that we’re feeling a bit like we’ve grown apart from our neighbourhood. Westboro is one of the most sought-after areas to live in, and no wonder: it’s pretty, there’s great local services like the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (open to all), and Dovercourt Recreation Centre. And for years, the portion of Richmond Road that runs from Starbucks to Loblaws has been a little main street of cool shops. This neighbourhood, that I knew so well from my years at the local public school, always felt a bit like cottage country. Something about the houses told you that they’d be decorated inside with celestial-themed batiks, wooden cat statues, and windchimes…and they were. But sometime in the last five-ten years, things started to change in subtle ways. The little independent shops along the strip went out of business as rent prices started to soar. Rising in their places are, indeed, some indie stores, but the really expensive kind where $300.00 for a sundress is average…and the chains, like American Apparel, are working their way in, too. People who work in the stores can’t afford to live in the neighbourhood, and that problem gets worse as condos are built up and down the strip, ironically taking up the space where shops could be opened (which is the whole reason to live here in the first place). Fewer and fewer family-operated establishments survive.
A traditional Westboro home. photo:

As the local economy shifts—and I include condos as part of the economy because it’s big industry here—the residents change, too. The loveable war-era ‘shotgun homes’ that this area is known for are being torn down for modern, angular new constructions. Rent for a two bedroom apartment jumped from $1000 to $1500 in a year. I know, because I watch for these things, every time the heat goes off in January or the neighbours keep me up ‘til 3am with their screeching. Worst part is, these apartments are usually not worth the price, with a new term—‘Westboro Ghetto’—springing up amongst those who try to rent here: the rent is steep for the neighbourhood value, but the landlords aren’t taking care of the properties, so we end up spending the value of a mortgage on places that, say, flood every April. Even the idea that Westboro is a safe neighbourhood is starting to be doubtful; this past year at Westfest, the local street festival, rowdy local teenagers had to be pepper sprayed because they refused to peacefully let Starbucks close up its patio at 11:00. I had friends working there who were scared witless. Understand me well: I`ve loved Westboro for most of my life, and I miss what it used to be; and I do what I can to support the cool indie shops that do managed to carve a niche out here (holla to Lilac, Quicha Market, Moe's, etc etc). I worry that the trend of over-development will continue, and those remaining unique businesses will disappear like so many others...

Brian at Taste of Wellington West

Over the past couple years, though, I’ve noticed a migration occurring: a huge number of the local Mom n’ Pop shops that were closing down would have signs in the windows saying, “Moving to ____ Wellington.” Wellington is actually the same street as Richmond Rd, except that the name changes as you move into the next borough over: Wellington Village (also known as ‘Hintonburg’). Wellington Village used to be associated heavily with Mechanicsville, a beaten-down old neighbourhood that it does, indeed, rub up against. Less than a decade ago, I lived in Mechanicsville, in my very first solo apartment; the neighbourhood was sort of the ‘white ghetto’ of the city, with drug busts every week, and where it was always wise to have someone on the phone with you while you walked home from the bus stop. My personal opinion is that Mechanicsville hasn’t changed much yet…but Wellington Village has separated herself from that geographic sibling, and has evolved on her own to become a fantastic little area, recognized for her own character and merits.

The Hintonburger, mmmmmmm.
Pups at the new Sit n' Stay Dog Cafe, opening soon.
The shops are almost entirely independent, for one. The main strip is also about four times as long as Westboro’s, allowing for less steep competition for space (which, I’d hazard, helps keep the rent down a bit for the shopkeeps). The houses are still funky little war homes for the most part, though there are telltale signs of the same gentrification sneaking in around the edges…but I’m hopeful that Wellington will learn from the mistakes of Westboro and slow that growth ‘til it can be integrated in a respectful fashion. There are theatre companies and tons of local artists, open mic nights at the (indie) book store Collected Works, and enough bakeries to make me into a fat, happy woman. I can actually afford to shop in this neighbourhood…not everywhere, but certainly more than I can a mile up the street. I don’t know if you’ll understand what I mean when I say this, but: the women walking around almost all have short pixie-cut hair, many wear boots with little non-brand-name dresses, and there are very few pairs of Lululemon yoga pants being worn as street clothes. I guess what I’m saying is, I fit in here.

We attended a sort of street sale-slash-festival called Taste of Wellington West about a week ago, and that’s when Brian and I realized we might be living in the wrong borough. Wandering around, eating incredible food samples from the local restaurants and seeing the cool little shops that line the district, we felt at home right away. This seems like a neighbourhood where we could live and shop; where we can get bread and cheese and go home for a special meal; where we can listen to music and meet other cool people who also have offbeat lives. So for those of you with connections to Wellington West, we are looking for an apartment in your neighbourhood. We’ll be good neighbours, we promise. Let us know if you know of a place!

Goal 1: building the nest—the sofa switch-up

So, yes: we are contemplating moving.

