When Powell & Bonnell were called upon to renovate a grand old house in Oakville, the designers saw the potential in the dwelling right away. The bigger problem was what to do with the husband.
"He really didn't want anything to do with it," says interior designer David Hooper of the man's initial reaction to his wife's enthusiasm.
It turns out the male half of the partnership wasn't the only one who found the house foreboding; the property had been sitting on the market for three years. The stairwell, entrance hall and principal rooms were Victorian with highly embellished plaster and woodwork that made the area dark and unfriendly. The original rooms, which dated to 1855, were simple Georgian in style. A later addition was of indiscernible vintage.
In the eyes of a husband who prefers modernism, the total was an unpalatable pastiche.
Mr. Hooper's task was to refurbish the house in a style contemporary enough to suit the man without losing the traditional elements that the wife appreciated. Located in the historic Olde Oakville, the house was under heritage protection, which meant that the exterior – along with all of the window shapes and sizes – could not be changed.
To add to the challenge, the house also had to accommodate their four very young children, along with two older children who visit often.
The result won an award of merit from the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario, which bestowed its annual honours this week.
As guests enter the house, they now arrive at a welcoming vestibule. Two types of marble were used for the floor. The traditional material suits the original plaster frieze, while the veining in the marble veining creates a modern appearance.
Inside, the stair rails, banister and plaster mouldings and decorative elements have all been redone in white.
"The original detail was all there – the only problem was it was all painted black," says Mr. Hooper.
A two-storey space above the stairs contains a very large period glass skylight.
"It was really just a matter of cleaning it up," says the designer.
A period pendant light fixture hangs in the front hall, while the designers added some modern uplighting to light up the whole space.
Two parlours were combined to become one formal living room. An adjacent room has been turned into a billiard room with dark green walls to match the table.
In the dining room, Powell & Bonnell added panels to the wall and lighting that highlights the artwork.
"They can have 20 people sitting down to eat in the dining room."
A small office had oak panelling, which they painted in a lighter shade.
"We found it made the room very dark."
The kitchen, Mr. Hooper says, was a "weird" after-thought stuck into the original 1855 portion of the house.
The designers decided to swap the kitchen and family room spaces to create a better plan. The kitchen is now next to the garage and the owners can unload groceries without having to carry them all the way through the house to the rear.
Similarly, the family room has a more sensible position at the rear of the house where doors open to the pool.
Today the kitchen has traditional cabinetry around the perimeter but a modern-looking island. A large table has plenty of space around it to accommodate the high chairs of the little ones.
They also created a large family room with windows on three sides. The designers removed an old brick fireplace of no particular distinction and created a monumental statement with the fireplace along one wall. Hidden nooks behind the wall provide a place to stash the kids' books and toys.
Upstairs, the designers created a luxurious master suite with a simple and clean bathroom. In the bedroom, the designers found low ceiling heights, so they took out the floor joists and put in a tray ceiling.
At the wife's request, the wood floor joists was salvaged and used to build two console tables.
"She was quite adamant that we couldn't just throw them out."
That piece of history is one of the elements that connects the house today with its history.
The result, says Mr. Hooper, is a layering of the past and present that even the husband appreciates.