Monday, March 30, 2009

Shangri-La - rooftop renovations.

A photo collage of the Shangri-La Suite

This week, we started to renovate our top-floor Shangri-La Suite. This is not the first time. Shangri-La occupies the entire third-floor of the house. The centre of the suite is under the peak of the roof. Originally(c. 1907), this was likely to have been the children's bed &/or playroom. The central area is now used as a sitting area gathered around a TV and gas fireplace. From it, three flat-roofed dormers jut east, west and north out of the sloping roofline. Charming, multipaned casement windows front each dormer.
There is no south dormer - probably because of the neighbouring house. In the early 1990's, we added an ensuite bath with jacuzzi tub and skylight on the southside. When building the bath, of course we insulated the bath's walls and constructed a hatch inside the closet for future access to the southside attic crawlspace.
To complete the picture - under the east dormer, overlooking the front door and garden is a desk, armchair & single bed. Under the west dormer is the main sleeping nook with queen-sized bed and glass doors leading to a balcony. Under the north dormer is the focus of our current project.
When we bought the house in 1989, this small space, just beside and behind the fireplace, was a tenant's kitchenette and somehow managed to contain a gas stove, a full-sized clunker of a fridge, sink and simple custom-built cabinetry. For B & B purposes, our first renovations reduced this to a "galley kitchen" with only a bar fridge, microwave, coffeemaker, kettle and a general freshening up with paint and vinyl. Now, our goals are to turn this area into a sexier "wetbar", obtain access to the remaining attic spaces to prepare for blown-in insulation, make necessary electrical improvements and, once again(fun!), update the decorating scheme.
Please don't forget to vote! See our poll questions just back a few days. We really want to hear from you.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Guest accommodation - fit for a Queen.

Nelson House B & B enjoys an excellent reputation and a google ranking to match. In perusing the internet, I have noticed that you can find vacation lodging for the most discriminating tastes. Take for example this central London "townhouse" currently listed on Though certainly not your typical bed and breakfast, this accommodation is catered and offers "deluxe living in the heart of England's capital city."

Rates may seem a little steep at first but here's what is on offer: "19 state rooms, 600 bedrooms and 78 bathrooms". It is a gated property with 400 staff to meet your every need. Indeed, there are two people just to look after the 300 clocks. Outdoors, "the balcony is large enough to fit several members of your family who may wish to wave at all the passing crowds". The guest-house owners are onsite but described as "discreet." A heads up for travellers with allergies - they do keep "a number of loveable pet corgis".

How to get there: "The nearest tube station is Victoria (who was also a famous relative of the owner.)There is the option of horse drawn carriage or the owners Grandson can borrow an RAF vehicle should you wish to fly directly in."

The location offers the convenience of "local shops such as Harrods and the lovely local square called Trafalgar."

It may seem a little over the top but this holiday getaway is even referred to as a "palace". Apparently, nothing is too much to please discerning guests. Just imagine. "On arrival a flag will be raised to signal your stay at the property."

See for yourself!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Heritage Restoration and B & B Renovation

When I purchased 977 Broughton St., it had already been five decades since the old house had been used as a single-family home. The history of Vancouver's West End is that many of the prominent upper and comfortably middle-class families began to move out of the downtown neighbourhood between the two great wars. Gradually, large homes, such as this one, were converted to revenue properties. In our case, I figure this conversion to rentals may have occurred in the early forties.

Fifty years of rentals meant that many hundreds of individuals have lived in the house. Fortunately, the series of owner/landlords never subdivided the original rooms nor seriously damaged the character of the home. Bedrooms were simply converted to monthly rental spaces, locally called "housekeeping suites". Most rooms had a fridge, a gas stove or hotplate and a sink. A number of these suites shared a bathroom down the hall.

When I came along, thinking bed and breakfast, my first choice was whether or not to restore the house to it's early 1900s, Edwardian layout or gut and renovate to entirely modern standards. In the end, I opted for restoration of the public areas and renovation of the guest areas. I had the great advantage of purchasing a house that really needed no major reconfiguration or structural repairs. Because the bedrooms already had plumbing in them from the old rental days, I set out to quickly add ensuite baths for the use of B & B guests. Of course, the old kitchenettes were quickly removed. The entire house, inside and out, was scrubbed and painted. Where possible, original hardwood floors, banister rails and some built-in chests of drawers were sanded and refinished. Carpeting was added. The roof was re-shingled, stopping leaks and adding some small insulation improvement. The existing gas furnace was at least cheaper than oil, so I left it alone.

