The World According to Housefly

Exciting developments are afoot at Housefly.  I’m thrilled to share my first post for HGTVWhat Does 500k Get You in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal? I’ve got my snoopy hat on once again and this time I’m taking you inside the best homes your hard-earned 500k can buy in three major cities.  Remember to vote for your favourite property at the end of the tour!


Is anyone else suffering from a bad cold and general November in June state of mind?  While my friends and countrymen congregate on patios throughout the city tonight, I will be curling up with some must-see rentals.  Although I’m lucky enough to have the Film Buff on my doorstep, I had to travel to the back room of Queen Video at Queen/Spadina (no, not that back room) to acquire these goodies.  And of course, it’s a real estate themed double bill.  This is Housefly, remember!

First up, Indecent Proposal.  Weird choice you think?  Although this movie was made almost twenty years ago, it’s never been more relevant.  As you’ll probably recall, Demi Moore is offered a million dollars in exchange for one night with Robert Redford.  At the time, that was a ton of dough but in modern times, it barely covers the cost of a Toronto home in the Annex with necessary modifications for personal taste.  Doesn’t it feel much more realistic for an average person to be offered a mil in 2010?  I can kind of put myself in Demi’s shoes now.  And what you probably don’t remember is that the whole reason Demi agreed to this crazy scheme was because her dream house (a modernist architectural gem designed by her husband Woody Harrelson) was going into foreclosure due to the recession of the early ’90’s.  Seems like Demi and Woody over-stretched.  Um, hello – how’s that for tapping into the cultural consciousness?

The house that Woody built. Here he is admiring the ocean views and contemplating whether it was all worth it... unobstructed ocean views are very hard to come by!


Now for a slice of the lighter things in life – The Money Pit.  This movie was very hard to track down and I could only rent it as part of a Tom Hanks retrospective DVD.  So now I’ve got Dragnet and The Burbs if anyone’s interested.  Don’t all volunteer at once.  The Money Pit stars Tom Hanks and Shelley Long as a fresh-faced couple who purchase their first house without a home inspection only to discover it’s basically a tear down.

First of all, isn't this the best sweatsuit you've seen in ages? Move over Lulu Lemon! Note the never-ending drywall repair in the background. Apologies to the purists, but we're going to have to lose that lath and plaster!

I remember this being one of my childhood favourites, along with Teen Wolf and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.  Lots of Home Alone-esque physical gags which is always fun when you’re ten (don’t deny trying to set up a Micro Machines trap for your siblings!) but we’ll see how it holds up for 2010.  Given that it’s one of the only movies  I can think of that has a plot centered around renovation, I think we can safely deposit The Money Pit in our time capsule for the people of 2210.

Bon weekend, houseflies!

At what point do we lose our eagerness to camp overnight on Queen Street, content with a hard sidewalk, a single portapotty, and a dream?

Ahhh, the simplicity of youth.

We hear a lot about how unmotivated and lazy Generation Y is (or is it Z now?) but on my way into work yesterday morning, I witnessed much more effort than I ever expended  for Lollapolooza tickets.  As of Monday, kids started arriving at MuchMusic headquarters on Queen Street West with tents, coolers, and chemistry homework (hey, you gotta keep busy in line, right?). Wristbands for the awards show featuring Miley Cyrus, Drake, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry will not be given out until Saturday at 8am so Much security wouldn’t allow tents to be set up until Wednesday morning.  For the diehards (mostly Bieber fans), that’s THREE chilly nights to endure on the sidewalk.

I went out on my lunch hour to chat with a few of the campers.  We already know the Why – the unexplainable exuberance of youth – but I was curious to find out How.  What I discovered is that these kids come VERY prepared.

In addition to the usual Bieber and Jonas Brothers fanzines (yes, Tiger Beat stills exists… after all, you can’t practise kissing on a computer screen), I saw lots of novels (“Jane Eyre” as well as the “Twilight” books) and a few girls were doing some cahier/livre French homework while getting some sun on their legs.  There was a circle of mani-pedi’s happening (I kind of wanted to join in – my nails are a mess!) and some ghetto blasters for those spirit-lifting singalongs when times get tough.  Most kids brought tents, tarps, sleeping bags and coolers stocked with everything from Orange Crush to pasta salad.  Pillows were carefully set up to form makeshift couches outside the tents – you know, indoor and outdoor living space is important.  I saw one enterprising young soul inflating an air mattress.  If you have to camp, camp in comfort!

I found the sight of these Tentflies very uplifting.  Who needs to drop 600k on a teeny semi a half hour streetcar ride from downtown when you can enjoy a pied-a-terre in the heart of the city?  They’re quite a spiritely bunch too so if you’re on Queen West, feel free to knock on one of their fabric doors and say “hi”.

First comes love, then comes Sold!, then comes an empty house waiting to be filled with special objects.  While everything from chairs to tea kettles can be considered household art in the gallery called your home, what about the old-fashioned things we hang on walls?

