All posts by Dave Gray


HOMES Magazine – Apr2020

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HOMES Magazine – Apr2020

Launched in 1985, HOMES Magazine continues to be Greater Toronto’s largest and most comprehensive source for new home buying.


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In Conversation With Frank Clayton, Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, Ryerson

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In Conversation With Frank Clayton, Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, Ryerson

Builders and developers have long been calling for the Province and municipalities to loosen up on land supply and approval processes to allow more new homes to be built, and more quickly. To the uninitiated, however, this seems a self-serving request, since, of course, they believe these companies want to build more and make more money.

But now we have more and more third parties, without any vested interest, expressing the same concerns, and citing hard, objective numbers. One of them is Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development.

“Toronto’s booming economy has brought with it housing affordability challenges that will continue throughout the next decade,” Frank Clayton, PhD and senior research fellow, said at a recent Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) event. The Centre’s recent study, An Economic Outlook for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and What it Means for Housing Affordability, examined the economy and its impact on housing to 2031.

We spoke with Clayton to explore the issues discussed in the study, what government and the industry can do, and what it all means for homebuyers.

HOMES Magazine: Your recent report doesn’t exactly sound like good news for those still looking to buy a home. What positive news can they take from your findings?

Frank Clayton: The affordability picture painted in our report means that, comparatively, more prospective buyers will have to devote more of their budget to housing, rely on parents for down payment assistance or reduce their housing expectations in terms of location, size and type of structure. On the positive side, many prospective buyers (especially double income professional couples) will still be able to afford to purchase a home. Also, once prospective buyers purchase, they will benefit from the appreciation in home values.

H: Given the findings of your study, where do you see the most promising opportunities for prospective homebuyers – in terms of location and housing type?

Clayton: This is not an easy question to answer, as it depends on where people work, household composition and lifestyle preferences. Durham Region is the most affordable of the 905 areas, and has become more attractive with the extension of Hwy. 407 and improved GO train service. For buyers who want to locate closer to Toronto’s central area, there are wide swathes of existing low-density housing in the city’s post-Second Word War suburbs, such as much of Scarborough, which are priced much lower than neighbourhoods closer to the core.

Unit types depend on lifestyle preferences and affordability. The housing choice menu that I have seen over the years goes like this: Many households prefer a single-detached house, but if they can’t afford it, they move up the density ladder until they can afford to purchase. So, if a single-detached house is unaffordable, a semi-detached house, followed by a townhome becomes the targeted housing type. If a townhouse is not affordable, then a stacked townhouse unit, followed by other types of lower-rise condos (four storeys of less) are preferred. If a prospective buyer is considering purchasing in a highrise, they should look at new units being built in a mixed-use project such as those being built on redeveloped shopping centre sites.

H: You note that average home prices and rents are to rise four to five per cent over the study period. This seems low, given that TRREB forecasts home price growth to hit 10 per cent for this year… Why the disparity?

Clayton: Our home price and rent forecasts represent average annual per cent increases from 2019 to 2031. If prices rise by 10 per cent per year early in the period, it will likely be due to irrational exuberance like in 2016-17, when home purchases exploded as buyers and investors rushed to buy before prices rose more. By doing so, they pushed prices up even higher. Typically, these price surges are unsustainable and are followed by stagnant or slightly lower prices. So, if prices rise by 10 per cent for a year or two, there will be years when prices may rise only slightly, if at all.

H: If figures such as TRREB’s are accurate and continue for a couple of years, and are not just an anomaly for 2020, what does that mean for housing affordability? How much worse could it get?

Clayton: It would be very damaging for affordability, and the picture would be bleaker than what our study predicts. Even more potential buyers would be relegated to the rental market, which would put added pressure on rents. If prices were to rise by 10 per cent per year for several years, we could expect to have a rather serious market readjustment so that prices would cease to rise or even decline moderately as they did following 2016-17.

H: What kinds of things can or should builders and developers do in the short-term to deal with these challenges?

Clayton: There isn’t a lot builders and developers can to increase the supply of housing in the short-term. It is important that the industry continue to pressure municipalities to expedite development applications for all kinds of housing, to bring developments to market much more quickly than at present. Builders should be exploring ways to bring more affordable units to market by reducing unit sizes and finding locations where underlying land values are lower, such as in Scarborough and Durham Region.

