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A modernist landmark gets an update

The Poole Residence was built in 1968 by local philanthropists John and Barbara Poole.

Edmonton's Poole Residence emerges after extensive four-year renovation

The Poole House has long been considered a design and architectural landmark in Edmonton. It is credited with helping to shape the modernist design movement in the city back in the sixties. Now, thanks to a four-year renovation under new ownership, it is starting a new, greener, chapter.

Designed by Don Bittorf and James Wensley, the Poole Residence was built in 1968 for local philanthropists John and Barbara Poole. Constructed entirely from cedar and rock, the house is nestled among six hectares of woodland, overlooking a ravine, in Westridge Park.

It boasts all the hallmarks of classic West Coast modern design: floor-to-ceiling wood-framed windows, exposed post-and-beam construction, flat roofs with shady, protective overhangs, clean lines and an expansive and airy interior. It's a design which has won the home a legion of admirers over the years; among them, the present owner, Sea Taubner.

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"This has been my dream home since I was five years old," says Mrs. Taubner, 43. "My mum and Barbara Poole were best friends, we were neighbours, and my mum used to swim in their indoor pool in the winter and I'd always get to tag along. I just loved everything about the house."

"I still can't quite believe that it's our family home now," she adds, "I've been pinching myself for four years."

The Poole Residence is built almost entirely out of cedar and rock.

In 2007, John Poole passed away, followed by his wife, Barbara, in 2012. At that time, now married with four children, Ms. Taubner and her husband, John Bradley, were preparing to build a family home on two lots on Saskatchewan Drive in Belgravia.

"We were about to build a house as close in design to the Poole House as we could afford to build," Ms. Taubner says. "I'm a lawyer but I'd been taking some design courses at the University of Alberta to better understand that process and that was our goal. That's how big an impression this house had made on my life."

Then a phone call changed everything.

"We got a call from the Poole family lawyer who said John and Barbara's children would like to offer us the chance to buy their late parent's house," Ms. Taubner says. "They knew how much I loved the home and they wanted to safeguard its future so, they said, if we could afford to pay the appraised value of the home, there would be no negotiations, it would be ours."

"I was floored. Seriously, I was just in shock," she adds. "When we'd gotten the sad news that Barbara had passed away we did wonder what the fate of the house might be, we really hoped it wouldn't get torn down for a subdivision, but never in our wildest dreams did we imagine we might buy it."

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The renovation projected aimed to restore and safeguard many of the home’s unique features, including the cedar cladding.

"We were so grateful they thought of us that we decided we had to try," she says.

And so they did. By selling the lots they'd planned to build on and accepting a loan from family as well as the bank, the couple "scrimped and scraped together" the funds they needed to secure the sale of Ms. Taubner's childhood dream home.

Taking possession in December, 2013, the Taubner-Bradley family made the decision to embark on a long and complex renovation to sympathetically add two additional bedrooms to the three-bedroom home to accommodate their family. They would do this by adding an upstairs extension.

"I was really nervous about that, to be honest, because we desperately wanted it to look like it had always been a part of the house but we knew we'd need a really skilled architect to make sure that was the case," Ms. Taubner says.

The architect they hired for the job was Tai Ziola, working with Effect Home Builders, which would also replace all windows and doors, bathrooms and the kitchen.

The kitchen was replaced during the renovation.

"It was a really unique project to work on," recalls Sydney Bond, design consultant at Effect Home Builders. "The house itself is unlike any other; it has a warmth about it and it really draws nature inside it with the clean lines, large windows and cedar interior. The family were very concerned about losing any of that magic so it was a very considered and detail driven renovation. But very satisfying."

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As well as retaining the home's magic, the project also aimed to restore and safeguard many of it's unique features, including the cedar cladding, the outdoor patios, slate walkways and the full-sized indoor swimming pool.

"The plan was to renovate while keeping everything as true to the original home as possible and that's what we strived for in every part of this project," Ms. Taubner says. "We actually ended up stealing cedar from places like the swimming pool changing rooms, where it's not so important, to use on the extension. Retaining the essence of the house was our biggest priority."

When the new owners got their first energy bill, they decided to retrofit the home with a geothermal system.

By the end of January, 2014, upon receiving their first energy bill, the family's priorities unexpectedly expanded to include geothermal to heat the house and a solar array to heat the indoor pool.

"We were shocked when we received our first energy bill," Ms. Taubner says. "It was astronomical. I said to John, 'This house is going to break us. Either we wear parkas inside all winter or we have to do something about it.' We'd looked into geothermal and solar for the house we'd intended to build, so we knew the benefits and decided that it was the only way forward."

"Since the geothermal system was installed, our energy bills have been far less shocking," she adds.

With the flooring lifted to fit the geothermal system, the family also decided to pour white concrete floors throughout, in place of the home's original fitted wool rugs.

Concrete floors flow throughout the house, providing a good conduit for geothermal heat.

"When I was taking these design courses at the University of Alberta, I studied universal design which is design and accessibility for all phases of life, and I really wanted to incorporate as much of that ethos as possible into the home because our intention is to live here for the rest of our days" Ms. Taubner says. "Concrete floors flow throughout the house, even into the shower rooms, creating zero barrier. They're also a great conduit for geothermal and perfect for cleaning up after the kids. Our youngest is 5 and our eldest is 12, so they're like little piglets."

Seeking a seamless finish inside and out, the family made the decision to also paint the exterior of the property.

"I really didn't want to paint the entire house, I wanted to try to stain the new cedar to make it blend in with the old cedar but our builder told us painting the house would actually be better because it would protect it for the future," Ms. Taubner says. "It was a good decision. People tell us they'd never know the upstairs extension wasn't part of the original house and that's what we wanted."

Landscaping and fixing the lighting system are the last major projects in the renovation.

Almost four years on, the Poole Residence renovation is finally in its closing stages, just in time for the home reaching its half-century.

"We moved into the house 14 months ago out of necessity, but there hasn't been a month go by without contractors. We're currently having slate walkways replaced outside and we're hoping to get some lawn down where the trenches were dug for the geothermal soon. We also have ongoing issues with lighting; the complex layers of lighting which were installed in 1968 are certainly making our electrician work hard. But we are getting there," Ms. Taubner says.

"It has been a long and arduous journey, but so worth it," she adds.

Ms. Taubner keeps in touch with the Poole family, sending them photo updates on the renovations. "It will always be the Poole House," she says, "and I love that, it's important that we keep that connection. I hope John and Barbara would have been happy with the decisions we've made and we hope the home stays in our family for a long time to come."

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