I've always tried to follow Gandhi's saying,
"Live simply so that others may simply live." On a six week canoe
trip from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg it became clear to me how easy it is to live
simply and how little one needs in terms of material possessions to be happy.
Adequate shelter, adequate clothing, good food and clean water are essential to
ones well being along with healthy relationships. Working with environmental
groups since the early 70's provided me with a greater understanding of the
harmful impact of human activity on our planet. These experiences helped
me determine how to re-cycle this old # 334 James St.N. building in a
sustainable way. Location is off the charts in terms of walk-ability. Even with
my arthritic legs I can walk to almost anything essential...2 hardware stores,
banks, HSR, GO station, grocery stores, the Farmer's Market, Central Library
and many fine eating establishments and entertainment venues.
The building itself is a 12 foot wide row house so neighbour's buildings insulate my
north and south walls. I live in what were 3 small rooms on the second floor
although I've knocked down some walls to create an open concept/loft
style space. The small store front at street level had been a barbershop for
about 85 years but now is leased to a family firm that has been framing photos
and pictures in Hamilton
for more than 40 years.
The living room is multi-functional. A wall bed
converts this space into a bedroom at night. A WW ll German wood rifle box, to
the bottom of which I secured casters, serves as a blanket box, foot rest and
coffee table. Book cases on either side of the wall bed are handmade of sturdy
construction grade 2" x 10". The ornate but now non-functional
fireplace is on the opposite wall. A television and music center is on the
interior wall perpendicular to the former. The hardwood flooring here, in the
hall and in the dining room is from a family farm in northern Ontario. Because the wood came from two
small lots of a different species it was on sale for $2 per square foot. Each
type of hardwood was finished to the same colour so this makes for an
The walk-in closet/storage room and bathroom
along the north side of the hallway are in the same place as they were before
re-construction. I just rearranged the location of the
A comfortable claw foot tub purchased from Mr. Used replaced the damaged tub.
Mr. Used wanted $350 for the one I chose. A couple weeks later my girlfriend
got it for $275. The upper portion of the wall separating the bathroom from the
living room next door features salvaged glass blocks. A friends unsavoury
neighbour was always dumping garbage and construction rumble on the properties
next door to her. She would have been chagrined had she known I had benefited
from her mischief. The glass block is opposite the east facing dining room
window thus bringing interesting light into the bathroom. The vanity is an old
birch school desk probably from the 1930's. A potter friend made me a beautiful
sink in return for some wood work that I did for him. The inkwell accommodates
the high curved faucet.
The dining room also serves as my office.
File boxes under a church pew along one side of the table allows office files
to be stored neatly. A long low bookshelf on the opposite wall allows for
working files to be stored quickly and efficiently during meal hour. A client
offered the pew free if I sold her house for a good price. Being a real estate
broker I agreed to the deal. This space used to be a small, claustrophobic
kitchen with a wall between it and the hallway leading to the back room which
was then a red and black the bedroom. Knocking a 3' x 3' window area in the upper
portion of this wall allowed more light to flow between these two rooms. My
fax/copy machine sits on an old German double student desk complete with two
inkwells and pencil placement grooves and book storage. Years of student
pictures in red and black ink upon the desk surface probably resulted in a few
The dining room table/office desk is a 1950's
yellow arborite and stainless steel model with leaves that pull out at each end
to extend the table. I purchased it for $40 at an estate sale. One day while
driving along Bay St. North
I noticed a yard sale where the owners were sitting on stainless steel chairs
with yellow plastic seats and backs.The same vintage as my table. I backed up
and asked if they would sell them. "Sure", the one who seemed to be
the matriarch responded. "How much?" " Eight dollars,"she
replied. I thought she probably meant eight dollars per chair and would have
gladly paid it but I said, "You mean for all of them?" "Absolutely."
was the response. "How about six dollars?" was mine. They were happy
to be rid of them. Dining room done.
The back bedroom now became a kitchen. A
good friend of mine bought a new house but didn't like the cupboards which were
in perfect shape. She said if I would offer to remove them I could have
them for free along with a double sink and the expensive taps. Kitchen done. I
simply reconfigured them and painted them an interesting colour. The east
window opening was cut down to put in an insulated door to go out to what would
be a balcony. Olympic tile has a block square outlet in Toronto. On the next block they have the
discount store where one can get very good discounts. A contractor friend who
has an account there got 30% more off for my kitchen and bathroom ceramic
tiles. I wanted an 18" wide stove and found a brand new one in Binbrook
for half price. The seller's wife to be wanted the same one but with a glass
window on the oven door.
The 8' x 10' balcony off the kitchen enhances
the apartment immeasurably. Some swerving art deco railing salvage from the old
Tivoli Theatre brings back some delightful memories.
I bartered for most of the labour for the above.
A friend was cheated on a real estate deal. I did all the legal research to
present a case to the Real Estate Council of Ontario. The real estate agent and
his broker were found guilty and fined $15,000. This set the precedent for a
civil suit. My friend was awarded $34,000 there, so volunteered two weeks free
labour on my apartment which was enough time to do the bulk of the work. So I'm
nearly done. I'm surrounded with my books, music and original art from my kid
and friends, and have wonderful relationships with them. Life is pretty good.
At a wake last week I was given a nearly new
$4,000 stair chairlift that I can store in the basement until these old
arthritic joints demand its use. All of this is to say that one doesn't
need a lot of money to be comfortable. There are inexpensive, sustainable
things that one can do. One just has to be patient, consistent and exercise a