I never grew up with art in my house and didn’t frequent museums or galleries until fairly recently.  Over time, the art bug has spread and I’m enjoying the process of filling my home with original art.  The most important lesson I’ve learned when shopping for art is that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of the piece or if it matches your sofa or chairs.

Art is all about impulse and finding a piece that inspires emotion, whether it’s happy or contemplative or nostalgic.  You can’t really over-think your reaction to art and shouldn’t worry about the technique or whether or not your BFA pals will be impressed when they see it.  My approach to art is pretty consistent with my feelings about most things – I don’t care if it’s high culture, low culture, corporate or indie, cool or passe.  If something inspires a reaction, I’m interested.  And just like relationships, you can’t force yourself to fall in love with a piece of art because you “should”.

Of course, art can be very expensive and it’s daunting to consider spending a lot of money on something so “frivolous”, even if it is a very special piece.  I think it’s important to seek out up-and-coming artists as you build your personal collection, creating a vibrant mix of established and emerging artists in your home.

I recently read about Portland, Oregon based artist Matte Stephens on Victoria Smith’s design blog sfgirlbybay.  Matte paints with gouache on illustration board and plywood and his art takes inspiration from cityscapes, his wife Vivienne and his pets.  Matte’s work can be seen at Jonathan Adler and Velocity Art and Design, and limited edition prints of his original gouache paintings are available at his Etsy store.  I just ordered Fall in Central Park ($35 USD) and can’t wait to hang it in my kitchen, probably in a white frame like the ones below from West Elm (9×11, $16 USD).

I love the retro colour palette of Matte’s work and his whimsical interpretation of everyday life.  Naturally I’m a fan of his paintings of houses and city buildings, but I also love his spunky portraits of woodland creatures like owls, foxes, and elves.  His piece Vivienne and Friends, Wisconsin 1974 would be a great addition to a kid’s bedroom.

Vivienne and friends, Wisconsin 1974.  Limited edition print by Matte Stephens

I’ve included a few of Matte’s prints below for your enjoyment, currently available at his Etsy store.

Gramercy Park NYC small print

Visiting the sea lions in Central Park. Limited edition print by Matte Stephens

Feeding Birds. Limited edition print by Matte Stephens

As most Torontonians are frantically trying to escape the city for the first long weekend of the summer, I will be embarking on yet another Staycation.


Pronunciation: \stā-ˈkā-shən, və-\

Function: noun

Definition:  a period of rest and freedom from work, study, etc.; time of recreation spent at one’s home enjoying all that home and one’s home environment has to offer.

The phenomenon of relaxing in one’s own back yard in lieu of pricey getaways became hugely popular during the world financial crisis of 2008-09.  Would you be surprised to learn that the staycation is actually a Canadian invention predating the global market meltdown?  We’re a crafty bunch, us Canadians.

The comedy series “Corner Gas“, which was developed by my friends and colleagues at CTV, created the staycation  in a 2005 episode called “Mail Fraud”.  In this episode Brett, the owner of the Corner Gas station, sends friends and family postcards from exotic locations from the comfort of his own front lawn.  Genius.

Insulin, the telephone, instant mashed potatoes and now... the staycation!

My attraction to staycations isn’t so much about saving money, although that is a lovely side benefit.  As you know, I’m in the early days of house lust and I don’t like to leave my beloved casa for too long.  I’ve got all the little comforts I need to calm my (slightly?) neurotic soul, from blackout curtains to my Dream Designs kapok pillow to my St. John’s Bakery olive cilantro bread.  The house also contains all the equipment required to keep a child alive.  This equipment – high chair, stroller, crib, potty, toys – is not easy to pack and transport.

Also, if you’re staying in a hotel with a child, you pretty much have to share a room (ummm… right?).  What are we supposed to do at 7:30pm when she goes to bed?  Read books in the hallway?  And traveling with toddlers (at least MY toddler) is pretty horrible.  During our last flight my daughter pulled out the ear buds of the guy next to us and then grabbed his pen every time he tried to write something down.  After a few “no’s” and unsuccessful attempts at distracting her with anything I could lay my desperate hands on, we were well on our way to a full-blown meltdown.  Just what all the other passengers around us were hoping for.

Oh dear, Bluebell Madonna! I really feel for poor Geri here... first the disappointing performance of the totally uncatchy "Headlines" and now this! Photo by Daily Mail.

In our case, by not leaving town we are able to avoid a great deal of stress and trauma.  We also have access to babysitters we love and trust so we can actually go out at night and take advantage of all our lovely city has to offer.