H: And what can or should municipalities do?

Clayton: Municipalities first have to recognize that they are a primary cause of the shortage of housing. Their land use planning systems have bogged down the production of new and innovative types of housing. The planning system is burdensome, uncertain, time-consuming and costly. What is needed is a change of priorities. The rapid increase in the production of a range of new housing by unit types and price ranges should become the number one priority of all municipal councils and staff in the GTA. Without this, a shortfall of new housing will continue to keep prices much higher than need be.

H: What kind of response or reception has your study received from the Province or City of Toronto?

Clayton: The Province is aware of the causes of high and rising housing prices and is doing what it can to persuade GTA municipalities to increase their housing production sharply. Unfortunately, many municipalities aren’t on side, so it will be a struggle to greatly increase housing production.

Many councillors at the City of Toronto, for instance, fail to recognize how the city’s planning system, along with those in neighbouring municipalities, is a primary cause of the current housing shortage in the GTHA. While the City’s efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing over the next decade is in the right direction, this will not get at the root cause of the affordability crunch – not enough new housing is being built, particularly, non highrise varieties.

H: ReMax is citing Ontario markets as already some of the least affordable in Canada. Even with the economic growth in the GTA, how well will household incomes be able to keep up to housing costs?

Clayton: Our study is clear that average incomes are very unlikely to keep up with rising average prices and rents in the GTA. The only sure-fire way to change this projection is to significantly increase the supply of new housing in the GTA.


GTA home price growth to hit 10 per cent this year: TRREB

Get ready for a hot market in the GTA this spring

The Power Seat – building industry CEOs call for government change



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A Country Estate fit for James Bond

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A Country Estate fit for James Bond

This thrilling country estate, Black Hole Hollow Farm, isn’t quite as scary as the two James Bond thrillers, that novelist Ian Fleming wrote here.

A New York country estate, Black Hole Hollow Farm, where former British intelligence officer-turned-author, Ian Fleming, wrote parts of his James Bond thrillers, Diamonds Are Forever (1956) and Goldfinger (1959) is for sale. At the time that Fleming stayed there, it was the home of his dear friend, John Felix Charles Ivar Bryce, also a former British intelligence officer, whose wife was an Atlantic & Pacific heiress, Josephine Huntington Hartford. Fleming, joined by other illustrious guests, such as Princess Margaret and Jackie Kennedy, but he was a long-term houseguest on numerous occasions. The farm has recently listed for sale at $2.95 million.

Nestled within 440 lush acres of woods, pasture and flower gardens, the 1770’s-era house of 8,143 square feet includes eight bedrooms, seven baths, multiple fireplaces, formal and family rooms, as well as an office, and a large kitchen and dining room for large dinner parties.

The home is spacious enough to get lost in, but the farm’s crowning glory – and likely where Fleming spent much of his time – is the spectacular greenhouse that opens to a spacious, roofed garden room. With winding paths through the greenery and soothing sounds of the koi pond, it’s tranquil like a cultivated jungle.

Fleming often stayed in guest quarters known as the Yellow Room. He’d take long treks into the woods surrounding the estate. In an old guest register, Fleming once wrote, “Lived here like a king — an uninvited one — in fragrant and luxurious solitude.”

On the property, there is also the lodge and the cottage – each with three bedrooms. The Federal House includes two bedrooms, and the former milk house is now a one-bedroom home. Other amenities include a maple syrup-production facility, an outdoor swimming pool and three stocked ponds.

Few fictional characters have been as accessible to both men and women as Bond – James Bond. Men want to be him and women…? With 12 novels, 24 movies (soon to be 25) and two Academy-Award-Winning songs (Skyfall by Adele and Writing’s on the Wall by Sam Smith), the James Bond franchise has been one of the world’s most profitable, with more than $17 billion in sales. Fleming introduced Bond in 1953, and legend has it that it may have been while he was staying at Black Hole Hollow Farm.

The Bond films continue to be popular, even though Fleming passed away in 1964. Now, for the first time in five years, a new James Bond film, No Time To Die, will hit the theatres in April. The most recent Bond actor, Daniel Craig, will be playing the role for his last time.

