Castor transforms fire extinguishers into high-end decor

Special to The Globe and Mail

Wednesday, Nov. 26 2014, 2:28 PM EST

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Wednesday, Nov. 26 2014, 2:31 PM EST

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Making a guest room great with little space

Living far from home, it’s inevitable that my family and I host a lot of guests: parents, siblings, the family of six we met last year on vacation, who are “just passing through” for a week. We’re reasonably equipped, with enormous bunk beds for the children to share, a double air bed and a convertible sofa in the den. Though my husband can’t bear to sleep on it himself, we’re often compelled to when a grandparent arrives with a bad back and a penchant for guilt.

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This time of year, especially, I’d rather share my home with the entire Salvation Army band than leave my sofa to get on a plane. Having a house full of people at the holidays is the whole point of said holidays – a treat to look forward to, laundry aside.

My experiences on the other side, conversely, have not always been a treat. We’ve been lured to “come stay” with central locations, keys to the car, even offers to babysit. But a guest room? Not so much. “Follow us,” our hosts urge, hauling our bags downstairs (surely as disappointing a direction as turning right on an airplane). “Just push aside that stroller. Watch out for stray Lego. And don’t mind the kitty-litter smell.”

I’ve slept in more children’s beds than is proper, on blow-up mattresses that deflate through the night, been bitten by bedbugs, licked by puppies and tackled by toddlers. But at least it was behind closed doors.

Last year I spent a week on a camp mattress in a hallway outside the bathroom of a colossal, just-renovated house. The hostess was so delighted with the set-up, I hadn’t the nerve to tell her I could hear her shaving in the shower.

If you have grown kids, in-laws, siblings abroad … even if your door is darkened but once a year by a backpacking nephew: You’ve got to make space for them – say, enough to swing a kitty without stepping in its litter.

Of course, not all of us have a spare room to fill. It’s a luxury even to have a combination home office, den and children’s play room to work with. “It’s a rare occurrence when someone has enough room to devote to a guest,” says Karen Cole of ColeDesign Studio in Toronto.

“But it’s great to at least have a space that’s away from things.”

The ideal, Cole says, would be the illusion of BB-style accommodation: high-thread-count linens, L’Occitane toiletries in the ensuite bathroom, window shades, slippers and, yes, a door. The reality is more often a repurposed cupboard with fluorescent lighting and a bathroom shared by two toddlers and a potty.

Cole offers some tips for wedging in extra bodies, however. In her own home she’s equipped a small room at the top of the stairs, like a glorified landing, with wide pocket doors, a small desk, wall storage, a reading chair and an armoire with a mirror – “a key ingredient for a guest room.”

When she’s alone in the house, it’s a place to sit, work or watch TV. Twin beds against the wall can be pushed together. “I use a featherbed [mattress topper] to put on top to join the divide,” she says. “Together, the two beds become a king.”

For clients, Cole has an ace up her sleeve: banquettes. If you’ve got just a foot of depth on the edge of a room, you could have space for one … or more. “I usually make them extra deep and will often do a pull-out beneath. It looks like drawer, but it’s a surface that you can top with a matching cushion.”

If the hallway is all the space you’ve got, though, there are ways to get around it. “Cordon it off for people,” says Cole. “Install a track in the ceiling and keep a thick curtain in storage to hang on the track when someone’s there.”

Cole says she’s kept every curtain ever removed from a window in her house. “When they’re closed, it creates the sense of a private space.” Behind the curtain, you could mount a Murphy bed so it folds down from the side. “Think of it like being on a boat. On a 29-foot boat you can create a piece of space that’s completely yours.”

“Almost every room can incorporate a small ottoman that unfolds into a single bed,” says Deb Nelson, a Halifax-based decorator and stylist. “Or a foam mattress you can push under a bed and pull out for guests.”

She recommends keeping a stash of mattresses from defunct cribs, banquettes or window seats. “If you’re expecting children, they’re not too concerned with quality.”