Before embarking on your staycation it is a great idea to make a list of all the things you’d like to do and then try to find childcare for the non-kid itinerary.  Allocate some of the money you would have spent on hotel accommodations and flights to a slap-up meal at a fancy restaurant like Canoe or Splendido or experiment with a new haunt like Ruby Watchco.  Tickets aren’t yet sold out for The Gruesome Twosome Tour featuring Rob Zombie and Alice Cooper or The Dayglo Abortions and The Vibrators double bill featuring Random Killing.  Live dangerously!  Okay, I jest.  But something like Conan O’ Brien’s Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour this Saturday at Massey Hall could be super fun.  Or my dream date – an afternoon of open houses followed by a thematically linked theatrical experience care of Soulpepper’s production of Glengarry Glen Ross.  Are you reading this, husband of mine?

The key is to approach the staycation with the same organization you would a regular vacation and you’ll be guaranteed to have some really fun adventures rather than a boring weekend doing the same old stuff.

Have a great long weekend, Houseflies!

For more, please see:

The Staycation House, the New York Times

For the past few years, Danforth Village has been heralded as the Next Big Thing.  Toronto Life profiled the nabe in its March 2009 feature “Next Hot Hoods” and HGTV’s “Property Virgins” host Sandra Rinomato has broken in more than her fair share of first-timers on Danny Village side streets.

So what’s it like to live in the real estate equivalent of rap up-and-comer Drake?  So much buzz, so much potential, but what’s the album like already?  I was lucky enough to chat with a loyal Housefly reader who shares a slice of life in the Village in our newly updated neighborhood profile.

Relax, take a deep breath and transport yourself to Danforth Village

You the, you the best. The best I ever had. Photo by Spacing Toronto.

Is there any better way to spend a Monday than a spa date followed by lunch and a matinée?  In honour of Mother’s Day, I took the day off work and lived it up downtown with my husband a la Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson.

We saw a great movie that combined my love of real estate with my desire to see movies that explore authentic female characters.  Nicole Holofcener’s new feature “Please Give” is a sharp, elegantly written film that explores the guilt of the privileged and the middle-class disease of longing for what we can’t have (whether it be $200 jeans, a larger home or an affair).  Finally a movie about the Manhattan experience that moves in the opposite direction of the “Sex and the City” mega luxe fantasy train.

What have you done to my Carrie?! How did a brilliantly written series exploring power, love and friendship become this out of control showcase for materialism and narcissism? In the series, the Manolos and cosmos were just the icing on a very hearty cake, but the movies are a complete icing binge with no cake to balance it out - yuck. I'll be there opening weekend though.

Kate, played by Catherine Keener, and her husband, Alex, played by Oliver Platt, own an upscale vintage furniture store in Manhattan that sells mid-century modern pieces.  If you’ve ever wondered where Machine Age Modern or Filter acquire their goodies, wonder no longer!  Kate buys her (mostly teak and rosewood) furniture for a song from the children of recently dead people and then sells it to Living Etc subscribers for a serious upcharge.  While her business is profitable enough to cover an upcoming home expansion (pending the death of her 91-year-old neighbour) it causes her considerable angst, which she tries to overcome by giving a homeless transvestite Chanel lipstick or volunteering — if only the disabled and elderly weren’t so… depressing.

Kate and Alex admire their Danish modern kingdom.

“Please Give” is much funnier and more entertaining than Holofceners’s last exploration of the modern affluent experience, “Friends With Money”.  While I did adore the renovation B-story in “FWM” where a third floor extension causes immense strife amongst neighbours in suburban Los Angeles, the characters in “Please Give” are much more enjoyable to watch.  However, don’t go into this movie expecting a big statement about the human condition.  It’s more about the subtleties of urban angst, and little truthful moments that are both awkward and funny.  If you’re like me and enjoy some interesting human conversation with a backdrop of Eames chairs, you’re in luck.

The set of "Modern Age Furniture". Photo by production designer Mark White.

A little bonus feature – I’m always fascinated to hear what inspires writers to tell particular stories so I’ve included a statement from the film’s press kit from writer/director Nicole Holofcener:

A friend’s apartment in New York was both the source and the setting for PLEASE GIVE.  My friend bought her elderly neighbor’s apartment, just as the couple does in the movie, and they became good friends. When it came time to find a location for the film we ended up shooting in that actual building, and in one of its apartments.

One of the great things about living in New York (if you have money) is being able to buy a beautiful place and fill it with beautiful things. But how do you do that and feel okay about it when there are hungry people right outside your (beautiful, newly stripped solid walnut) door? I’ve been struggling to forgive myself for those contradictions my whole life, and I think that’s a struggle I heaped upon my characters, especially Kate. We tend to instantly sympathize with people who are struggling, so even though my characters do some unattractive things, I hope we can forgive them, especially while we laugh at them.

PLEASE GIVE begins with a montage of mammograms. Mammograms are like life: potentially tragic but really funny looking. You’re stripped semi-naked, divested of dignity, shivering with cold and filled with dread. It’s ridiculous but very necessary. With PLEASE GIVE I wanted to illustrate these kind of contradictory moments that make us human.

— Nicole Holofcener

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