October 31, 2014

So This is What Square One Looks Like

My brief absence, following the post about our crazy-expensive furnace upgrade, probably seems a little funny.  Do you picture me keeled over on the floor, maybe in the fetal position and clutching my empty wallet, too shell-shocked to blog?  Well, you're not wrong.  It wasn't the furnace, though, that did me in - my computer died.  I was actually trying to view Kristin's (The Hunted Interior) house tour when my computer kicked me off and decided that I should get back to work instead.  When I resisted, it did a hard shut down and a screen I'd never seen popped up.  When it rebooted, things seemed fine until I realized I couldn't save any word documents or view any pictures because the files were corrupted or gone.  Luckily, I have an in with the best computer repair shop in town, but the prognosis is not good.  When I was working on my dissertation I did a back up to an external drive every couple of weeks but I think the last time everything was backed up might have been...January??  I have tutorials and photos for so many blog posts that might be gone, never mind hundreds of adorable photos of Szuka (and other important stuff, is there other important stuff?).  I'm hoping for good news ("we retrieved half the files and, coincidentally, they're the ones you didn't back up - yay!), although my luck's not that good ("we retrieved half the files but they're from a hundred years ago and ones you backed up anyway - yay!).

Worse than the possibility of losing so much work is coughing up cash for a new laptop, only days after the cheque was cashed on our spendy new heating system.  Well, this is what I get for refusing to upgrade my laptop for seven years (it got me through a Master's and a PhD - it seemed cruel to jettison it).  I think I was officially the last person to run Windows Vista...  Now the choice has been made for me: impromptu upgrade!  I hope to be back to blogging regularly next week, as I've confiscated Hubby's laptop, but some of my tutorials might be an exercise in visualizing the steps yourself.  While I ponder another big purchase, I wanted to chat about a purchase that didn't happen.

Do you remember me mooning over the Whitney dresser from Room & Board?  I had spent ages looking at local furniture stores and then hunting online before finding what I thought would be the perfect fit.  I loved the metal legs of the Whitney because I thought they complemented our welded headboard nicely.

At first I pined for the grey stain, but recently I had been really into the walnut.  All of the Room & Board dressers seemed like excellent quality (solid wood, crafted in the States), and something we could invest in and enjoy for a good long time.  I had wanted a low dresser and a highboy, which is the combination my Mom has, to maximize the space but still afford some room for my vintage posters and my little vignette:

I know it seems funny to buy furniture selected for its display prowess, but in the lakehouse we have few places to display treasured items and a serious shortage of wall space for art.  Happily, the measurements of the two Whitney dresser were perfect and the low dresser and taller cabinet fit like they were made for our bedroom.  Hubby and I made a trip to Minneapolis in August to hit up Costco, Ikea, Lowe's (for the lovely furniture grommets) and order the Room & Board dressers - although a part of me hoped there would be floor models we could scoop up for a good deal, so I was prepared with packing blankets and ratchet straps, just in case.  Save for the literal truckload of soy and canned tomatoes from Costco, we came home empty handed.  We didn't love the look of the Whitney in real life - the rounded edges are much more pronounced and seemed a little off to us.  Unfortunately, none of the Room & Board dressers we had short-listed had the feel of a $2000 dresser.  The drawer slides were a bit flimsy (the drawers actually rocked side to side), the finishes didn't seem super durable, and, ultimately, we just didn't love them.  I mean absolutely no offense to Room & Board, or anyone who has Room & Board furniture - it's just that $4000 is A LOT of money for us to spend on a pair of dressers and they just weren't what we were expecting.  I had spotted a dresser in a local shop, made in Canada, that was solid wood and retailing for a little less than the Whitney.  It was excellent quality, with really sturdy but buttery smooth drawer slides and just really solid construction.  It felt durable in a way that the Whitney didn't.  While I didn't love the lines of the Canadian dresser (it had a bit of a hotel feel), it became my benchmark for quality.  As we left the Room & Board store, Hubby muttered "so this is what square one feels like".

Furnishing a home in a small city is more challenging that I anticipated, having previously lived in Kingston and Ottawa, cities which not only boasted more stores but were close to other cities for even more shopping options.  We were never anything but overwhelmed by our options but here, back in Thunder Bay, I feel like our choices are severely limited.  Two furniture stores that have a more mid-century/modern selection are closing in November, so pickins will get even slimmer.