But the focus was on baths. A pair of shared hallway baths were gutted and rebuilt. One remained a shared bath for more budget-minded B & B guests. The other became an ensuite. In fact, over the course of some years, a total of four new ensuite baths were created for guest use. Two more were rebuilt and enhanced for my own and staff's use. In building six baths, I took the opportunities presented to insulate inside and outside walls for each project. However, I made the mistake of neglecting to insulate the remaining exterior walls. I worried more about delaying and disrupting B & B operations than long-term energy conservation. I rushed to redecorate with interior panelling, wallpapers and paints. That was way fun! I wanted to get and keep the bed and breakfast up and running for both the guests' enjoyment and to recoup some of my investment. In the process, I put off the big, messy task of drilling holes in the walls and blowing in insulation.

If I have learned one thing in the physical creation of Nelson House B & B, I would tell all aspiring innkeepers that "going green" is no longer an option, as it seemed to me back in 1989-90. Energy conservation is now a fundamental necessity to build your business bottomline. I know. You should see my gas bills!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Going "Green" in a century-old Bed & Breakfast.

I hear the lament that it's not easy being "green". In Vancouver, where Greenpeace was founded, we tend to be unabashed tree-huggers. Wilderness exists virtually in our backyards or certainly within sight of them. So - if we want the bears and cougars to continue to roam our local mountains, then we had better start carrying our own cloth grocery bags - yes? Somehow, it doesn't seem enough.

Then, there is energy conservation. Sure, everyone would like to burn less gas when the price is up. But when the price at the gas-pump eases off, I find myself thinking that I can just drive my SUV another year or so, until the carmaker can hybridize it.

Then, there is my problem of owning a hundred year-old home with hardly any insulation in it. Vancouver has always had one of the mildest climates in Canada and back in the Edwardian era, circa 1907 or so, it was apparent that the builders of this three-story frame house were more interested in building something less frivolous than the romantic fancies built under Queen Victoria. This four-square, symmetrical house has curb appeal due to its dimension, scale and balance. It was built for our grey, misty winters to maximize the light. Over-sized, double-hung windows, dormer casements, cut, leaded and stained glass decorative panes are designed to let the light in, NOT to keep the heat in or the cold out. The Douglas Fir beams, frames and floors remain strong, straight and true to this day but those wooden walls did not have an ounce of R-factor insulation.

Up in the large, top-floor attic room, probably intended as the children's playroom, there is only one lone furnace vent. I guess the kids were intended to dress in woolens and bundle together at night. Fortunately, a gas fireplace adds enormous heat to the room whenever needed. It appears that the house may have been converted to natural gas heating at the same time as "rock wool" was laid in the attic crawlspaces. The original bags for this form of insulation were left behind in the attic and they are conveniently dated 1941. Non-toxic and better than nothing.

I bought the house in 1989 with the intention of creating Nelson House B & B. There are are two other gas fireplaces in the the downstairs parlours. I soon realized that the chimney drafts were inadequate to prevent both furnace heat and fireplace heat from funnelling up the chimneys. I replaced all three primitive gas heaters with new gas inserts and properly sealed the fireplaces themselves. I followed that with some basic weatherstripping on doors and windows. It was a beginning at energy conservation but only just the start.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vancouver Greetings

A Happy St. Patrick's Day to you !!
May the luck of the Irish bring you to Vancouver someday....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nelson House Bed and Breakfast- 2010 Olympics

Image courtesy of VANOC & CBC

Yes! Nelson House B & B has ONE LAST ROOM still available for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Our "Vienna" room is only CAD.$148 (+ 15 % tax)/nt. However, it MUST be rented for the MINIMUM 17 NIGHTS of the games from Feb.12 to Feb.28th (inclusive). Please see our website for details on the room and the rental procedure.

The Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) today revealed their month-long transportation plan affecting downtown Vancouver and the highway corridor to Whistler. The map above indicates red security zones, yellow parking restrictions, blue 24 hour Olympics lanes for approved transit only, the closure of major roads such as Expo & Pacific Boulevards and the Georgia Viaduct. As well, most of Robson St., Granville & Beatty will also be closed to all vehicles to create pedestrian-only throughfares. The goal is to remove 30 to 50% of the normal downtown traffic. Needless to say, they are laying on lots of extra public transit options... a brand new Skytrain line from downtown to Richmond & the Airport, extra Skytrain cars on all other lines, a third Seabus, 180 new city buses....

See the mauve star on the map? If you were staying at Nelson House B & B, you could walk anywhere, enjoy the people-watching and forget the traffic hassles!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Vancouver - signs of spring.

While the whole East Coast is getting Snow Days off work and off school, the sun is shining in Vancouver and the garden is in bloom. Here at the B & B, the clematis is just teasing us with a few blossoms before it goes nuts. The hellebores are up and with their gorgeous, orchid-like faces, they promise that Spring is here to stay.