What does it take to make a house a home? For one Toronto couple, it’s a full gut and renovation job done almost entirely on their own.
Tyler Burton and Danielle Gibson purchased a century-old semi-detached home in the Junction area of Toronto last summer. Earlier this year they started the project of renovating their home from top to bottom, mostly by themselves with a deadline of under a year to get everything done.
Tyler Burton and Danielle Gibson of Semi.Renovated.
“When we went through the home budgeting and criteria exercise, I think we both knew based on that it was going to be really hard to find something that checks all the boxes,” Gibson said.
“The next best thing was to pick something that allowed us to take on a project because we knew we’d be capable, that it would be a great hobby and also just given both our backgrounds and wanting to get our hands dirty, this was probably the best way.”
The couple, who work in Marketing and Finance respectively, started planning in September and started knocking down walls in late January. Their goal is to create more airiness and openness, allowing for more light and space throughout the home, which has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a basement.
“We are in month three or four, and we are on schedule and under budget, I think that’s pretty rewarding because at the start it’s very uncertain and you feel like, ‘Oh my god what have we done?’” Burton said.
“You always hear horror stories of budgets doubling or tripling, so far that hasn’t happened which is nice because we are our own (general contractor) as well as the trades.”
Even with some help with “labour and project coordination” from family and friends who are in the trades or renovation industry, the couple agrees one of the biggest challenges is having to learn on the fly. The decisions around finishes, materials, and suppliers have also been overwhelming they explain, but it's all part of the learning process.
“I didn’t know how much there is to know about each individual thing you have to do,” Burton said.
“It’s almost like you’re getting a crash course every time you do something; now we’re doing plumbing, now we’re doing electrical or whatever it is there’s just so much to know and doing it yourself and trying to get it right, it’s like this steep learning curve you have to go through for each phase.”
On top of their 9 to 5 careers, their renovations which have focused on the main floor so far, have become part of the daily routines.
“The weeknights are very similar to what a gym routine is, you have a bite-sized task and you can knock out two hours of work, it’s actually really cathartic – using a hammer and nail is a little bit like going to the gym you actually do get sweaty, you get stuff done, and then you clean up have a nightcap or you’re in bed reading a book,” she said.
“We try to schedule it in a way that bigger tasks that require a full day we reserve for the weekends, but the work we’ve done on weeknights have really pushed things along and visually its leaps and bounds of progress and that momentum is really motivating for us.”
They also started the Instagram account Semi.Renovated to document their progress. After conversations within their social circle and reaching out to other couples who’ve gone through similar projects, Gibson and Burton wanted to share their experience and lessons with others, all while having a concerned and excited audience of friends and family watching their work come to life.
“People are more than willing to share information who’ve gone through this and talking to people, getting their perspective and listening will help you prevent making the same mistakes that they did,” Burton said.
“There’s very much a pay it forward for people who’ve gone through it, which is a bit of why we started the Semi.Renovated handle as well because we thought this was our opportunity to share with others because we’ve learned so much.”
While most weekends are booked, weeknights are busy and the couple is relegated to just the upstairs living space (for now), the massive undertaking of rebuilding their home has literally (and figuratively) been a blast, they say.
“I think this is the greatest hobby I think I’ve ever had – it’s my version of a pottery class, I’m learning a ton of trades and I’m getting to build something that I’m going to get to enjoy for years to come,” Gibson said.
“If you can keep that perspective it really makes all the stupid hammer and nail moments where you totally suck at it, worth it.”