Dress Up Your Builder Basic Mirror… Renter Style

A while ago I read how John and Sherry from Young House Love built a frame around their builder basic mirror. How sweet is this?


You would never know that they didn’t just replace it with a brand new mirror. The project clearly stuck with me over the last few months, because as soon as I saw our bathroom mirror, I knew I wanted to tackle it!

Bathroom mirror before

Mirror Before full shot

(Yup, that’s me hanging out in my yoga gear on the weekend. Clearly a Vancouverite.)

Of course, I had to tweak it a bit because:

a) I clearly don’t have any of those fancy saws they used to make it happen. And more importantly…

b) We don’t own our bathroom, so I wanted something that was easy to remove!

Here’s what I did:

First off, Shaun came across some extra chair rail (I’ve since learned that this is similar to crown moulding, except it doesn’t have the angle like moulding does.) We measured out our mirror, and he cut four pieces down to size on a 45 degree angle.

Upainted chair rail

If ever you don’t have a saw to cut them on an angle like this at your place, you could borrow like we did (we certainly don’t have space to house a saw in our bitty apartment!) or you could probably have them cut it to size for you when you buy it.

I started off by spraying the chair rail in a high gloss black. I wanted matte, but painters tell me it’s much more durable to go with a gloss in a bathroom.

First coat

Not a fan. It looked like cheap plastic.


I decided to spray over it in a matte anyway. I’m such a rebel. (I’ll keep you posted over how well the paint holds up.) To do so, I sanded it down with 120 grit sandpaper (since matte won’t stick to gloss very well) and sprayed it out again.

To get rid of the remaining grooves from my first sanding, I sanded it again with a much finer grit, 220, so that I could spray it all again. Long story short, it would have been much faster to go with the paint I originally wanted. Oh well… Live and learn.

From there, we needed to fasten the frame together.

Second coat

I bought corner brackets for a couple bucks from our local hardware store. I wasn’t sure if the screws would damage the chair rail, so we opted for some E6000 super glue (you can buy it at Michael’s) that I had from a previous project to fasten it together.


Once the glue had some time to set, we flipped it over and caulked the corners. This would probably be the hardest section of this DIY simply because not everyone has the means to caulk something… If you don’t, there are other options! One I’ve heard of is called “caulk singles” which basically allows you to caulk something without the gun. For all you bakers out there, I’ve even heard of cutting the tip off a zip lock bag like you would when using icing… If you’ve tried either of these, I’d love to hear how well it worked out!

We squeezed out a line of caulking on the corners, (in this photo you can see some of my remaining sanding marks)Caulking step one

 and smoothed it out each one with a damp rag.

Caulking step two

I let the caulking dry for a couple hours and sprayed it out (remember, I needed to spray it again after sanding it again anyway) to cover the caulking in black. I also needed to spray the back side of the frame because the reflection in the mirror allows us peak at the back of the frame.

Curious to see how it works in a rental? All we did was attach the frame to the mirror with large black command strips!

Once the glue had fully set (I left it overnight) I attached the command strips, one on each board. As a tip, the box says to let paint sit 28 DAYS before using the strips. I’m way too impatient for that, so I just sanded down the areas where the command strips would go. Now, when we want to remove it, we just need to unstick it and pull off the velcro!

So, again, the Before:

Mirror Before full shot

And After!

Mirror After with me in it

How great is that? It makes the bathroom look so much more high end. Way better than the cheapest possible options the builder (or building manager?) chose for this place.

Mirror after horizontal

Mirror After Vertical

Final costs:

Chair rail: free! That being said, I doubt using so little would really be very expensive.

Spray paint and glue: $0, as they were leftovers from previous projects.

Velcro command strips: I got the biggest kind, so they were about $6.

Brackets to attach the boards together: $2.

Total: $8. Awesome.

Mirror After

Our bathroom is coming along… But there is still a lot to do. I want to replace the hardware, hang some shelves and artwork (hence the black wall you can see in some of those reflections)… Seeing this change has definitely inspired me to keep going though! Have any cheap ideas to dress up your bathroom? Any projects you have been proud of on such a small budget? I’d love to hear from you!