The bleak irony of the timing isn’t lost on us. Of course we would come to this crossroads just as we begin our Nest project, with a goal to fix up our apartment into a kick-ass living space. Just as we photographed our entire place, preparing the ‘before’ shots to compare with the eventual ‘after’ shots, this problem springs up. It would be pointless, then, to document the specifics of our apartment if we aren’t staying; rather, until we get this settled, we’ll just focus on the individual details we are working on: mostly furniture rejuvenation, colour and theme choices, etc. These things are portable and will be relevant if we end up in a new place, too, regardless of layout, size, or location. Like our couch, the first step in our reclamation of our home after the wedding.

Behold our old couch. This couch, with its super sexy dusty rose velvet, came from Brian’s apartment when he moved in with me. I had helped him start gathering Victorian-esque furniture for his living room with a plan to make the place really steampunk. (If you want to better understand the steampunk aesthetic, google it or click here.) However, much as we attempted to continue with that theme when Brian moved in, we keep getting distracted and ending up with more eclectic items, or simply more Victoriana. Thus, our new theme for the living room is ‘Rock n’ Roll Tea Party’. This allows for a lot of flexibility in how we decorate, but is still pretty restrictive in a positive sense. I won’t, for example, hang a macramé owl in there.

So the couch was pretty good, and would have worked despite its hideous colour…but we hated it. It was too worn out and needed to be re-stuffed. Also, Mr Darcy (our pug) had had an accident on it during the wild last months of wedding planning, and while I cleaned it and no one else seems to be able to smell anything, like Lady MacBeth I felt haunted by the spot. I swear it still smelled and I couldn’t stand having people sit on it; I would writhe in despair when guests went near it. It was time for it to go.

Sticking to our Project: Priceless principles (COMMUNITY – DIY – ECO-ECONOMY), we decided to look for a used couch, saving yet another piece of furniture from the landfill while watching our budget. We are big fans of, not just because I work with them now, but because they’ve got a strong focus on being hyper-local and are Canadian (versus Kijiji, which is owned by eBay and is American). We searched and searched, as anyone who has ever looked for a couch is familiar with. Finally, we narrowed it down to about five, sent emails with offers to the owners, and waited. To our utter surpise, a woman selling a spiffy old couch for $500.00 came down to our bargain-basement offer of $100.00. Amazing. We borrowed a friend’s van and procured the lovely thing immediately.

You know what’s really not fun? Moving an antique sofa up three flights of antique stairs. You know what’s even less fun? Moving an antique sofa out before bringing another antique sofa in. About thirty minutes of bruised thumbs, torn nails, and angry backs later, the pink velvet monster was on the street corner, with a sign reading “FREE: No bugs, but needs a cleaning.” Not very classy, I admit, but it was gone before we woke up the next day. In its place resides our new sofa…ironically, still striped with a dusty rose colour, but inifinitely superior in look and styling. And anyway, we have some clever ideas on integrating pinks into the room…stay tuned.

Eufemia Bella pillow...pretty!
We plan to sew a bunch of throw cushions, but to start us off we splurged on a throw pillow by local artisan Eufemia Bella. While pricey for a single pillow at 35.00, we gave in as it still fit the DIY principle of Project: Priceless, and it was a post-wedding gift to ourselves…I’ve wanted one of her pillows for about a year now! It highlights how the eventual apple green and pink can work together in the room, and definitely has that Telecaster-meets-crumpet look we’re going for. 

The next entry we do about the 'Build A Nest' goal, I think we'll chat about our very, very cool coffee table upcycle. But the couch was an important detail to share, because it's such a focal point in the living room. Now that we have the sofa figured out, the rest will come together either because, or in spite, of it. 
And what is the difference between a couch and a sofa?


  1. just found your blog via 20YS. Love how it resonates with me. Makes me feel all warm and tingly that someone feels the same about my beloved boroughs. Someone needs to remind me why I moved to Barrhaven again?!?! *sigh* i miss being able to walk everywhere, supporting the locals, and taking in the "quaint" scenery!

    1. It really is great down here! Hintonburg is turning out to be really eclectic. Barrhaven is quieter, though...I can see that one day appealing to me! -Jordan

  2. Hey Jordan!

    I went to see you and your husband speak at Algonquin College today.
    I was the short, blonde girl asking about the negative comments regarding your wedding project (in case you remember ha ha)

    Just wanted to say that I love what you two are doing and you are an inspiration to people who see money as a barrier.

    Lack of funds should never stop us from living our lives to the fullest, and its nice to see you two inspiring people to rethink what is and what isn't possible.

    Take care and good luck!

  3. Hi Lisa-Marie,

    Thanks for the comment! We bloggers LOVE comments. We're so glad you enjoyed the speak at Algonquin today! It was a pleasure to be up there talking to you all. We agree with your sentiments. Life shouldn't be all about a price tag, and often it's not--it's just more convenient to spend the big bucks. But living life to the fullest, as you put it, can be done at almost any income bracket.

    Thanks for reading! Keep in touch!