Black Hole Hollow Farm, located near Cambridge, New York, is only 30 miles to Saratoga. Priced at $2.95 million, the listing agent is Story Jenks of LandVest – an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, Woodstock, Vermont.

Photo Credit: LandVest |


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The new neutrals, blush pink and hints of gold

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The new neutrals, blush pink and hints of gold

Photography by Larry Arnal

Many newly built homes feature open-concept main floors. The kitchen, family room and dining room are visible throughout. While highly desirable, this plan leaves many new homeowners baffled when it comes to design choices. Where do you start and stop a floor pattern? Where can you add or change colour? From a design perspective, the answer is to remain calm and go neutral.

A shimmering backsplash reflects the coordinating pendant lighting and sconces from Hudson Valley Lighting.

Neutrals play well with others

Besides not taking sides in an argument: What does neutral mean? A neutral colour won’t have an effect on other colours because it doesn’t have any significant qualities of its own. Neutrals are considered colourless; like beige, ivory, grey, cream, black or white. Neutrals play well with others.

Slight touches of pink blend beautifully into the neutral palette. The punches of gold are provided by the Moen faucet, the furnishings and brushed gold accents in the lighting, knobs and drawer pulls. Jenn Air offers brushed gold bezels for the dials on their cooktop.

Use trendy colours sparingly

Most designers will treat a colour trend as just that, a trend. Used in limited amounts, you can add the latest colour to a wall and if it grows tiresome, you simply repaint. But you want to make sure fixtures (and expensive furnishings) have longevity and outlast trends. That’s where you can save money in the long term.

Create a background

By choosing flooring, tile, area rugs, large furnishings and wall colours in neutral tones that blend well together, you’re creating an “easy on the eyes” approach to your decor. That’s because there is little contrast, the eye moves through the space without stopping. Contrast makes you look.

But neutrals alone can get boring. How do you make a big impression with neutrals and pastels? We had the chance to imagine and execute a new vision for neutrals at a model home in Aurora, Ontario for Sorbara Homes. By adding layers of neutrals, a surprise blush of pink and metallic accents, we brought a restrained colour palette to life.

With each principal room visible throughout, maintaining a neutral palette and common accent colours helps create design continuity and visual harmony.

Think pink

It may not be everyone’s favourite colour, but we wanted to see if we could transform a room by adding hits of soft pink in some of the accents. The results were still soft and easy on the eyes but added a fresh element. Then, by adding lighting and furniture with accents in brass and brushed gold, the main floor was elevated to a new level of “wow.”

“By adding layers of neutrals, a surprise blush of pink and metallic accents, we brought a restrained colour palette to life.”

A calm, neutral palette benefits from hints of brushed gold and brass that frame glass tables, mirrors and the lighting. Accessorising is easy once you establish your main scheme.

Leave nothing to chance

It’s almost a seamless transition from the kitchen and pantry to the rest of the main floor. A carefully designed floor pattern of inlaid tile in the kitchen blends in tone with the quarter sawn, wire-brushed, white oak flooring throughout.

The kitchen cabinets may be white, but the island and backsplash mimic the tones in the inlaid strips of tile in the floor. The leathered granite counter is a blend of all the neutrals. The pop comes from the door handles and knobs, lighting, chairs and faucets in the kitchen and pantry. Even the bezels on the cooktop are coordinated to match.

Square-patterned tiles set into the large format tiled floor form an area “rug” around the free-standing tub.

Commit to some shine

A little bit of shine, sparkle and brightness add interest to a space, so commit to carrying it throughout an open-concept main floor. For instance, the dining room light fixture provides the gleam and only enhances the silver leaf dining table with gold inlay. Here, the only hint of pink is in the artwork.

Don’t be afraid to add a big statement light fixture in your master bedroom. A little glam is a wonderful touch, even in the private rooms of a home.

You don’t have to stop

We carried our neutral tones with pink and gold accents into the master bedroom and ensuite. The combination is alluring and restful with a touch of glam. The Macassar ebony on the custom-built bedside tables, the floral print and furniture legs provide a touch of contrast and elegance.