I’m linking up with:

TDC Before and After

Not Just A Housewife


Landlords: Rental Building or Homeowner?

A chat with the building drywall guy in my bathroom last week got me thinking.

Yup, you heard that right, we haven’t even lived here a month and we already have people coming in to repair our place. I guess that’s life sometimes… A few weeks before we moved in, I came by to check out the unit again and snap a few (meaning a ton) of pics. Here’s what our bathroom looked like:

Bathroom before

Other than the less-than-ideal tile and tub colour, looks fine. Little did I know, the ceiling was already falling apart.

A few weeks later, it turned into this:

Bathroom Ceiling Hole Ceiling Hole


After a few weeks of waiting for the problem to be resolved, repairs were started a little over a week ago. I then found myself discussing how much of the ceiling should be replaced with this guy. (Umm… all of it, because it’s coated in a thin sheet of mold?)

Every rental, older units especially, are going to have problems. Who will handle it better? The building manager hired by the company who owns dozens of similar properties? The homeowner who lives upstairs? Someone closer to the middle of the spectrum? Is there a difference?


I’ve lived in quite a few different rentals and witnessed friends’ states of affairs…  I’ve also worked for the university housing department as an administrative assistant to five different building managers. (Not the most glam job, but at least I learned a thing or two.) I’m certainly no expert, but I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.

If you’ve been to college, you know that arts students get quite a bit of heat for being in the “easy” (and “no future”) faculty. (In case you’re wondering, I started out in commerce, but made the switch to arts in year two. Totally worth it.) That rep is partially valid since it’s relatively easy to pass an arts class, but it is CHALLENGING to get a high mark. Fields like science and engineering are the opposite. The range is much more varied. Many will fail, but, if you know the material well, you can earn yourself a stellar mark.

This analogy applies to landlords. Individual homeowners are the science faculties. Some will be abysmal: only interested in the money and trying to have them keep up with maintenance on their home will be like pulling teeth. Others will be lovely. For example, a friend of mine is a quiet, single and clean tenant, also an elementary teacher. Her landlords love her and take good care of their house, so they will go out of their way to keep her. When she had a leak in her bathroom like mine, they replaced the whole thing*. They took her choices into consideration, and fixed it within a weekend.

Building managers are the arts faculties. Of course they’ll pass: there are way too many systems in place (at least in Vancouver), like the rental board, the company’s reputation and so forth, not to. Problems, at least major ones, will be tended to… in good time. They have the maintenance people available already; they’ve fixed countless units before yours.

The catch?

Being on the other end of this, I’ve seen how busy these people can be. There can be countless work orders just like yours waiting to be tended to. Small leaks in the faucet, carpets that need to be repaired, little holes in the wall… Those ones can take a while for the maintenance staff to get to.

What’s more, a building manager generally doesn’t have a vested interest in the building like an actual owner would. Will they get more cash from potential tenants from a classier upgrade? Probably not. Does it matter to them if the paint splashes onto the tile? Doubtful.

Not only have that, but upgrades in buildings that are owned by one person or company tend to happen all at once. That means if you’d like your tiles to be replaced like my friend’s place, the building would (generally) need to have that scheduled, for all units. If it isn’t (like my bathroom, by the looks of it) they’ll just do whatever it takes to get the job done.

(What did that look like in our building? Yet another shade of beige of tile to add to our collection. This makes four. Nice.)

So which type do you choose? The arts faculty building manager, whom you know will do the minimum but won’t go out of their way to please you, or the couple who live upstairs, who, more like an engineering faculty, could do really well, or really really poorly?

There’s no real “right” answer of course. It depends on your needs, and of course the individual landlord in question. Hopefully this will give you a basic guideline to help you in your search.

What happened with our bathroom you ask? Well… needless to say, nearly a month after told our landlord about it (we moved in March 29th), it’s still a work in progress. The plumber has fixed the leak, but the drywall guy is supposed to come by tomorrow to redo the ceiling. (No more mold!) Fingers crossed… I’ll keep you posted.