Still looking to find a replacement for our maple dresser, which is actually on loan from my Mom, I started looking at Ikea.  I'm contemplating a wall of storage - like maybe a Pax wardrobe? - which would actually be super awesome.  The lakehouse is so much smaller than the townhouse and without a proper basement, storage has been a bit of a drag.  With a giant Ikea unit I could move the linens from the linen closet into the bedroom, and turn the linen closet into a pantry which thrills me more than I'd like to admit (teenage-me would be very disappointed with how uncool my priorities have become). 

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I love this idea but have two reservations: most importantly, I'd have no home for my beloved vintage posters, which I love seeing first thing in the morning.  I've just really grown to love them over a dresser.  I could do something with varying heights, like this combination, but I haven't looked much into what will fit.  Perhaps more troublesome, I wonder if adding an Ikea wardrobe would just be too much Ikea furniture.  The older I get, shouldn't I buy fewer Ikea pieces and maybe buy better quality?  Some kind of heirloom-quality piece to pass on to my niece and nephew, or something like that?  Since we already have an Expedit, plus the Ikea floating credenza and an Ikea wall unit (the latter will be phased out at some point, but the other two are here to stay, for the immediate future at least), would adding a wardrobe just be too much Ikea for a couple in their (early!!) 30s?  Granted, there are some pretty awesome Ikea wardrobe hacks out there, so a wardrobe has the potential to look really awesome.  Plus, I don't give a hoot about what "adults" should do because I'm not one to be concerned with the peanut gallery and their socially constructed norms.  But still...I have this weird thing about Ikea.

Am I being totally ridiculous?  Thoughts on my dresser dilemma?

October 24, 2014

How to Spend $6000+ in One Day

When Hubs and I first viewed the lakehouse, we were a little concerned about the electric forced air.  "Isn't that going to be pricey?" we murmured, mesmerized by the view and barely able to think straight.  Our realtor asked the homeowner for past electric bills which, despite being "pretty low," never materialized.  We weren't really that concerned, because we decided that if it proved too pricey, we were willing to convert to propane heat.  Our realtor, home inspector, and family friends who had made the switch to propane heat all guessed around $2000.  Two thousand?  Crikey.  But it seemed manageable and so the sale moved forward.

By the time we moved into the lakehouse, it was the belly of winter and so we hunkered down and tried to keep warm.  $800 monthly electric bills chilled us to the bone more than the blizzards - we almost broke $900.  The worst part was that it wasn't even that warm, despite those crazy heating costs.  Some days we could only get the house up to sixteen degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit).  We supplemented a little with our wood burning fireplace but all of our wood was buried...somewhere on the property (we couldn't remember where because when we finally moved in everything was blanketed in huge snow drifts)...and so we rationed the wood supply.  For some reason, just ordering more wood didn't cross our minds.  I guess our brains were numbed from the cold.  I took to wearing boots indoors and forced Szuka to cuddle me.

Gratuitous winter photo, shared on Instagram only 6 months ago!!
By spring, we had decided definitively that our furnace needed to go, not only to save on our heating bills, but also to actually heat the house!  We started calling around for estimates and, to our chagrin, were quoted $5000-7000!!  Yep.  Many more thousands than we thought - and had saved up for.  Luckily, the older gentleman who had installed Hubby's Dad's system was not retiring as we had all thought and so he also came by to give us a quote.  His estimate was much lower - only (only!) $4900, including taxes and after rebates.  And so we set about spending $5000 on the least fun thing ever.  Ta da:

Our new furnace is a Coleman, 80,000 BTU.  It's a modulating gas furnace, with variable speed blower, which means that it varies the heat output with fewer starts and stops and is more efficient than a furnace that just cycles on and off.  We were originally quoted a furnace with 70,000 BTU but ended up forking over the extra $100 for this larger one, just in case.  It gets really windy lakeside, and that gorgeous wall of windows in the living room definitely lets a lot of heat escape (even if they are double pain argon filled).  A lot of our hot air also gets trapped in the 13 foot tall peak of the living room ceiling, but the ceiling fan helps push some of that air down.  Suffice to say, although it's solidly built, well insulated and fairly new, this house was not built with heat retention in mind - it was someone's summer home, after all. 