Heavy lifting

By using neutrals as a foundation when building a design palette, you’ll achieve a timeless, calm background. Then, when you’re ready to add some “noise,” add in the colours you love and don’t forget the shine.

Designer, spokesperson, author and television personality, Jane Lockhart is one of Canada’s best-known experts in the world of design and colour.

SOURCES KITCHEN Kitchen Main Floor TILE, Marble Moon – Onyx, 12×24, ACCENT FLOOR TILE, Regal Polished, Grey, 2×12 BACKSPLASH TILE, Tavella polished polvere, 3×6 PERIMETER COUNTER, Caesarstone – Blizzard 2141 ISLAND & SERVERY COUNTER, Leathered granite, Terra Bianca CABINETRY, Perimeter uppers – Paris Kitchens –Monet profile, Dove White painted finish PERIMETER LOWERS, island, custom table & tabletop Paris Kitchens – Monet profile, Cloud grey stained finish on maple SINK, Blanco Performa U1 Silgranit, in Truffle KITCHEN FAUCET, Moen – Align, High Arc pulldown, Brushed gold HARDWARE, Berenson ‘Subtle Surge’ – Modern brushed gold APPLIANCES, Jenn Air “Rise”, LIGHTING, Plaster No.1 Pendant, Garden City Arm Sconce, Hudson Valley Lighting FLINT COUNTER STOOL, CB2 SENECA CHAIR, in Velvet Blush, Sunpan


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Condo Life – Apr2020

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Condo Life – Apr2020

Condolife, launched in 1998, continues to be Toronto’s finest and most comprehensive guide to the condo market and lifestyle.


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6 outstanding options for exterior siding

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6 outstanding options for exterior siding

If you’re planning to give your house a makeover, or you’re building one, exterior siding plays a key role in appearance. Choose the right material for exterior siding that not only complements your home’s architecture style but also durable, weather-proof and low maintenance. With so many choices available these days, here are six outstanding options for exterior siding to give your home a perfect outer look and boost up the curb appeal.

Vinyl siding

Vinyl siding is a very prominent item widely used in the U.S. and Canada, such as those from Nanaimo siding, because it is relatively inexpensive and requires less maintenance. Made from PVC, this durable siding is a great option to enhance your exterior home’s exterior look without the need for paint renew every year. Unlike other siding materials, vinyl siding installation is simple and easy. It won’t fade with time, the vinyl siding withstands all kinds of weather and offer great resistance to insects and algae.

Available in a wide range of colors, textures, and styles, you can choose what suits your house best. With the advancement in technology, vinyl sidings also come with an insulated polystyrene foam layer and don’t look like plastic anymore. This appealing and lightweight siding option also mimics natural wood, wood-grain, and stone for a traditional and modern look.

Wood siding

Mostly used for cottage, bungalow and lodge exteriors, wood siding provides rich, rustic, and natural appearance. Although installation is easy and economical, it requires maintenance every nine months, including staining, painting and chalking to cope with the weather damage. Moreover, it is also at risk of rodents, mites, mold and mildew. However, with proper pest-control and annual maintenance, the wood siding can last more than 100 years. You have the choice to choose from a range of wood siding made from clapboard, spruce, shingles, redwood and cedar. The most durable and attractive are the redwood and cedar wood sidings.

Fiber cement siding

If you want wood, stone or stucco exterior look at a low-cost, then fibre cement siding will do the job. These tough exterior sidings made from cement, wood pulp and silica sand are engineered to be insect-proof, fire-proof and weather-resistant. Embossed with various wood-grain patterns, colors and texture, fibre cement siding has a natural wood look that could fool your neighbours. Earlier fibre cement sidings contained asbestos. It caused problems so it was replaced by wood pulp which results in cracking. That is why beautiful fibre cement siding with a reasonable price is a very popular choice for almost every homeowner requiring the least maintenance.

Brick siding

Brick siding is an excellent option for the ones who want their house with a classic exterior look. Made from original clay brick and laid using mortar, a veneer has been created that look just like traditional bricks. As there’s a chance of water to go through the brick veneer, they fit a special protective coating between house frame and veneer. Built to last for many decades with harsh weather exposure, brick siding requires very little maintenance if properly installed. This labor-intensive siding option is a bit expensive due to material costs and installation.