Tips to Add Extra Kitchen Storage (and Salvaged Shelves Reveal!)

Back in March, I blogged about how upcycled some worn pieces of wood for my future salvaged shelves. I thought they would look nice, but I’m thrilled with the results!

Salvaged open shelving

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I have a mini apartment sized kitchen: 7 by 7. This does not give me much to work with (especially since I’ve been downsizing from the much larger kitchen we had in our last place), and when we unpacked our kitchen items, it all ended up looking like this…

Kitchen before Kitchen Before


With little cabinet storage to spare, extras ended up above the shelves or onto precious counter space. Here are a few tips I’ve found helpful to create more space:

1. Add a cart. (Admittedly, you can see snippets of it in the before pictures.)

Ikea Bekvam Cart

It’s been said before, but that’s because it works! We got this one off Craigslist for $40, but it’s originally from Ikea for $70. (I probably should have bargained a bit more for this one, but apparently I was feeling carefree that day…) The colour isn’t my favourite so I might paint it eventually, but it’s fine for now.

Not only does it add counter space, it holds some small appliances, a little tool box, and our kitchen linens. As a bonus, it’s a perfect fit for my stool! Yes, being 5’3, I own a step stool, and it’s so worth it.

2. Make use of vertical space.

Crate and barrel baskets

There is often a ton of wasted space above kitchen cabinets, and I needed to make use of every square inch. I had used it as you can see in the before picture, but all those exposed boxes were a definite eye sore.

Instead, I bought these baskets from Crate and Barrel. I love the warmth and texture they bring in (not to mention how well the complement the shelves!), and having three of the same baskets creates a clean uniform look.

And of course…

3. Hang open shelving.

Salvaged open shelving

Not only is it functional, it’s a lovely way to display your dishes and favourite pieces. I’m especially fond of the handmade blue and white pottery I bought down in Mexico.

Open shelving  Open shelvingOpen shelving

Again, here’s the before:

Kitchen Before

And after progress!

Salvaged open shelving

Let’s take a look at the to do list:

  • Replace hardware
  • Add one or two new rugs (to cover up our ugly lino) : 1/2
  • Paint an accent wall in the eating area
  • Make a bench and coordinating cushions
  • Hang salvaged wood shelves 
  • Decide on artwork (if needed)
  • Create storage systems

Progress for sure, but still work to be done. I’m not sure if I’ll still feel the need to replace the hardware and make a bench, but we’ll see. Enjoy the process, right..?

What about you? Any projects you’ve been dying to finish? Anything you’ve envisioned and been over-the-moon about the results?

Organize Your Baking Cupboard… For Less Than Five Bucks!

First post at our new place! The move went surprisingly smoothly (other than the considerable goose egg I managed to give myself while cleaning) and our lovely friends got us moved in in half a day! We’re still unpacking the last few things, but it’s coming together.

One of the most common challenges renters face in an apartment is storage space, especially in the kitchen. We have a mini kitchen (6 by 7 feet), with a mini fridge, a mini stove, and happily, a mini dishwasher. Like many rental buildings, our unit also has the cheapest building options, like basic cabinets instead of functional drawers, which makes storing my ever increasing pile of stuff even trickier.

I needed to make the most of the cupboards I have, but I wanted it to be transportable, quick to set up, and budget-friendly, so fancy installed organizers and attractive uniform jars were out. I’ll be honest and say that my solution for my baking supplies may not be all that pretty, but is hardly dents my (much more important) decorating budget!

I started out with a small, basic, one shelf cupboard.

