Peter and Brenda Juric had a beautiful property on their hands – a Paris-inspired home on Vancouver's West Side, with ebonized hardwood floors, dove-grey walls and black accents – and as developers they came to us with one request: Help us sell it.
The urgency was understandable; it was the autumn of 2009, and Vancouver real estate had gone cold. Even desirable properties could be months on the market without an offer.
The home was scheduled to begin showing in two weeks. I loved the design my co-workers had put together for the interior, but to give the home its best chance of a prompt sale, we needed to hit the one unfinished portion – the entryway – clear out of the park.
The Jurics were clear about the requirements: The entryway needed durable finishes, ample storage and, above all, make a memorable first impression.
It was a challenging space. A narrow hallway, four feet deep and 10 feet long, it made a right turn as you walked in the door. If we weren't careful, the corridor would end up feeling claustrophobic and taking a beating from the future homeowners' exits, their arms laden with bags, buggies and children.
Our big space-capturing idea was a win, then a loss, then a win again.
During construction, we'd noticed a large void under the stairs near the entryway, concealed by a wall. We asked the contractor to frame in a 24 inch by 30 inch opening to allow access. It was exactly what we were looking for: space galore. Weren't we clever?
We thought so, until we realized that we'd put an access panel of criminal ugliness in plain view of the front door. Fortunately, our fix for the panel – wainscoting – helped us solve a number of other problems with the entryway. Sometimes, hiding a defect from the world can inadvertently cause you to do something beautiful.
We clad the lower 32 inches of the entryway in elegant white wainscoting. We put it over the access door, too, concealing a touch-release latch. Open, the door reveals the storage space; closed, it disappears completely.
The other wainscoting win was its durability – another of the clients' requirements. Made of medium density fibreboard (MDF), wainscoting takes a beating much better than delicate drywall, which chips and scratches.
The flooring also needed to stand up to abuse. For this reason, the dark-stained oak that we'd selected for the main floor was no good – it gouges easily, shows dirt and will warp if left wet. Instead, we laid down warm-grey porcelain tiles. They're nearly bombproof – scratch resistant, almost impossible to chip and with a matte finish, they provide traction when wet.
Good space planning and pleasant finishes were a good start, but we knew that they wouldn't give us the first impression we were looking for. For that, we turned to the decorating.
Here, the challenge was formidable: We needed art that gave us big impact on a narrow wall, but we had almost no budget with which to buy it.
Our initial brainstorm turned up a couple of predictably mediocre ideas – inexpensive paintings or art prints (too generic) and designer wallpaper (too predictable).
We needed "crafty" ideas for a DIY project that could make a splash.
My first thought was to illustrate a Parisian streetscape above the wainscoting, along the entire run of the wall. But we couldn't get a projector back far enough from the wall to cast a full image (to trace) without distorting it terribly.
Next, we considered quartering and framing a map in a grid. A large-enough map was nearly impossible to find, however, and we couldn't afford the other option – having a graphic designer design, print and frame one. Next!
We started to rattle off mundane or forgotten objects we could make collections of and frame: mittens, glasses, pocket watches. The list went on. Realistically, it had to be something flat: The shadow boxes required for bigger objects would be at least 3 inches deep and crowd the hallway.
We arrived at the winner: doilies. Cringe if you like, but I've got a tender affection for lost women's work and this seemed like a great opportunity to breathe new life into something old and sentimental.
The team spent an entire day running to thrift stores and antique shops, collecting samples of tatting and crochet. When they returned to the office they had three things: a stack of beautiful white doilies, boxes of old art in salvageable frames, and a whack of black framing mattes.
For the next three evenings, Nicole starched and hand-stitched each doily to a matte, cut to fit a particular frame, while Lindsay and Lisa sprayed all the frames black and had new glass cut for them.
In the end, we hung more than 25 framed doilies at the front entrance. It was a $250 solution, if you don't count the evening hours spent sewing and painting.
The team took the personal touch one step further. At the end of the hall we hung a white abstract painting lent by Lindsay Guenter, our junior designer – her husband had painted it for their anniversary.
In the end I think we hit two of our targets – spaciousness and durability – for the Juric's entryway. And what about the third – a memorable first impression? The reports came back positive. The people who went though the house loved the doilies, and the home opened to rave reviews. Most important, it has happy new homeowners living in it now.
Special to The Globe and Mail.