Stone siding

Who doesn’t love the masonry facade? The stone siding is flame-resistant, it’s impervious to water, and there’s no maintenance needed. Stone siding will look beautiful for the years to come. Since natural stone siding is expensive, the lightweight stone veneer made of iron-oxide pigments. Also, the cement has become a popular option among homeowners as it offers the same look and durability. With many styles and colors available, you can decide upon the best stone look.


Stucco is a fairly reasonable siding option for your home that allows you to create customized rock or stone facade. Made from sand, gypsum/lime, cement, and water, the stucco siding not only beautifies the exterior of the home but also protects it. Stucco is one of the most ensuring, versatile, and weather-resistant exterior wall sidings. With its variety of textures and colors, it is a very popular exterior wall system. You can easily apply it over standard wood-frame walls in a three-coat process. Whereas, masonry and concrete walls require a two-coat application.

With different types of exterior sidings available, you can add or change the home facade the way you want. It’s time to give your house an attractive exterior appearance!


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Composting compost, the magic elixir for your garden

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Composting compost, the magic elixir for your garden

We waste up to 50 per cent of our compostable materials. According to Susan Antler, executive director of the Composting Council of Canada, we’re not very good at composting the organics from inside, and outside, of where we live. “Whether it’s the backyard composter at home, or through green bin composting programs, those banana peels (no stickers please), apple cores, fallen leaves and garden trimmings can be recycled,” says Antler.

Even though approximately 61 per cent of Canadians have access to some form of composting, many of us do not take full advantage of it.

We can do better

This year, Compost Awareness Week takes place from May 3rd to the 9th, 2020. It’s the perfect time to reignite your commitment to save the planet. Convert the raw, organic material from your kitchen and garden into a magic elixir. All plant life relies on it for sustenance.

It’s reported that 45 per cent of households compost their kitchen waste, and 68 per cent of Canadians recycle their garden waste. One of the biggest challenges is to come up with a broad-based program for condos and apartments.

Don’t slip

When you put a banana peel, or other organic waste, in the garbage, it produces gases, which is composed primarily of methane – a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. The decomposition of methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential.

Brown stuff/green stuff

When composting in your yard, the green organic material that you add to your compost pile is nitrogen rich. The brown stuff, including fallen leaves and shredded newspaper, is carbon rich. Ideally, you should include one part green stuff in your compost for every five to 10 parts of brown stuff. This will also help to prevent your compost from smelling bad.

Oxygen is your friend. Keep turning it. Similar to starting a fire by blowing on it, you will ignite the decomposition process in your bin or compost pile when you turn it over with a garden fork every few weeks. It’s okay if you don’t turn it, but you will wait much longer for results.

Soil health

The success that you achieve in your garden is the direct result of proper soil enhancement and natural fertility. Soils are living ecosystems. Susan Antler reminds us that a handful of healthy soil contains more living organisms than there are people on the planet. When we add finished compost to our soil, we enhance the life-giving bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes, as well as other more visible creatures such as earthworms. It’s the perfect time of year to add a two- to three centimetre layer of compost over your garden soil.

In short, composting and adding quality compost to your garden is the ultimate carbon trading scheme, as plants use photosynthesis to fix carbon in an organic form from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Healthy soil enhances soil aggregation and porosity, sequesters nitrogen and other nutrients, and reduces nutrient loss to pollution. It also out-competes disease and pest organisms, enhancing crop yields – and blooms.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening.; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.


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Get cooking, The recipe for a fabulous and functional kitchen

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Get cooking, The recipe for a fabulous and functional kitchen

Photography by Stephani Buchman

When it comes to dream home designs, a fabulous kitchen always tops my clients’ must-have list. The kitchen is, by far, the hardest-working room in the home. It’s used multiple times a day, for a variety of tasks from cooking and dining, to homework and entertaining. Needless to say, it has to be functional. Kitchens also yield the best return on your investment in terms of resale value.

For these homeowners, the kitchen design project began with a simple request: function. This family with two busy boys and a hectic lifestyle were in need of some order in the form of flow and storage and we added some style for good measure.

