December 17, 2014

Retro rambling

DECEMBER 17, 2014

As a kid, I never thought about the design, much less the cost of the space where I dug through my grandmother’s photo boxes and hidden treasures. My childhood basement was an embarrassment of mid-century riches that you now find being sold for a Mint in trendy shops on Queen St. East. Christmas decorations stored in blue Birks boxes, a jazzy Mad-Men bar station, and walnut, sliding doors revealing my grandparent’s modern style and “keeping up with the Draper’s” interior design tastes.

Long after selling that house in 1994, I would acquire the boxes of photos, and documents that tend to hang around in a family long after they’re needed. My favourite find was this little gem: The Estimate for George and Betty’s 1960 Basement Renovation in the stylish metropolis of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I never met my Grandfather George but, what I do know if him, he was a classy, well-dressed officer turned businessman who donned a Burberry coat and monogrammed everything. Judging by the 10 page, handwritten estimate for this reno, he was also very detailed and willing to spare no expense.

This pencil sketch of the basement doesn’t look like much but the room was larger than the entire first floor of my current home in Toronto.
  • The flooring would be linoleum (so modern)
  • There would be a bar with a working sink
  • a pink powder room
  • an electric fireplace
  • a few sliding doors with hidden storage
  • and asbestos in the acoustic tiles

My Grandmother, Betty, would custom upholster the furniture in an embossed velvet and I seem to recall that there would be some coloured glass accents around the amber...definitely a smokey mirror.

The initial estimate for this space was a whopping $1384.00

final total for this 1960 rec-room, after my grandparents started to choose expensive finishes, custom this, and custom that: $3,660.00

When I showed it to my contractor husband today, he just shook his head, discouraged. In 2014 dollars, the plumbing alone would have cost that much. We have done a few basements over the years and, depending on the design choices (and the disasters that we find behind the walls) the minimum cost for George & Betty’s stylin’ space would have been around $30,000.00, but we’ve seen basements (so far) reach up to the $60,000.00 mark, not including the custom furniture, and the fee for the “designer.” Let’s be real, it can go higher, we just haven’t met that client yet.

Whatever the project may be, George and Betty did what most people do...
  • they changed their minds
  • added things
  • chose expensive finishes
  • customised other things
  • and their bill more than doubled.

I would imagine that, like our clients today, they were advised on what would make the costs go up but, contrary to today’s renovation mindset theirs was a day and age where you renovated ONCE, and FOREVER, amen.

This basement was meant to last. It was meant to match, tickety-boo, and was to host groovy parties with retro Christmas lights, matching sweater sets and, undoubtedly, a few cheezy fondue pots. Whatever the motivation, today’s blog is simply a belated apology to the new owners who would have to drop $30K to do it all over again.

Thank you for indulging in my walk down memory lane with my (apparently) very cool grandparents.