Baking Cupboard

I can just see chocolate chips and baking powder getting stale in the black hole that is this cupboard, not to mention piles of sugar piled into heaps, ready to spill at any moment…

To make it more functional, I used two basic containers from Walmart (they came in a pack of five for five dollars, so super cheap!) as well as a few extra ziplock containers I had lying around. (Literally. I was unpacking and stuff was surrounding me on the floor…)

baking cupboard

Other than my measuring cups, everything is corralled on either a lid or in a container. I have a tray for baking chocolate (I realized I have quite the collection once it was all organized!), a tray for my bulk food, a tray for my oats, bran and cake mix as well as two large containers with sugars and frequently used ingredients. Instead of digging around trying to reach for something specific, I can simply pull out a tray or container like a drawer.

baking cupboard

baking cupboard

Not only is it temporary, I can also move trays around like a rubik’s cube to easily reach the food in the back.

baking cupboard

Baking cupboard

I put all my bulk ingredients in clear ziplock containers so I could easily see how much I have left of each. Now they’re also sealed, (as opposed to loosely held in plastic bags like they were before) and make much better use of the vertical space.

baking cupboard

I know it would be nicer to have my oatmeal and bran in Tupperware too… which I may someday do. But this is all about keeping things as cheap as possible! Since they’re on a tray, (ie lid) hey’re still easily accessible, so the Tupperware wasn’t really all that necessary.

As for the large containers, extra white sugar (you can see my pretty jars of flour and sugar on display here), powdered sugar and so on is at the bottom. The top one holds all my most used baking supplies: vanilla, brown sugar, baking powder and so on.

Baking tray

I just pull out the box, bake, and quickly put it all back! Having a quick clean up and easy to find ingredients makes baking a lot less daunting and much more enjoyable. I’ve been using this system for a while now and I’m still happy with it.

This whole cupboard suits me because it was easily customizable to my needs, I can reuse the Tupperware somewhere else (transportable and sustainable) and cheap! What little systems have created that work well for you? How do you make the best of small space storage?

Pin Baking

I’m linking up with:

Weekend Bloggy Reading

Our New Apartment: How Does It Measure Up?

Ugh… We’re clearly in moving mode. Here’s the view of our second bedroom I saw this morning:

moving boxes

Eek. Hopefully that helps you to appreciate your home if you’re nice and settled in when reading this. (Even though we move in March 29th, we’re going to Mexico for a week over my spring break so we’ve already started packing.)

I thought I’d take this time to look at how our new place measures up to our wishlist. Because I’m getting quite obsessed excited about moving, I went to go see our place for a second time to snap some photos and measure out our space (read: take a ton of pictures of each possible corner!). Pardon the Iphone pics; I didn’t want to look too crazy showing up three weeks early to see the landlord with my clunky DSLR slung along my shoulder.

Here was our original list:


Light is one of the number one qualities I look for in an apartment. It is SO important to me. This unit faces south with plenty of large windows, so it scored a 9! Here’s a shot of our living room:


Location: 8/10. It’s easy to get to work, super close to a number of great neighbourhoods, but it isn’t quite as close to shops as it would need to be to score a 10.

Transit: 8/10. Pretty close to our metro system and frequent buses are right around the corner.

Dishwasher: Yes! Apartment sized, but I’m fine with that!


Parking: super cheap municipal parking, so that’s easy too. All in all, it meets our top requirements with flying colours, and that’s why we chose it.


Well… It’s practical, but not as pretty as I would have liked. My biggest sacrifice would be those dated floors. Beige carpet and old lino isn’t exactly my idea of character and style. I’ll have to work on that.

Ease of access to the outside: 8/10


It’s on the ground floor, which was I was hoping for to make life easier with a dog. The photo shown above is the view from our living room. For a home in the city, it also offers a fair bit of privacy and greenery without sacrificing sunlight.


It even has a patio! Great for Bali, my DIY projects, and maybe some summertime entertaining. Too bad our neighbours are hoarding more than a few unsightly items next door… I guess that’s part of high-density living.

Closets and storage: 6/10. There are two good sized closets and a storage locker, but that kitchen is TINYWorking on small space functional storage is another one of my main goals in the space.

Laundry and fireplace: These were bonus points really. There is paid laundry on the floor, and the unit doesn’t have a fireplace. Can’t have everything I suppose.

Cleanliness: 8/10. This was also a big selling feature for me. Even though the apartment isn’t new by any stretch, it’s been really well maintained and cleaned. I’m thinking it will be easier to add style that make up for ill-cared for rooms.