Nelson’s guest-bed pin-up is from a magazine that featured one bedroom split into two. A wall comes halfway into the room to conceal a single bed on one side and a queen on the other. Both areas have built-in shelving and side tables. It’s something that could easily be built from one side of a chimney breast, or mocked-up with a folding screen or a bookcase on casters.

Sound like fun? It should, because a guest space gives you licence to let loose, design-wise, even at the expense of your guests. Cole proposes wallpapering everything, “even the ceiling,” or painting the walls a colour you wouldn’t dream of elsewhere.

You could take all those old family photographs that have come off the living-room walls and group them together in a shrine to … yourself. “In a guest room you have a captive audience,” Cole reminds me.

It’s not all “cabinet of curiosities,” though. Cole says, “A spare room is also a fun place to experiment with bedside lighting, or pendants that hang on either side of the bed, something more romantic.”

I’m on board. My husband, I have to say, has gone overboard. Visions of Cole’s BB are dancing in his head and our family den is at stake. “Stop!” I say, my superstitions taking over. “If we’re too prepared, we may scare off the guests entirely.”

But what I really mean is the opposite. If you build it, they will come. And they may not ever leave.


Guest-room checklist


A place to sleep. For inspiration, Deb Nelson checks out the New York company Sit Down NY and the Danish manufacturer Innovation Living. They have dozens of convertible sofas, love seats and ottomans “that look like something you’d get at ABC Carpet Home.” Karen Cole’s go-to is the Comfort Sleeper collection by American Leather, which you can get through the Chesterfield Shop in Toronto. I like the Richmond, B.C., company Mobler for chairs that unroll into single beds.

A comfortable place to sleep. A featherbed or an extra duvet under the fitted sheet go a long way toward making a surface tolerable.

Technology. Charging cords, docking stations and easy access to WiFi passwords. The world is changing. These things are as important to guests as a hot shower. Set it all up beforehand so you aren’t scrambling at midnight.

Local guide books and maps.

Repurposed furniture. A guest space should have a bedside table and a lamp, even a side chair for draping clothes in the absence of a closet. Give those tired old pieces a coat of paint and put them to work.



Trundle beds. “Families should expect to all pile in together,” Cole says, “but if the host has kids, too, the ideal scenario would be to have trundle beds – if it’s not imposing on their kids.” If the host children have double beds and can handle sharing for a few nights, that will free up a bed for another body.

Extra pillows and blankets. Best to offer a choice.

Blinds on the windows. They make a big difference for visitors with jet lag.

Magazines and books. Keep reading material, with a local theme, stacked on the bedside table.



Fine linens. These go a long way toward making a guest forget that the mattress belongs in an army tent. Ditto plush towels fluffed up in the dryer.

Snacks. A pitcher of water and a tea kettle with glasses and mugs, plus a packet of cookies or nuts. Do you want guests banging cupboards when they’re up in the middle of the night with jet lag? Thought not.

A basket of luxury toiletries. Pull out that basket where mini-bottles of Molton Brown moisturizer go to die.

An ensuite bathroom. You’re not building one just so your backpacking nephew can do his business in private; you’re building one because it’s a good investment in your home.

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Calgary’s Real Estate Market Buoyant Amid Plunging Oil Prices

A recent slip in oil prices hasn’t bucked Alberta’s housing market from being one of the country’s most affordable, according to a report released by RBC Economic Research on Wednesday.

Considered part of Canada’s current trio of “hot” markets, Calgary sets itself apart from Vancouver and Toronto because of its “attractive” affordability.

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Economists attribute the province’s housing market buoyancy to factors including a strong energy-backed economy, rising incomes, and a population boom. And the results speak for themselves: home resales in Alberta increased by 0.9 per cent from last quarter, setting a new record high.