The installation process was swift and seamless.  The clunky old furnace was removed and the new one installed in its place - it's half the size - in one day, with a few adjustments made the next day.  While the furnace installer completed the installation, the propane service arrived with our shiny new tank.  It's an eyesore, to be sure, but there were many, many regulations as to where it could go and in the end, this was the only spot - nice and visible from the driveway.  At least it doesn't hamper the view!  When we originally called the propane company to get the details, set up an appointment, create an account, etc., we were told they'd dig the trench from the tank to the house (for a fee, of course) but during the house call we were informed that they only dig a trench if they might lose a customer.  Long story short, Hubs dug a 25 foot, 16" deep trench and also leveled the area where the tank was to be placed.  

Once the tank was set in place, the line was laid in and connected to our house (where an unsightly main gas valve mounted on the gas regulator now resides - I guess I'll be planting some shrubs next year).

Hubby filled in the trench and flipped back the sod.  Thanks to gusting winds and falling leaves, you can't even see where the trench was dug. 

This new system comes with some responsibilities.  As a reader astutely pointed out, we'll need a propane detector.  In the event of a fire (please, universe, no), we should try to turn off the propane via an exterior valve.  We also need to monitor our propane levels and at 30% arrange a delivery.  We'll likely have to fill the tank twice annually and if it needs a refill in the winter, we need to clear a path through the snow (goody). 

Happily, though, we have heat.  The lakehouse is toasty, which I hope will also be true in the dead of winter.  With our new system, we also added a Nest thermostat, which so far we're very pleased with.  It seems very responsive and we love that we can leave the house cool while we're gone and before we head home, turn up the heat from our cell phones so we arrive to a warm home, which we didn't waste money heating in our absence.  I'd like to test the Nest thermostat a little more and then provide a more thorough review of it and our three Next smoke detectors.

Will the propane save us money?  Only time will tell definitively, but from our calculations we should.  As I mentioned, our electricity bills throughout the winter were $800 but the non-heating portion of that was about $200, so our heating costs were really more like $600.  Now our worst monthly heating bills should ring in at around $300 per month.  It will take awhile to recoup the cost of our new furnace but, given that our old one was either failing or not the appropriate size/capacity, it just made sense to switch now. 

I have to admit that although Hubs and I didn't enjoy writing two colossal cheques to the furnace installer and propane delivery service, we're not even as bummed about it as we thought we'd be.  Yes, I can think of a million things I'd have rather spent the money on (another European vacation, our upcoming bathroom reno, a new washer and dryer in aqua, beefy truck bumpers, all the pyrex in the world) - and it would have been nice to negotiate a better price when we bought the house given this expense, but I forgot how lovely it is to have a warm house.  It's fabulous!  I wouldn't trade it for anything.  We absolutely love our lakeside life and plan to be in this house for a good long time.  Making this investment in our home feels good, and feeling warm feels even better. 

Some Things We Learned in the Process:
  • Don't rely on hearsay quotes! I wish we'd called around for quotes around the time we bought the lakehouse - not only to possibly negotiate a better price, but also just so we would have had a more realistic number in mind and could have saved up more money for this monster purchase.
  • Don't wait until it's cold! We had to go a day without a furnace during the conversion and with our wood-burning fireplace we were okay but overnight we were a bit chilly.  It would have been better to do this in the spring or summer.
  • Find out what your responsibility is.  It turned out we needed to coordinate everything and be a middle man between the furnace installer, energy company, and the propane delivery, on top of our trench-digging and ground leveling duties.
  • Find out ahead of time where the tank can/should go so you have time to prepare the area.  It only took a couple of days, but knowing ahead of time let us schedule the digging on non-rainy days.
  • Contact the electric/energy company for a line locate.  Ours came out and marked the lines so we knew where not to dig.  As a bonus, they even marked the lines from the house to the garage which isn't even their responsibility, so we were really appreciative that they located those too.
  • Look into available rebates and ask your furnace installer if he/she knows of any additional offers.
  • Ask about referral bonuses.  Our propane company gave a bonus to us and my father-in-law because he "referred" us to their service.  A little cash back never hurts (we were going to go with this propane company anyway - shhh, don't tell them).
  • Be wary of companies unwilling to do a site visit.  The company selling you a furnace and install should see your home, current furnace, chat about your needs/etc., before providing a quote.  One company refused to meet us or see the home, and we immediately removed them from our list.  They were also the highest quote, so they may have also been intending to sell us more furnace than we needed. 
  • Ask for an itemized estimate so you can see the breakdown of materials/labor/etc.
  • Find out the specifics of the equipment - the furnace, the thermostat, etc. - because you might want to make substitutions.  Our furnace installer doesn't use Nest products but we really wanted to try that thermostat so we purchased and installed it ourselves.  We also chose a larger furnace than he recommended, just to be safe, but we discussed all of these decisions with him because he's the expert.  Here's a good guide to calculating BTU's required.