The overall room scores were… average. We’re working with a plain apartment, but hey, blank slate!

Bedroom: 6/10 Decent space and closet, but again, those carpets…


Kitchen and dining: 5/10. The apartment is clean and has newer appliances, but it’s small and the counter and floors have seen better days. I do appreciate the designated “dining” space however.


Living room: 7/10. Nice size, and great windows! Again, here’s my picture:


Bathroom… oh, the bathroom… 4/10.


Very little storage, ugly floors, and that TILE! I thought the toilet was pink too, but thankfully it’s been updated.

All in all, it was a practical choice within our budget, so we took it. Suffice to say, it needs some work, but that will just make for more entertaining blog posts, right? Haha that’s the hope anyway. My two main goals are:

1. Create efficient storage in this small space (it’s less than 650 sq ft.).

2. Add style and charm to my blank slate (and make up for some of those floors!).

To keep the inspiration (and my motivation) during our packing this week, I’ll be posting our to-do list and our mood boards. It will be worth it. It will be worth it. It will be worth it…

What about you? What are you willing to sacrifice? What can’t you live without? Location, space, design?

5 Tips to Finding the Perfect Pet Friendly Rental: The Showing

House hunting update: I’m thrilled! I can’t believe it only took one day of viewings (though all told we looked at 7 different units) to find our new apartment. My mind is bursting with new ideas and inspiration, which I will fill you in on soon! Plenty of good posts to come, but clearly, I’ll be in moving mode for the next few weeks. I’ll still be blogging, but no big DIY projects on the horizon until we’re settling in.

I wanted to share with you some tips I’ve learned along over the last few years of renting, this time when it’s time to actually see the space.

1. Dress like it’s an interview, because it is one. I don’t mean show up in a suit, but more along the lines of what you would wear to meet a significant other’s mother. I’ve been to a lot of showings (especially because I’m a house geek and enjoy going, be it for me, for my friends, the open house down the street… anyway) and I’m always shocked by the number of people who either don’t realize this, or simply don’t care. You usually have about fifteen minutes tops to impress the landlord, so first impressions count. Look like a slob? Guess how they’ll assume you’ll treat their space. Styled to be dark and edgy? Wonder if they’ll feel they can trust you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be yourself, just show your best side. Dress to show that you’re mature, responsible and approachable, not that you’re hoping to start a grow-op in their suite.

And, following that point…

2. Impress the landlord. Show up on time or early (I’m always early for interviews and showings, but as my friends can attest to, pretty much ends there), be prepared with application information (reference numbers, past addresses etc.), pens for forms, pertinent questions and so on. It’s especially crucial, at open houses, to make a connection. Try your best to chat with the landlord so that they’ll remember you when looking through your file later on. Again, I’ve seen people browse around quietly, who look interested in the place, but don’t try to get a word in. I know it feels pushy, but it allows them to get to know you, at least the bare minimum.

3. Realize the advantages to having a pet. This point is especially for your own peace of mind when going to a showing. I mentioned in my last post, tips before the viewing, bring your pet along to show what a responsible pet owner you are (and make sure you walk your dog like crazy so that they’re not too over the top!). I always thought of the disadvantages having a dog would bring as a tenant: they’re often dirty, smelly, loud, and you can’t predict what damage they might inflict on your home. That being said, their presence can prove how established you are, especially if you’re an unmarried couple. In general, a pet owner is at the settling down point in their life, and past the “let’s party and get wasted” stage. It also shows that you and your partner are committed to one another and most likely won’t break up (and break the lease) tomorrow.

4. Take photos for later reference. Be respectful and ask first of course, but having photos can help you remember a place once you leave. Obvious perhaps, but I can’t tell you how much having pictures helped me to distinguish one from the other in my memory after seeing all those apartments yesterday.

5. Rate the rentalIn my last post, I mentioned how helpful we’ve found writing down a physical list of qualities we were searching for in a new home. We then used this list to create a “Rate Your Rental” page. Here we scored each element of the potential place as soon as we left, when it was fresh in our minds. Here is our version:

Rate Your Rental Check List

This one is based on our wish list, but your welcome to use it for yourself, or tweak it to whatever fits for you and your family. If you’d like a copy in Word, feel free to comment and I’d be happy to send it to you.