Kitchen challenges

Right off the bat, there were some obstacles to address. The kitchen was dark, dated and very orange. The cooking area was closed off, which made it impossible to watch the boys while tending to kitchen chores – and let’s face it, parents with young kids spend a disproportionately large amount of time in the kitchen. We removed the wall to the living room to open sight lines and improve flow.

This kitchen was burdened by a big bulkhead between the cooking and eating area, which housed a beam from a previous renovation. We were also faced with a large, irregular height island, very limited wall storage, virtually no upper cabinets, two odd little windows, and an awkwardly positioned refrigerator that obviously ignored the “golden triangle” theory.

Despite its flaws, this kitchen had some good bones that laid the groundwork for a stunning, fully functional hub of the home.

“A custom built-in banquette becomes the perfect setting for meals, homework and crafts.”

Footprint improvements

We began the transformation by re-jigging the kitchen’s footprint. Admittedly, this isn’t always what a client wants to hear, as re-routing electrical and plumbing come at a somewhat hefty cost. But ultimately, most people will also agree that the functional lift you’ll see from a more efficient kitchen footprint is worth the expense. By changing the floor plan, we improved flow, closed off the two windows, and added a cooktop with an efficient range-hood insert.

The placement of the fridge was also problematic, so we recommended relocating it to an area that offered more open access. The homeowners were surprised and delighted with the suggestion, and ultimately this small move was a game-changer for how they now use the kitchen.

Embrace custom features

“Custom” is another word that puts the scare in budget-minded clients, but custom cabinets can be found in a range of materials, colours, finishes and price points, and they’re generally a worthwhile investment in the name of function. Custom kitchen cabinets in this space allowed us to amp up the storage capacity, which in turn opened up the rest of the space and made it that much more functional.

A custom built-in banquette becomes the perfect setting for meals, homework and crafts. We selected a durable vinyl for the seat with a small-print fabric for the back, which makes it feel cosier all around. Toss cushions add comfort and colour. Storage underneath is a perfect hideaway.

Fixtures and finishes

Beyond function, esthetics always play a vital role in good design. The kitchen cabinets offer a dark, almost-black look, which contrasts beautifully with the unlacquered brass pulls. The brass kitchen faucet by Rubinet adds sparkle with the added local bonus as they are made here in Canada.

We added some character and warmth with the walnut bar cabinet, which also serves to conceal a support post for the beam above. This provided a clever solution to hide this unsightly structural element.

Brass architectural mesh on the cabinet doors allow ventilation for the coffee machine situated inside, as well as quartz counter inside to protect the cabinet from coffee spills.

Unique brass brackets for the counter overhang add character, while the cognac leather stools are a rich complement to the dark-coloured island.

Easy, breezy style

A farmhouse sink and square subway tile keep the space feeling relaxed and much to the homeowners’ delight, make it easy to keep clean. After all, isn’t low-to-no-maintenance the ultimate in “function?”

The homeowners love their new kitchen and marvel at how much simpler their day-to-day life is post-renovation. A little function goes a long way.

Designer Rebecca Hay is principal of Rebecca Hay Designs Inc., a Toronto-based Design firm specializing in classically livable family homes. Offering complete decorating and renovating services for over a decade, Rebecca and her team manage all of the details from start to finish. Known and celebrated for her design work and appearances on various acclaimed HGTV shows, Rebecca is an active YouTuber, you can also follow her daily design adventures on Instagram. Servicing clientele throughout Toronto, Muskoka and throughout Canada.

SOURCES PENDANT LIGHTS, CB2, Globe pendant light – large CABINETS, custom designed by Rebecca Hay Designs STOOLS, CB2, Roadhouse 24″ Leather counter stool SINK, Franke farmhouse sink KITCHEN FAUCET, Rubinet CABINET HARDWARE, Rejuvenation Mission drawer handle, Mission pyramid cabinet knob, Mission bin pull CABINET COLOURS, Racoon Fur, Chantilly Lace, Benjamin Moore QUARTZ COUNTER, Silestone – Eternal Statuario (suede finish) APPLIANCES, GAS COOKTOP, Kitchenaid 30″ OVEN COMBO, KITCHENAID FRIDGE, SIRIUS HOOD FAN, Miele DISHWASHER (panel ready) AREA RUG, Custom by Studio BANQUETTE, custom DINING PENDANT, Matteo Particles BACKSPLASH TILE, Olympia tile, Max white 6″ x 6″ subway tile


