Upon entering a quaint century home in Centretown, the chilly Ottawa night is easily forgotten. As the beautifully refurbished front door closes, the well-appointed space of new handcrafted and restored heritage features offers a warm welcome to a home redesigned to suit a modern lifestyle.
Homeowner Stefani wasn’t looking to buy when this property went on the market, but after her real estate agent suggested a tour, she was smitten. “I loved the light and original features like the front door, trim, stained glass window and floors. It felt right for me the moment I walked in. Like home.”
Recent electrical and plumbing upgrades, a bedroom renovation and new windows further bolstered her decision to purchase. “It meant a lot that the home was old but cared for,” says Stefani, who laughs when asked if she was nervous about buying a structure built around 1900. “No! I think the age is a benefit. If this house has been standing for 117 years and hasn’t fallen down, chances are it won’t.”
Although delighted with her new investment, Stefani continued to envision further improvements, including a custom kitchen and improved use of existing space. Her ideas soon turned to plans during a visit with John Le Blancq, founder and design lead of Historic Building Co., a group of talented artisans committed to conservation, preserving Ontario’s heritage and improving communities.
John’s first reaction to Stefani’s house was – wow! “The details in these types of houses are irreplaceable and handmade. Fashion will come and go, but homes like these will always be in style and hold their equity.” Together they embarked on a renovation designed to enhance the historical essence of the home, yet customized to Stefani’s needs. As John notes, “A home has to be designed to fit your real life.”
Work commenced to refresh the stately front door, revealing an exquisitely carved hinge, hiding under layers of aging paint. The drafty backroom, likely a mid-century addition, received insulation, new terrace doors and flooring. Removal of the existing drywall exposed a brick wall complete with a charming milk delivery box, which Stefani closed in on one side to construct a recessed shelf.
A large slab of inherited butcher block was fitted to a steel frame and given a fresh start as an eye catching workspace and dining table. An actual former tree trunk serves as the perfect coatrack next to a rustic bench with baskets stowed below. A weathered beam from an antiquated barn perches above to complete the look of what Stefani calls her new favourite room.
After completing the backroom, the kitchen renovation began. By moving the existing kitchen sink and counter, and adding a wall designated for art, the sightline from the front hall now includes a bright and colourful painting.
A long family and personal history of boat building instilled John with the need to ensure that every inch of newly-built space be useful. After the delightful discovery that the kitchen ceiling could be raised an entire foot, wood-lined cupboards were crafted with hidden interior storage space extending all the way to the nine-foot top.
Stefani chose the black marble slab for her countertops with enough left over to make a matching windowsill. The curves of a hand-built range hood add a touch of softness to the completed space. To keep the fresh look, the living room floors were stripped, scraped and lightly stained. The staircase newel, balusters and handrail were also treated to a shiny black finish.
The main renovation goal for John was Stefani’s happiness, and she confirms that this was achieved. “John is an artist. He has great vision and attention to detail. He is meticulous and kept a close eye on budget and timeline. The product was above and beyond my expectations.”
John also credits a positive relationship between designer and client as a necessary factor for a successful project. “Any good design must be symbiotic with a client or it fails. It was Stefani who had the genius to recognize what had purpose and could be useful.”
In addition, John emphasizes the importance of teamwork and praises the expertise of contractors, Emerald Tile & Marble and Flying Colours Painting, for contributing to his satisfaction of seeing another historic house preserved for the future. “We are custodians of these homes and entrusted with their care. They will live on after we are gone and it is our duty to preserve them for generations ahead.”