Hopefully this will be even the teensiest bit helpful to anyone converting from electric to propane forced air, or just shopping for a new furnace.  At the very least, if you've got a really big, really boring purchase to make (or you just made one), know that you're not alone!   

October 20, 2014

Back in Business!

Our Etsy shop hiatus lasted a bit longer than planned.  It's been almost a year and a half since it was last stocked.  In my defense, you know I crammed a lot of living into that time.  I defended my PhD, sold the townhouse, moved 1500km, bought the lakehouse, and started sprucing it up.  We also added a bull to our China Shop ;)  Yep, I have a litany of truly fabulous excuses but we're open again, and I'm sure you'd really rather just see the goods, right? 

With three people picking (myself, my Mummu and my Mom), our Minden Shop has a pretty eclectic vintage offering.  Looking through the shop, it says a lot about our aesthetics - one day we should play a game of who found what.  Someone clearly has a secret love for gold and gleaming brass...  I can't help it!  (We also have a set of gold chevron glasses that are so pretty).

Solid Brass Butterfly Box; Hand Blown Polka Dot Glasses; Solid Brass Tray with Wood Handles

Our Finnish lineage is evident in our inventory.  That Arabia strawberry jam jar and my Riihimaen Lasi Oy score are such fabulous pieces that it was hard to put them up for sale.  But Hubs and I downsized to a much smaller home in the townhouse to lakehouse transition and I just can't keep everything.  These beautiful things need homes where they will be used and loved, not hoarded and boxed up.  Really, I'm ready to say good-bye, I swear.

Arabia Jam Pot; Riihimaen Vase; Arabia Sotka Coffee Set, Iittala Kasthelmi Cups, Saucers, Cream & Sugar

We've been even more selective stocking the shop this time around, looking for timeless design and unusual finds (Iittala! Rosenthal! Dansk! Howard Pierce! Figgjo! W German Pottery!)...

Rosenthal "Balance" Vase; Howard Pierce Vase; Figgjo Lotte; West German Pottery

But, as always, we've got some fun pieces that I'll categorize as cheap & cheerful.  We've got lots of goodies for under $10 and $20:

Bakelite Cake Serving Set; Dansk Warming Pot; Orange Coaster Set; Iittala Niva Shot Glasses; Stainless Steel Egg Cups; Bakelite Glo-Hill Bar Tools; Copper Bowl; Escargot Forks; Teak Ice Bucket

We've decided to start to curate our offerings in a more seasonally-aware way.  We've stashed boxes of really spring-y things for now (aren't you curious??), and we've stream-lined our current offerings largely to entertaining, cooking, and barware - plus some really special gift ideas.  We're also mindful of the cold hard winter some folks (like us) are facing and so, hello YELLOW (to heat things up):

West German Vase; Dansk Bowl; Swedish Figurine; Dansk Fish Trivet

Weirdly, many of my favorite items are such a departure from the look I'm aspiring to in the lakehouse (bright + colourful).  The very cool 1970s glasses, designed by Inuit artist Germaine Arnaktauyok, might just have the top spot, but the Pyrex wine decanters with cork stoppers are a close second  Also, that faux horn bakelite cutlery set...

Inuit Glasses; Bakelite Cutlery Set; Pyrex Decanters with Cork Stopper; European Table Runner

Can't you see these things in a space like this (earthy but minimal):

That's why we named the shop "Minden" (which means "everything" in Hungarian):  our shop consists of nothing we don't love!

Because Thunder Bay is so close to the Minnesota border, right now I'm shipping domestically to Canadian and US buyers - so no international shipping fees!  I'm not sure how long I can offer this service, but for now it's awesome because the savings are huge.  If anything does catch your eye, contact me for a customized shipping quote and you might save even more. 

Now that the shop is open we have no plans to close, and I'll be adding new goodies every week.  I'll give sneak peeks on Instagram, and occasionally here on the blog, so you can get first dibs!  I'll also be holding more Instagram sales (a Pyrex/Fire King/Hazel Atlas sale is coming up a week from today).  Before I sign off to package my first two sales for shipping (yay!), I wanted to say thanks.  Thanks so much for all of your support over the years - especially to those of you who encouraged me to open the shop in the first place.  It's been fun to work on this with my Grandma and Mom, and it's made all the better by being able to share it with you.  So thank you.
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