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The Mayan Riviera, grown-up fun in the sun

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The Mayan Riviera, grown-up fun in the sun

After a long Canadian winter, Mexico’s Mayan Riviera is a wonderful sun-drenched getaway. Bordered by the sparkling blue Caribbean, this coastal stretch of the Yucatan Peninsula has some of the whitest sand beaches in the world.

Barcelo Maya Riviera, Photography by Quintana Roo Tourism

Exclusive all-inclusive

With close to 200 all-inclusive resorts and accommodation on the Mayan Riviera, there’s something for everyone. If you’ve never experienced an adults-only resort, the Barcelo Maya Riviera is one of the finest. Opening this past December, this modern, sleek, all-suite luxury resort complex is located on a private, two-kilometre stretch of beach. Little effort is required when ordering a mojito or a margarita at one of the two swim-up pool bars.

Meals and drinks are included in the all-inclusive rate, but make reservations when you arrive to try each of the four à la carte restaurants – French, Japanese, Italian and Mexican. The buffet restaurant features international cuisine. Try the sushi bar, cooked-to-order steak and fish, the ceviche and vegan stations, as well as made-to-order pasta and stir-fry stations.

Barcelo Maya Riviera: main building, Photo by Barcelo Maya Riviera

When you stay at the Barcelo Maya Riviera, you also have access to five other properties in the Barcelo complex, which gives you admittance to a total of 26 à la carte restaurants, five buffets, five pool-side grills and 17 bars, plus activities and entertainment at all six hotels.

The 32,000-square-foot U-Spa Wellness & Fitness Centre includes saunas and steam rooms, a flotation room, a hydrotherapy room, a Swiss treatment room and a beauty salon, as well as 26 treatment rooms for massages, body wraps and facials.

Barcelo Maya Riviera: pool bar and U-spa, Photo by Barcelo Maya Riviera

If you’re so inclined, resort activities are scheduled throughout the day, including beach volleyball, salsa classes and tequila tasting. Nightly shows take place in the performance theatre.

Photo by: Kate Robertson

The bluest of blues

Between the Caribbean Sea, the clear blue skies and the shimmering pools, you’ll bask in this tropical paradise. But, if you’re looking to shake things up a bit, there’s no shortage of adventures to be had on the Mayan Riviera.

The 13th-century, walled Mayan archaeological site at Tulum National Park.

The Yucatan peninsula is known for its cenotes, which are natural sinkhole caves filled with rich mineral groundwater, where you can swim through stalactite and stalagmite formations in a mystical underground world.

Book a catamaran tour to explore local reefs – the snorkelling is amazing. At Cozumel’s Marine Park you will see fish of all colours and, most likely, turtles. The Yal Ku Lagoon in nearby Akumal is a protected ocean inlet that’s full of marine life.

Mayan culture

You won’t want to leave the region without a trip to the Mayan ruins of Tulum. This ancient, walled city is built on a cliff overlooking the ocean – you’ll understand why when you see the view. Here, the Mayans built a civilization that was a prosperous trading centre and was occupied into the 16th century. Today, you can still see intricate carvings and other archaeological details.

Street performers in Playa de Carmen, Photo By Kate Robertson

A bit further afield, but still only a day-trip away, is Chichen Itza. This large pre-Columbian city was also built by the Mayans, and is known for its massive stepped pyramid and well-preserved carvings.

At Playa del Carmen, you can easily spend a day rambling the five kilometre Quinta Avenida pedestrian street for some high-end shopping, as well as regional arts and crafts.

A scuba diver exploring cenotes, Photo By Quintana Roo Tourism

Several Canadian cities have direct flights to nearby Cancun. Let the fun-in-the-sun begin.

Kate Robertson can be contacted at


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7 home renovation mistakes to avoid

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7 home renovation mistakes to avoid

A home renovation is a tough project. If you have ever done it before, you probably know its pitfalls. Even then, the project can still challenge you and result in renovation mistakes that cost you money. With a good plan, however, kitchen or bathroom renovation mistakes will not challenge you.