There you have it, the hints that have helped me find a new space to call home. What about you? Any funny showing stories? Tips you’d like to share?

5 Tips to Finding the Perfect Pet Friendly Rental: Before the Viewing

Surrounded by competition, finding a rental in the city a challenge. Finding a pet friendly unit hoists it up to an even tougher level. Despite our original misgivings, Shaun and I have secured five whole viewings tomorrow! Here are some tips to finding a pet friendly rental.

5 Tips to a Pet Friendly Rental

Before the viewing:

1. Make a wishlist. If you live in a city like mine, places in your ideal neighbourhood will have number of potential tenants lined up around the corner to see it. Sometimes, if the landlord is a “show me the money” kind of person, you’ll need to make an on-the-spot decision to take a place or risk giving it up to the next renter. To help make the right choice, prep beforehand. Write up a wishlist of the most important elements you would like in a place. I find it even better to list them in terms of importance as well, so you know what you can and can’t live without. You can see ours here. That way, you can size it up against your wishlist, and have a better idea if it fits what you truly need, and you won’t sucked in to the if-we-don’t-do-this-now-we’ll-lose-it in the moment mentality.

2. Look through all listings. Craigslist gives you the option of searching for pet friendly units:

Craigslist screen1

Contrary to common sense, if you’re having trouble finding a pet-friendly apartment, don’t click this section. You’ll have a list of all places, most of which will say “no pets”. However, a few places won’t specify whether or not they accept your extra family member. If you’re willing to take the time, it’s worth looking through all those listings. If you see one that doesn’t mention anything about a cat or a dog, call the landlord to see if they’re open to the idea. We’ve found a large portion of them will be, but don’t really want everyone and their dog (I am such a geek with that pun, don’t mind me) to show up at their door, so they don’t list it. They may be willing to meet with you, and you can use the opportunity to show them how well your pet will treat their place.

3. Show the landlord that you are a responsible pet owner. Many landlords don’t allow pets because they’re worried their place will be destroyed. If they’re weary, let them know what lengths you’ll go to to protect their rental. For example, to protect a hardwood floor, large area rugs are a great option, and also act as a barrier to muffle the sound in the apartment below. Offer to bring your cat, and especially your dog, to the showing. This will give the landlord a chance to see how well behaved and quiet (and perfect) your pet is. 

4. Look past the ad for potential. I’m a visual person. Before Shaun and I moved in together, I judged a rental harshly by the quality of its photos. I would unequivocally cut out any posts without images, and any photos that didn’t appeal to me. Shaun has expanded my horizons on this one, which is even more important now that we have Bali.

For example, when we looked for our last place, we were in Indonesia. To say our search from overseas was a challenge is an understatement.  We saw this place (which we eventually ended up taking) over and over, but no one seemed to want it. Ironically, today, I came across his same ad for another unit in the building. He used this photo of the living room:

Landlord photo


Yes, you can see the hardwood, but you can’t see any of the character, the quality of the wood, and how bright the place is. Contrast that to the photo we used when we went to sublet it (because we wanted to get our puppy of course):

Our living room

We literally had to take it down within two hours because we got so much response. It’s not even a staged photo! Often you need to look for the potential in an ad and see the place in person. This can work in your favour because a lot of people are like me out there. They ignore ugly photos. Use this to your advantage, and it will mean less competition for you! In our case, we even had enough leverage to score a cheaper price.

5. Respond quickly. Again, I have to say it, Craigslist is competitive. Shaun is a regular  Craigslister and noticed just HOW MANY responses you’ll get for a decent listing. You’ll have the most luck of getting an answer if you are one of the first people to respond to the ad, so check often and respond as soon as you can. Plus, if there are too many responses, the landlord will take it down, but you’ll have made it into the running.

Hope this helps your search! If you have any other tips that have helped you along, I’d love to hear them!