Located in the small, picturesque village of Appleton, the family home of Mélanie Chrétien and Joe Kember is one of the oldest in Mississippi Mills. Constructed in 1834, the home represents the first of three historic Georgian mansions built by the village’s founding settlers and mill owners, the Teskey family, who came from Ireland in the early 1820s.
“I remember sitting in a café in Almonte, while Joe and I were in the process of buying a home and deciding where we would like to live and raise our family,” says Mélanie. “I could feel the charm and sense of community around me and knew I wanted to be there.”
Once they settled on the location, they had to find a house. They kept their eye on the listings, with a focus on older homes.
“I always wanted an older home,” says Joe. “When I came across the listing, I shared it with Mélanie right away and we both knew that this was meant to be our house. It embodied everything we were looking for: a serene space with plenty of livable room, and a story, or two.”
It’s been said that a house with a past needs an owner who can imagine its future, and this home was found by the perfect pair. They purchased the house in December, 2012. Across the street, the Mississippi River was frozen and the expansive gardens were under snow and ice, but both Mélanie and Joe could still feel the inherent warmth and accumulation of experiences. Originally an impressive main home and nearby carriage house, the two structures are now joined by a breezeway. The four-bedroom home features thick, stone walls, deep windowsills and wide plank floors.
“Our friends and family all loved the size and location of the house, but definitely not all understood why we would want such an old home with all the work that comes along with being new caregivers,” explains Mélanie.
The house was in need of some modernization, and Mélanie was also pregnant with their son, Jean. Fortunately, the house had good bones.
“It felt so incredible for us to bring him home with all the history of the families that preceded us,” recalls Mélanie. “I remember rocking my son and wondering how many babies would have been rocked in the house over the years, and how many cries and giggles the walls would have heard.”
With a degree in French Literature and a background in art, the key for Mélanie was to create a harmonious scheme that would unite the rooms of the house with a sense of balance and beauty. She began by selecting a calming and comforting colour palette. Warm whites, creams and browns echo the neutral tones of the stone and woodwork throughout the house, while layers of warm textures and luxurious finishes complement the original Georgian style.
Next, they went to work on the floors, installing new fixtures and remodelling the bathrooms to fit the needs of a growing family. They pulled up old shag carpet to discover original flooring in the library and guest suite (previously the servants’ quarters in the home).
The extensive renovation work also involved demolishing walls to create a second floor laundry; refinishing kitchen cupboards and installing new countertops; painting ceiling beams; and designing a wine cellar from field tiles that Joe found in the home.
The electrical system needed replacing in much of the house, as did the furnace and roof. With a background in architectural millwork and custom moldings, Joe built closets in each room with original wood repurposed from the carriage house, and did much of the restoration work himself. In addition to new furniture, the couple scoured antique shops and designed custom accessories, including a gallery of Mélanie’s own oil paintings in the dining room.
Over the course of five years, Mélanie and Joe have created their dream home. It wasn’t without its challenges, tears or laughter, and the work isn’t finished yet. They have more projects already planned, including converting space in the carriage house to a playroom, adding a mudroom, restoring the exterior porch and columns and working on the gardens.
“We feel it has become a reflection of our family life – coming into the home as two separate individuals with separate pasts, and choosing to build one single life together,” reflects Mélanie. “Sometimes the challenges were overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable, but the fact that everything that has been done has been a joint effort, adds such meaning to the home for us.”