Below are simple home renovation mistakes that homeowners might overlook but are costly.

DIY with little or no experience

You can DIY through a home renovation project, especially if you are experienced in some projects. However, you cannot be a jack of all trades; some projects might require a professional. In most cases, a designer is needed to avoid bathroom or kitchen renovation projects. Even if you can install countertops, having the wrong design will make you regret for many years after the project.

Electrical projects, plumbing, installation of large electrical equipment, and removing a wall, among others are best done by professionals. You need to hire a contractor and a designer early into the project.


If you want your project to go to completion without any hitches, the only way to do that is to ensure that you have budgeted for everything. If your home has many old parts with mold, leaks, corrosion, damages by pests, and outdated fixtures, you might need to replace most of the parts.

When you have to tear through parts such as ceilings, the more likely it is that you will find more damages that need repairs. Even contractors are not able to identify these hidden damages before the work begins. As such, you need a slightly higher budget than your estimate. On top of your budget estimate, have at least 10 per cent more to ensure the project does not stall due to unexpected damages and costs.

Ignoring building codes and regulations

Are you handling any renovation project that requires a permit? If you do, avoid working around the codes as it will come to haunt you if you ever need to sell your home.

Permits are offered as a show that your project complies with safety and zoning laws. You might need drawings from an architect or designer when applying for a permit. Even for a DIY project, you will still need a permit.

Projects that need a permit are those that might compromise the structural integrity of your home. These projects include adding a room and removing a wall. In some areas, you might need a permit for small projects such as replacing a window and landscaping. If you ignore a permit and an inspector catches you with a sledgehammer demolishing a wall, you will be fined, have the sale of your home blocked, and probably have everything you have built brought down.

Hiring the wrong contractor 

A good contractor should be licensed and insured. They also need to have a surety bond. Before you hire a contractor, you need to ask for references and call the clients to ensure that the contractor did an excellent job.

When calling the clients, ask how cooperative the contractor is, the quality of their work, whether they stick to schedules and budget, and how they handle unexpected problems. Do not pick a contractor because they charge the lowest price; other factors such as experience, speed, and attention to detail matter. See more on how the right contractors can help you avoid safety mistakes.

Doing your designs

Have you ever designed? Design involves creating a space that matches your lifestyle. It is not only about the appearance of a room but also its functions. If you throw parties regularly, you have children, or you have pets, a designer will factor everything into the design.

A designer is also able to fix the unappealing aspects of your space and making the best features more attractive. Just like watching numerous movies doesn’t make you a good actor, looking at many interior design photos does not make you a designer. By going it alone, you risk making many of the home renovation mistakes to avoid in this list. Again, you might end up spending a lot of money and not being impressed by the results.

Failure to create detailed specs

What do you want for your home renovation project? One way to avoid kitchen or bathroom renovation mistakes is to create details project specs that will allow you to compare bids from contractors accurately.

The specification list should include a project summary, architect plans, designer plans, time schedules, plans for each part to be renovated, and special parameters such as the limit on work times.

Lack of a plan and a contract

Choosing a good contractor is the first step to create a project without renovation mistakes. However, you need to create a detailed contract that you and the contractor sign.

The contract should describe the scope of the work to be carried out, materials to be used, debris removal, the total cost of the project, and the payment schedule. The contract should also describe the order in which the work is to be done. For instance, the hardwood floors should be installed after the wall is painted and the cabinets should be hung after removing and replacing plumbing.

If you plan changes, update your contract to capture the changes. Go through the contract every day to ensure that the work is going according to plan.

Bottom line

Everything might not go according to plan. Even when you read these home renovation mistakes to avoid, unexpected problems occur and you may not know how to handle them. You need to be ready to handle kitchen renovation mistakes if they occur. You should not have very high expectations especially when you are working on a budget as you may not get everything that you have seen online.

Most of the mistakes will occur if you try to cut costs by hiring the contractor with the lowest bid, buy cheap materials, and trying to cut corners on some projects. You can also try to cut down the budget by doing your projects instead of hiring a professional.


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