Sunday, December 7, 2008

Guided Tour - Formal Living Room

From the Dining Room, a large double pocket door leads into the Formal Living Room. This room still has the houses original main fireplace and mantle, whcih has been converted to an open gas burning hearth about 20 years ago. The pocket door is a wonderful piece of work, completely original, with 16 etched glass panes in each slider. I have no idea how the individual panes were manufactured, as they are certainly not identical, but some of the leaf like patterns seem to repeat randomly through various panes. Originally the house had at least two, but possibly four fireplaces, all of which were used to heat the house, with the addition of a coal burning furnace in the basement. in the 'twenties, a central hot water furnace and radiators were installed, and the less desireable fireplaces removed. The furnishings (two pink loveseats, and two blue upholstered chairs) were cast-offs from my parents in Thornhill, but they seem to suit and fit quite well. An antuique vertical desk from the 'twenties, and a small glass front bookshelf from the turn of the century were bought fairly inexpensively at Bonds Corners Auction Ltd. If you are ever interested in buying excellent furnishings for incredible prices, auctions are the way to go. You can find beautiful solid wood furniture from early to mid century all in excellent condition, and get them less expensively than laminated MDF junk from China at Leon's or The Brick.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

New Traditions - Friday Night Pizza!

About 6 monhths back I was flipping through the glossy LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) Magazine "Food & Drink" when I happened across an article on home made pizza, with the suggestion of pairing different styles of pizza with different beverages. Well something snapped in my head (in a good way!) and next Friday I had assembled all the basic ingredients for toppings, loaded the dough ingredients into the Cuisinart Bread Maker (thank you Peter and Donnaleen!), and an hour and a half later, Rudi, Katherine and I were "decorating" our pizzas. Fifteen minutes after that we were sitting down and enjoying fresh, hot out of the oven, home made pizza, while Alexander whinged after scarfing down his veggies, and had to be sustained on bits of crust!

Although the "Food & Drink" article featured rather exotic styles of Pizza (Artichoke and grilled chicken, and roast beef and spanish onion varieties) ours are quite a bit simpler, generally sliced pepperoni, chopped onions, mushrooms, and red pepper on tomato sauce, but always delicious.

I sometimes wonder, if Mr. Field were to ever happen by, dropped in from the year 1898, the shock he would get. Watching as Katherine arrived home from work in her little fuel sipping Toyota Echo - a half hour trip for her now, a half-day undertaking in his time (we're not perfect, our other vehicle is a fuel guzzling Ford Freestar) with some groceries bought at the local grocery store including red pepper available any time of the year (a store right in Tavistock, with probably over 5000 items in stock all the time, from all over the globe), and then as our handy electric breadmaker whipped up a batch of pizza dough in short order, with no effort on my part really. I think he would have a lot of questions!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Art of Perfectionism - Example 1

Perhaps you may think being a perfectionist is simple, something that anyone can be good at. Well I hate to disappoint you, but that is far from the truth. As an example, not only does a perfectionist have to build, construct, repair, or fabricate a perfect solution, he has to first find all those problems that lend themselves to having perfect soulutions implemented. Here is a wonderful example: Yes, a lowly little outdoor plug - all it has to do is sit there and provide power safely when you plug something into it right? I mean really, how can you actually find fault with a properly and safely installed outdoor plug? Well, that's actually wrong, and a perfectionist can find fault...that is his or her duty! Not only does it have to work properly and safely, it also has to be aesthetically pleasing, and functionally located.

BEFORE: A GFCI decora style outlet in a modern rectangular box with decora style weather cover. It is located directly above the coal chute. Ugly and inconvenient if you ask me!

AFTER: A traditional duplex style receptacle, with the old style twin covers. It is not a GFCI, but it does have GFCI protection, as it is wired in sequence after a GFCI located in the crawlspace uner the front sunroom.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Guided Tour - Dining Room

After leaving your coat in the foyer closet, you could turn again toward the back of the house, with the staircase on your right, and proceed throught a doorway into the dining room. Off to your left lie both living rooms. The photograph is taken from the back of the dining room (in the doorway to the kitchen, looking back to the front of the house, the foyer, and the main front door. The dining room table and chairs, hutch, and sideboard (not visible) are turn of the century pieces, we were told bought by the Field family for the house, and simply transferred along with the house over the years to all the new owners. Although it is a charming story, it is not the truth. The dining room suite was bought by Mr Hilcox and his wife, who owned it for a number of years. Some time ago they downsized, and had the suite moved to their father's house, which eventually became the home of one of their sons.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Characters - Old Man Burkie

To answer a question that some of you may ask, the house is not haunted. And yes, I know what it is like to be 'asked to leave' after ignoring the disturbing activity another house's non-living resident directed at me. Better I think than being haunted, the Field House has a history with one very eccentric owner, who most of the longer-term residents of Tavistock have some familiarity with.