“A strong economy and rapid population growth continue to trump any possible worries that Alberta’s energy boom might bust in the near future,” RBC’s chief economist Craig Wright explained in a statement.

The report reveals the cost of an average detached bungalow in Alberta to be $405,700, a standard two-storey home slightly more at $410,200, and a condo at $242,800.

According to Wright, the province’s affordability reputation is drawing more and more prospective buyers. For example, housing demand in Calgary is outpacing supply despite new listings increasing 17 per cent in the second and third quarters.

It’s an effect that’s pushing the city’s home prices up “at the fastest pace in Canada.”

As for affordability complaints, the report suggests they are “almost entirely” centered in Vancouver and Toronto’s competitive markets where dollars are “most stretched.”

Nationally, RBC’s affordability index eased slightly by 0.2 percentage points to 47.8 per cent for two-storey homes, decreased 0.3 percentage points to 27.1 per cent for condos, and increased by 0.1 percentage points to 42.6 per cent for detached condos.

The index calculates affordability by scoring the percentage of median household income (before taxes) needed to make mortgage, utility, and property tax payments.

For cash-strapped prospective homebuyers, RBC economists say condos continue to be the “more affordable ownership option” in nearly every market.

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Slavens & Associates maintains boutique approach that delivers unparalleled …

Public’s desire for hands-on real estate support reflected in 2nd Toronto office opening

TORONTO, Nov. 26, 2014 /CNW/ – Slavens Associates Real Estate Inc. today announced the opening of a second Toronto office – this one in the heart of Yorkville – highlighting a growing interest in working with boutique-style agencies by both buyers and sellers.

The Davenport location complements the established North Toronto office and maintains Slavens’ hands-on, approachable attitude. Yorkville, the Annex, South Hill, and a cluster of new luxury developments under construction and recently completed in the immediate area – including the Four Seasons, the Hazelton and the Florian – impelled the Slavens team to extend its careful reach.

“We consider this as strategic growth that allows us to provide quality control, while protecting the integrity of our boutique positioning in the market – both essential principles for the company,” says Darren Slavens, Managing Broker, who started the brokerage eight years ago with partner Richard Sherman, Broker of Record. “We will always maintain a mandate of being accessible and offering an open-minded approach with our clients.”

From the beginning, Slavens identified – and still leverages – five primary elements as to why boutique real estate agencies are an intelligent choice for buyers and sellers in the mid- to uptown core:

  • Refined expertise leads to deeper understanding of a specific market
  • Earlier alignment of interests and demands between agent and client
  • Innovative, adaptable approach to the buying/selling process
  • Increased colleague interaction means less internal politics and more customer focus
  • Tighter geographical circle of influence leads to increased street-level knowledge

“We understand and appreciate that we have a responsibility to ensure clients are protected and serviced at the highest levels at all times,” adds Slavens. “We’re not interested in becoming a discount brokerage.”

Meanwhile, the new location allows Slavens Associates to offer two important deliverables:

  • Meticulous service to clientele who live midtown
  • Detailed information for international clientele who want to be mid/downtown, especially Yorkville

“Our approach and dynamic will only grow stronger as our well-established agency now has two locations in key central areas,” adds Daniel Pustil, Vice President at Slavens Associates, who will manage the Yorkville office along with Slavens.

Slavens Associates does not “rent desks” and charge desk fees, and they do not invest in part-time agents. Instead, clients know they are working with real estate professionals that put customer needs, wants, concerns and interests above all else.

The midtown office is located at 192 Davenport Road, while the original office is located at 435 Eglinton Avenue West.

About Slavens Associates
Slavens Associates is a market leader in the buying and selling of Toronto real estate, specializing in the neighbourhoods of Upper and Lower Forest Hill, Rosedale, Allenby, Cedarvale, Leaside, the Annex, and Yorkville.

SOURCE Slavens Associates Real Estate Inc.

For further information: For more information/interview opportunities: Joe Roma for Slavens Associates,, 416-705-1723

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