Friday, February 25, 2011

Starting from Scratch

I've been very busy lately.  Aside from the hactic schedule at work, I'm also working on a bedroom makeover.  Before I know it, my cousin has just bought a house! Well a house on paper that is, as the house is yet to be built. 

Buying off paper has become quite a phenomenon, especially with the condo bloom in Toronto, and similar trend has also picked up in Richmond Hill and Markam.  The benefit of buying pre-construction is of course the potential increase in prices by the time the house is built.  But what most people don't realize after they signed on the dotted line is (1) how quickly you will have to pick all the finishes and (2) how big or small the space really is once it's built.

Here is the floor plan for my cousin's new home, ready in July 2011:

I thought these new houses always come with weird layouts and awkward corners.  To my surprise, this one is actually quite nice.  Since the builder wanted all details and finishes sealed on paper in 5 days, I received an S.O.S. email, and phone call, at Day 3.

We arrived bright and early at the builder's centre and of course then I started pulling all the materials that appeal to me, in-keeping with my cousin's wish list:

a.  limit upgrades to $10,000
b.  a sexy master ensuite
c.  an overall light and airy feel of the house.

Here is our story board for the house and here are few tips I have for you:

1.  Splurge on Flooring:

If you don't like the basic stain finishes the builder provides (especially on the stairs), don't compromise on matching that stain you don't like to the rest of the flooring.  The upgrade to get the stain we wanted including the stairs and the entire first floor was $2,500.  Yes it's not cheap but if you don't do it now and do it right, you will regret it down the road and flooring is the most troublesome element to change once you've moved in.

Also pay attention to tile quality and installation.  Quality of tiles is important, particularly in the kitchen, as you don't want to hold your breath everytime you drop a glass!  We managed to pick a nice quality tile (not an upgrade) and installed in brick pattern for $120 for the entire first floor.  I would of course like to mix in mosaics with the 12" x 24"s, but the builder just won't do it... at least not without charging a small fortune.  Here is our picks for the kitchen and flooring for the main floor:

2. Cabinetry

One of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing cabinetry is by focusing only on colors;  when  in fact, the focus should be on color and door profile.  In this case, my cousin wanted white and he showed me a white door he picked during his first visit to the centre.  Man, that door was hmm... . bad!  Other than it being white (more like a hospital white than a warm white), it's like vinyl  wrapped around particle boards! 

So I steered him to a different direction: pick the good quality door with classic profile.  We found this great shaker style door with solid wood in a honey stain.  No upgrade (from builder) requires and it's certainly much more pleasing to my eyes ... that is after a trip to the sprayer.  For about $25 a door, you can let your creativity runs wild and have your doors sprayed in whatever color you want.  Small price to pay for big impact and a total custom look. 

Don't believe me, I have proof.  Here is the before and after of my own kitchen doors:

3.  Spa Retreat:

We all want a free standing tub and a nice big glass shower.  Unfortunitely I just don't have the room for such luxury in my little condo.  It looked like my cousin didn't have the room for a nice sized shower either.  Base on the builder's plan, the shower will be a single person acrylic shower.  Upon a closer look at the plan, we discovered a black box behind the shower.  It turned out that is a space we can capture for $1,000!

So out the builder's plan and in with our dream bath.  This bath will feature a free standing tub, a big roomy glass shower with a soap niche.  Let me tell you, not having a soap niche is THE regret I have for my condo.  I've learned my lesson and hopefully no one will ever have to suffer living with soaps and shampoos on the rim of the tub again!

Here are the materials we picked for the ensuite:

My cousin wanted a sexy bathroom.  In particular, he wanted it dark ... image the killer washroom in a club.  Keeping in mind of the female member of the household, we picked a classic black and white scheme.  Both the black and white tiles have unique textures that add to the wow factors:

Again, don't lose sight on details.  Since it's again very expensive for builder to do a custom look, we picked white tiles and have them installed in brick pattern for a timeless look in the main bath.  Don't and I do mean it, ever just install it in the basic grid pattern.. . the "well-priced" white tiles will just look .. well "well-priced".

Overall, it's very important to keep in mind on how you get the biggest bang for your bucks at the builder's centre.  When working on a budget, make sure the items that are most difficult, if not impossible, to fix are done right.  For example, you can always put the pot lights in after, and probably for less since the builder wanted $250 per pot.

I will keep you all posted on room layout, furniture sourcing, and other fun projects as we get closer to the closing day.


  1. Great post! If you have time tomorrow, you should swing by Sarah's House 4 and check out what she did to a builder's basic home. I thought that the whole house was fantastic. Wish photos were allowed but no such luck. The fabrics and pillows alone would make your heart sing!

  2. Ooooh, fun!! When I bought my condo, I was given a choice between Package A (Beige/Cream scheme) and Package B (Black/Grey/White scheme). Luckily I really liked the first package, but I didn't have the opportunity to express any of my own ideas. Since moving in I've upgraded only the kitchen backsplash ( Your cousin is lucky to have you help out with the decision making. It looks like it would be a lot of fun to put it all together!!

  3. Thanks Ladies! I found this whole experience to be quite intimidating if you're not really sure what you like or how to pull the look together. In this case, my cousin was totally lost. The "designer" at the centre was sort of "standoff-ish" and wasn't really helpful. I guess she wasn't really interested in making it looks nice, she just tried to get the order done.

    So if you can't really visualize how things will look or be able to specify how you want things finish, you may just find out it's not what you are expecting when the house is finally built.

    Though I do think the designer was a little more engaging later on as we were asking more "designer-like" questions and she probably either (1) realized she couldn't just do whatever anymore or (2) she was finally enjoying this appointment.

    I was glad that my cousin asked me to help. I never had this experience before since I got a 30 year old condo by waterfront. It's an eye opener of what the builder expect from buyer in such short time and if possible, bring someone who can help you to navigate.