Featured Project: Vancouver Special Renovation

We caught up with VTL Member Tony last week to find out more about the huge renovation project that has seen him down at the shop to borrow tools at least once a week over the past couple of months. Here’s what he had to tell us…

VTL: Tell us about your project. How long you expect it to take and who doyou have helping you out?

Tony: We are renovating a 2400sf Vancouver special we purchased in June of this year. In the heady and adrenaline fueled early stages I was pretty confident I could have the whole thing wrapped up in 6 months. Windows, doors, kitchen, suite, electrical, plumbing, in-wall speaker system, sharply tiled fireplace and cosy little fire snapping happily therein. I’m a little under halfway at this point and i am doing much of the work myself. Obviously, I have learned to adjust my expectations a bit.

Renovation chaos!

VTL: What kind of experience with tools and construction did you have before you started?

Tony: We owned a small bungalow in north burnaby prior to this house. I was able to ‘practice’ on that one previous to taking on this particular project. Much of what did there i am doing here, but on a larger scale, and hopefully with a bit more skill and finish. That’s what I keep telling myself at least.

VTL: What motivated you to take this on?

Tony: It is increasingly challenging to own a home in Vancouver. Most often you have to be prepared to do some work yourself to shape the house around your tastes. Otherwise, you’re paying a lot more for another person’s aesthetic decisions. The Special is a particularly good house to update for that reason because they are generally well-built and their layout allows for a clean re-imagining without having to get into major structural changes. Most of the work we are undertaking is cosmetic in nature.

Removing wood paneling in the living room.

VTL: What have been the most challenging and/or rewarding experiences while undertaking the reno?

Tony: It can be very deflating to realize you have made a mistake which will cost you time and money, when you know both are of limited supply. But the beauty of renovation is there are always ways to work around issues, or come up with new ideas to creative or technical problems. I have learned to appreciate the pure satisfaction of completing something in the house which is both functional and visually sharp; and to not get too disappointed with the setbacks.

VTL: Which tool has been the most useful for this project?

Tony: The most useful tool I have is my putty knife. We have shared many adventures together and like any good friend he has seen me through some tight situations. I’ve included him in my will. The most useful tool from VTL would be the table saw, with the tile saw and Dremel rotary tool coming in a close second and third. Without these my ikea kitchen hack would have been pretty ugly.

VTL: Any words of advice to others thinking about dong something similar?

The tile saw at work

Tony: I am amazed by how much advice one can find online and even more amazed that you’ll never find the one answer you’re looking for to solve that one huge problem that keeps you up at night. You have to be a real detective it seems to cull through loads of opinions and approaches before committing to a job. Have patience I’d say. And bring in the pros when you need to (electrical, structural etc). Doing this type of work is not easy and I have a better understanding of why trades cost what they do. I’d say go with your strengths but keep some of your budget for others that know better.

VTL: What do you have in mind for when this project is done?

Tony: I’d like to say nothing, but I know that’s a lie. What I have accomplished will require touch-ups, changes and rethinking over time. Alain de botton’s book “The Architecture of Happiness” summarizes well the sometimes discouraging rapidity with which the new becomes old. If the house is given new life and has remained out of the dump; is secure, warm and inviting; provides a place for my children to grow (in an increasingly dynamic neighborhood), then I will be happy. What else can we ask of a home to be?

VTL: Any last thoughts?

Tony: It’s been great having access to the VTL. It would have been difficult to undertake a project of this size otherwise without their involvement. Many thanks goes to them. It’s a great endeavor for our city.


This is the first post in a new series we’re starting on the blog in which we’ll feature the projects that VTL members are currently working on. We hope it gives you an inside perspective on the many different jobs our tools get used on and provides some inspiration, too!

We’re looking for more members to feature, so please get in touch with Caitlin at communications@vancouvertoollibrary.com if you have a project you’d like to tell us about!