Six years ago, Katherine hosted the AGM of the KW community orchestra at our house (she was tired of driving to Kitchener for all her meetings, and decided it was time for the members to drive to her!) After dinner, the members got to business, leaving some of the spouses and me to entertain ourselves for an hour or two. One gentleman was rather earnest in getting a tour of the house, so we got drinks, and I took them around. While I certainly like the house, and think it is impressive in its own style, this particular gentleman was quite effusive in his appreciation: "Wow, David, these pocket doors, they are fabulous!", "Oh, look at the woodwork, the baseboards, and the moulding around the doors!" and "My God, the staircase is fantastic! And look at the stained glass windows!" were typical of his reaction. After finishing the tour, I asked "Now Vern, generally the reaction is a little more....ummm....tempered, but you seem very impressed with the house, I was wondering why" and he replied "David, you don't understand, I grew up in Tavistock, just the other side of town, and for the life of me, I never, ever thought I would get to see insinde old man Burkie's house! This is fantastic!"

From what I have heard, 'old man Burkie' (a certain Mr. Burcholz) was a very private man, to the point of telling kids not to walk in front of the house when they went by. He was a bachelor, who bought the house with his mother in the 'thirties, and lived in the house until he passed away in the mid-'eighties. He and his mother emigrated from Germany, and there was apparently some (mild) suspicion that he may have been a spy during the war. He worked in the import/export business, evidently of agricultural equipment, and had business dealings in Venezuela. Interestingly, before the war, Mr. Burcholz adopted a boy in town (a young teen, not an orphan, but close) provided him a home, love and guidance, a boy named Hilcox, who went on to marry and have a family of his own. On Mr Burcholz's passing, the house was willed to one of the two sons of Mr. Hilcox, who lived in it with his family for the next ten years.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Guided Tour - The Foyer

If you were to arrive at the front door of the Field House, you would be let in to the sunroom, and then through that and a very wide tall wooden door with a large window in the upper half. Upon entering this, the main door of the house, and looking to the right, this is what you would see. Actually you would see a lot more than this, as my 24mm Nikon lense on the D-100 digital body doesn't open up as wide as I would like, so until I win the lottery and buy a true wide angle, this will have to do! A three part rectangular layout staircase, with tall baseboards, and wall panelling underneath. The thing that amazes me is that the lacquer finish on all the woodwork was applied around 1890 (give or take two years - see first post!), almost 120 years ago, and now, apart from a few minor buffs and scrapes, still looks as good as new. I like the small octagonal framed stained glass windows, which let in just enough light. Sometimes climbing the stairs I wonder about all the other people over the years who have climbed the same staircase, holding the banister, or gliding their right hand on the wall as they went up......If only these walls could talk, the stories they might tell.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Ramblings of an Occasional Perfectionist

With such a wonderful house, you may ask, what problems could there possibly be? It must be well constructed to have survived close on 125 years now. Well, the answers are many, and about as numerous as the problems that arise.

When we purchased the house, it had the typical deficiencies of an older home, including an out of date electrical system, a poorly designed and installed plumbing system, little insulation, and the like. It did have a modern high efficiency forced air furnace and air conditioner, a fairly well equipped kitchen, reasonably up to date decor, good condition roof and eaves, and excellent condition brickwork, interior walls, and floors. The property itself had been reasonably well maintained, was fully fenced, and featured decent gardens in both the front and back yard.

All in all, the house has been well maintained over the years, probably as a result of relatively few owners (we are the 5th owners actually), and the initial high quality of construction.

In the long term, I want to bring all the mechanical systems of the house totally up to date, and also completely gut and install a new kitchen and main upstairs bathroom, and completely finish the attic as our master bedroom. Many of these jobs I will undertake either completely or in part by myself, for several reasons. First, I am a perfectionist, and I like things to be built or fixed properly, such that they are both aesthetically pleasing, and won't ever require re-doing. I don't like my electrical boxes out by more than a millimetre, and I really don't like half assed solutions that take half the time of doing things properly. There is a reason I am a big fan of Holmes on Homes! Second, I don't think it is money well spent to hire a contractor at an expensive rate, only to have them do your project as quickly as possible to maximize their profit, especially when I am quite capable of doing a better job myself. Finally, I do take pride in the work I do, and I am satisfied knowing what I have done well be around for a long time to come.

(more to follow)

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Welcome to the Field House Chronicles. It has been over seven years since Katherine and I became the owners of this wonderful house in Tavistock. It is funny to think that we could actually own such a house, since both long before we arrived, and long after we are gone, the house has stood and will continue to stand here, watching families come and go, and grow within its walls. A while back I saw a photograph of the first owner, standing in front of one of the easily identifiable pocket doors in the living room, taken about 1910 or so. I said to myself "look at that, he is standing in my house! Fantastic!" But the reality is, it is not my house, nor is it his, nor anyone who lived here. We are simply caretakers, those granted the privilege of living within, and given the responsibility to maintain it for all the caretakers to follow.

The Field House is a beautiful yellow brick Victorian era home, built in 1888 (or 1892 - another possibility) by J. G. Field, the owner of J. G. Field and Son Woollen Mills on Hope Street in Tavistock. The house is of double brick construction, with lath and plaster walls, tall heavy baseboards and beautiful door and window frames, yet simple and clean, otherwise unadorned walls and ceilings. There are two living rooms on the main floor (a parlour and a formal living room I suppose) separated by fabulous etched glass panel wooden pocket doors. A dining room and front foyer are beside the respective living rooms, with a sunroom addition on the front of the house added before the Great War (1910 or so). A rectangular winding staircase leads to the second floor, which has five bedrooms and a bath. The Kitchen is at the back of the house, and a small second staircase climbs to the back landing. This staircase then leads up again to the attic, which is fairly large, and fully floored, but otherwise unfinished.