Danielle Bryk is a licensed contractor and one of the experts on HGTV Canada’s Home To Win series. Her other series have included The Bryk Cottage on Cottage Life, and A Bryk At A Time on HGTV Canada. Bryk Cottage is now airing on HGTV as Generation Renovation: Lake House on Mondays at 9 p.m.
The year began with us popping champagne and taking possession of a new “fixer-upper” and moving into a temporary condo for the duration of the renovation. Everything was original in this house — all the electrical, the plumbing, the plaster, the trim. This is a complete, back-to-the-bricks restoration. By the end of February, our first set of permits was issued. By March 13, the demolition was complete. By March 16, the renovation was shut down.
Even though the lockdown was not official, fears about the COVID-19 virus were rampant. We made our two older children move back home to hunker down together in the temporary condo for the duration of the quarantine. We told the crews working on the house not to come in, and they were more than happy not to. For about three weeks the house sat empty.
Of course, we had concerns. Would things get up and running again? How much more money would we have to put into rent because the house wouldn’t be finished? Would we ever work again? We are all self-employed in our household, and you can blow through your savings pretty quickly when you’re paying for a mortgage, rent, and a massive renovation, with absolutely no income coming in. But there were and still are bigger issues at stake that put everything into perspective. It became about family and friends and health.
Thinking about the renovation caused stress, so I put it out of my mind entirely, distracting myself with baking cakes and binge-watching Netflix. Eventually, I steeled myself and started to visit the construction site. With the house gutted, I was able to meticulously work out logistics. I was able to eliminate future bulkheads by tweaking the layouts of the bathrooms slightly so the toilet drains would line up with the joist spaces. Things that I had rushed for the sake of getting the permit in, I was able to re-evaluate and change if necessary. The design scheme took a total 180. It went from dark and moody to light and cozy. I needed the light, the comfort.
When we got word that construction was allowed to continue, we had to determine each individual trade’s comfort level. The crew doing the basement underpin was happy to get started, and we decided to proceed with only one crew at a time to minimize the number of people in the house. Now, the rest of the renovation has slowly started chugging along. We are currently about three months behind schedule, and the second set of permits that addresses the third-floor development has not even been accepted by the city building department. The backlog of building applications is so severe that our application is unlikely to be seen until October — about six months later than we anticipated.
At the best of times, a renovation will test your patience, strain your bank account, your sanity and often your marriage. Renovating during the pandemic has become a crash course in Zen surrender. We had to completely relinquish control. The perspective that things could be so much worse has allowed us to let go of the typical renovation stresses. Health trumps money ultimately. An interesting side effect is that I’ve been able to truly enjoy the entire, muddy, dusty process from the choice of finishes to connecting with the amazing trades that are helping me create my home, and every minor bit of progress is cause for great celebration.