Great renovations can begin with one seemingly insignificant act.
At least, that's how Ron Funk and Cheryl Digby's reno of a 1900-square-foot bungalow in Morden began.
"I was sitting at the kitchen table eating supper when I noticed a little piece of wallpaper had become unglued from the wall just above the baseboard. When I reached over to tear it off, a big section of paper peeled away from the Gyproc substrate," said Ron.
The peeling process was addictive and he found himself tearing off larger and larger strips of wallpaper.
Cheryl became alarmed, claiming if Ron continued he would create an unsightly, irreparable mess.
"Where are we going to find matching wallpaper to repair that eyesore you're creating?" she asked.
It was a reasonable question as the bungalow, which they had just purchased, was built in 1968 and fashion, being the fickle fish it is, rarely remains in vogue for more than a decade. (Where, for example, were they to locate wallpaper with a human motif: in this case men, women and children swimming blithely through air?)
Ron, however, remained undeterred, continuing to pick away at the paper, which was coming off like a sticky label on plastic, yielding tiny scraps in some areas, followed by large, rewarding strips in others.
As Cheryl watched her husband, she decided to join him; his act of wanton destruction looked therapeutic, perhaps a better stress reliever than freestyle swimming.
When the kitchen walls were all denuded, the couple realized they had crossed a line that divides the shallow end from the deep end: It was time to get serious, to become fully immersed in that capricious sea known as the full reno.
Pumped by their victory over the kitchen wallpaper; they decided the next leap was to remove a retaining wall that ran the entire length of the building, dividing one side of the house from the other by a long, narrow hallway.
Their vision was to create an open aquarium out of a series of fish bowl-sized rooms that comprised the 40-plus-year-old home.
A structural engineer friend of Cheryl's calculated the size of a laminated beam required to carry the weight of the roof shouldered by the load-bearing hallway wall.
The design called for a 32-foot beam, 12 inches high and six inches wide constructed of æ-inch plywood.
The initial plan was to cut a hole in an end gable of the house so the wood leviathan could be constructed on the ground, then worked into position in the attic by pushing it through the opening.
Ron was against this idea, deciding instead to construct the beam in the attic piece by piece.
Cheryl handed the 12-inch-wide by eight-foot-long plywood sheets to him through a small opening designed to allow access to the attic.
"Between the low-pitch roof and the truss support chords, there wasn't a lot of room to manoeuvre," recalled Ron, a sturdily built man.
Not only did the plywood sheets need to be screwed and glued together, they also had to be staggered to maximize the beam's strength.
Said Ron, "I spent several cramped evenings building that structural behemoth, a job I hope never to undertake again."
The completed girder was tied to the bottom and side chords of every truss with galvanized metal hardware similar to joist hangers.
With the beam in place, Ron and Cheryl began to dismantle the load-bearing wall beneath.
"I remember my anxiety when the time came to take down the last wall stud," said Ron. "I half-expected it to spring at me like a piece of lumber under tremendous compression. I was even concerned the entire roof might collapse."
But his worries proved groundless. The stud was removed without incident and the roof did not cave in; the attic beam was doing its job, carrying the weight formerly supported by the wall.
"Everything was rock-solid, not even a º-inch of movement," he recalled.
With the wall gone, the couple gained another 150 square feet of living space that allowed them to increase the size of the kitchen and an adjoining eating area, while providing easier access to bedrooms, bathrooms and a large living room separated from the kitchen by lovely red oak french doors.
With the major structural work completed, Ron and Cheryl began to look for cabinets to replace the time-worn ones in the kitchen and other areas of the house.
"The first person we contacted was selling cabinets available in increments of eight inches only. As we wanted exact measurements, we decided to go with Pete Wall of Morden, a custom builder with an excellent reputation," said Cheryl.
Said Wall: "I visited Ron and Cheryl after the kitchen had been gutted, taking measurements for a new set of kitchen cabinets and a new island. I always mark the measurements on the floor so the plumber and the electrician know where to place pipes and lighting fixtures."
He said Ron and Cheryl chose floor-to-ceiling, white-painted cabinets with solid maple doors, melamine boxes and MDF sides, as well as full-extension, soft-close drawers and European-style hidden hinges.
Maple crown mouldings, also painted white, were used to create a graceful transition from the top of the cabinets to the ceiling, added Wall.
To complement a new stainless steel fridge/freezer, he said the couple elected to go with brushed pewter door and drawer pulls.
As the reno progressed, Wall constructed similar cabinets for the home's three bathrooms, as well as a lovely built-in shelving unit in the master bedroom and a striking cabinet in the living room that enclosed three sides of the fireplace.
"Out of our $50,000 budget, we spent about $25,000 on cabinets built by Pete and we don't regret a single cent," said Ron.
If there was regret, it was the day the couple decided to tear the wallpaper off the living room walls in preparation for Cheryl's daughter's home wedding.
"Whoever did the original job neglected to properly prep the drywall substrate before applying the paper, perhaps as a cost-saving measure," said Cheryl, adding the guilty party attempted to rectify the error by applying sufficient glue to hold a 1,000-pound shark to the wall.
It soon became obvious the only way to get the wallpaper off was to smash the underlying Gyproc with sledgehammers.
"It created a catastrophic mess that included broken drywall, pieces of wallpaper and gypsum dust that settled in all parts of the room," said Cheryl. "I'll never have anything to do with wallpaper in this lifetime."
However, being a resilient couple, Ron and Cheryl managed to re-drywall the entire room and paint it just before the wedding was scheduled to take place.
For the paint palette, Cheryl selected earth tones by Benjamin Moore including sandy brown and caramel fondue. Yum. (I think someone should invent edible paint for those peckish times between hockey periods. You could lick it off the walls and repaint the following day.)
The only other nasty glitch they encountered was a leaking pipe in one of the bathrooms.
"When we took possession of the house, we noticed a strange odour in the room but even with the help of a plumber, we couldn't find the source," said Cheryl.
It wasn't until Ron removed a surround tub and shower from the bathroom that the mystery was solved.
Behind the unit, he discovered a corroded metal vent pipe someone had repaired by stuffing the holes with old socks and bits of fibreglass insulation.
"Stack pipes are crucial to vent bathroom odours to the outside of a house at roof level. Instead of exiting the house, some of the stink was leaking back into the bathroom," he said.
He fixed the problem by cutting out the metal pipe and replacing it with four-inch ABS, a standard polymer material used for main stacks in modern homes.
Now the hard work is behind them, the couple said they are immensely pleased with their rebuilt home located on one acre of beautifully treed land.
They passed up on buying the house when it was listed for $300,000 several years ago because it had a swimming pool in the backyard, said Cheryl.
But when the price dropped to $230,000 in 2009, she said the swimming pool was "paid for by the discounted cost of the house."
"We were about to fill in the pool and sod over it, but then our three grandchildren arrived for a tour of our new home. When they saw the pool in the backyard, they begged us to keep it," Cheryl said.
It turned out to be a fortuitous decision as the pool, a cabana and a deck and patio that can be accessed from the house by sliding doors have become a focal point for family gatherings.
Ron, operations manager for Acrylon Plastics in Winkler, the firm that built the slide for the Obama childrens' play set, built a gigantic plastic turtle for the pool that has become a favourite toy of the grandchildren.
It's astonishing to think all this creative activity was generated by a speck of wallpaper.