A reluctant renovator starts her renovation

Nanaimo's Melissa Tolsma was the winner of the RenoMe! With FortisBC contest and has recently started her outdoor space renovation.

Melissa Tolsma was last year's winner of the Reno Me! With FortisBC contest.

By Melissa Tolsma


I’m a reluctant renovator.  I’ve always been of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or the “if it’s a little broke, a little duct tape’ll fix it” school of thought.  So this whole renovation thing is brand-new territory for me.  I’m also not much of a contest enterer or lottery player.  It was pretty out of character for me to even enter a reno contest, let alone win it!  But, thanks to the support and patience of my family, friends, and co-workers, I did.  The renovation roller coaster ride begins!

As one of three finalists in the contest, I received a rendering of my space by Sarah Gallop Design.  Their gorgeous vision included a multi-leveled deck and hot tub along the back of the house and a fire pit area at the side of the yard.  The alluring design, with its woodsy, contemporary West-Coast style inspired me to relentlessly harass everyone I knew (and even people I didn’t know) to vote for it.  As someone who is cadaver-cold from September right through to May, I fantasized about simmering in the hot tub and roasting by the fireside. However, the luxurious design was a little beyond reach of the $10,000 grand prize, so it was one or the other: hot tub or fire pit, the first of many decisions to make.  Daughter lobbied for hot tub; I leaned towards fire.  The hot tub alone would have gobbled up most of the budget, leaving little left for decking or other finishing touches, so I made the fire pit decision fairly quickly.  Through some web searching I discovered a Vancouver-based company, Solus Decor, who make beautiful cast-concrete fire bowls.  Their sales representative, Martes Ferrugia, patiently and enthusiastically answered all of my many questions about fire pits and using natural gas.  She suggested that their Hemi 36 fire bowl would be a great focal feature for my outdoor living space.

The next big decision, of course, was to find a contractor who could make my reno happen.  I started my search the way I imagine most people would; by asking everyone I knew for names of good contractors who might be interested.  I also decided I’d contact a couple of local companies whose work I had admired around town.  One company was more of a landscaping company just getting into building, and one was more of a general builder, a “custom” builder with a sustainable approach, which was appealing.  Both contractors were pleasant, professional, and prompt.  They had very different approaches, though.  The first one tried to replicate the original design in a cost-effective way, with a modest deck extension and a paving stone patio at the side of the yard where the fire pit would be located.  The second one, Jonker Custom Building, suggested a different design – a curvy, cedary one-level deck extending the length of the house, incorporating the fire bowl into the deck rather than placing it away from the house on a patio.  The existing concrete patio area (in really rough shape) would be removed, allowing for a little extension of the lawn and more area for gardening. Initially I was resistant to this idea; I think because I had become attached to the Sarah Gallop design.  But this new idea was actually much more practical – I had wanted more room for food growing but didn’t want to give up lawn space, as my daughter and I are quite avid badmintoners.  And lawn is a whole lot cheaper than deck or patio!

I’ve decided to go with Jonker Custom Building, and I’m excited that Brad Fraser and Piet Jonker of Jonker Custom Building are willing to take on the project!

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