Preserving History

A thoughtful renovation honours the integrity of this 115-year-old home

It may not have made financial sense, but undertaking an historically sympathetic renovation to a century home was just common sense for a Goderich-area couple.

Steven and Laurie are the third owners of their 6,000-square-foot, yellow-brick home, which was built in 1892. Steven’s parents lived in the Victorian home for 30 years after purchasing it from the daughter of the doctor who built it. Along the way, they repaired and updated the infrastructure, including the wiring and plumbing, and carried out some cosmetic work, as well.

The home was structurally sound when Steven and Laurie moved in 15 years ago, which made the prospect of a renovation easier and less expensive.

“When they did all of the structural work, they created an opportunity for us to make a logical investment in an old home that also met our emotional needs,” Steven says. “We love living here – it’s a great old place.”

The original architectural features, such as the plaster mouldings, hardwood flooring and detailed ash woodwork, were still intact which was a definite advantage for the couple.

“Most of the feeling is still here, the woodwork is still here and any changes along the way have been really made thoughtfully,” Steven says.

The couple engaged Oke Woodsmith Building Systems to undertake a series of three renovations, which began in 2004. Their aim was to restructure the rear of the home to reflect today’s lifestyles, while preserving its architectural integrity.

Headed by Brad Oke, the family-owned company created a dining and sitting area where the kitchen once was, overlooking an east-facing side yard rimmed by cedars. That area is balanced on the opposite side by a new kitchen, which takes the place of the former family room.

The kitchen now features a centre cherry island flanked on two sides by granite counters and butter-yellow cabinetry with deep crown mouldings. Wide aisles between the island and the counters allow for an easy traffic flow, which is particularly important when Steven and Laurie host buffet-style dinners.

“There’s room for people to mingle; it works out really well,” Laurie says.

Oke also enlarged an archway between the kitchen and the sitting/dining area to visually connect them. Built-in bookcases, positioned on each side of a Victorian-style fireplace, signal a transition between the two rooms.

The dining area, which resembles a recessed alcove, posed the greatest challenge since creating it involved removing an exterior wall to add needed floor space. Oke’s aim was to blend the new work seamlessly with the existing structure.

“The big challenge was to take a Victorian home and not ruin the philosophy of the original design,” he explains.

The focal point is a bay window, replicated to resemble bay windows in the formal living room at the front of the home. The long double-hung windows were custom manufactured by Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co. Inc. to resemble century-old windows and installed by Ridley Windows of Toronto.

The windows provide nearly floor-to-ceiling views of an in-ground saltwater pool and outdoor entertaining areas. “Our hope was to have them as authentic-looking as possible,” Steven says.

Draperies in shades of raspberry, gold and green draw attention to the windows, which form a backdrop for a trestle dining table with a wrought-iron base and a cherry top. Terra cotta-coloured wallpaper and golden ash floors unify the renovated areas, making them warm and inviting.

Connecting the three rooms to the outdoor living areas was another of Steven and Laurie’s priorities. Because the swimming pool wasn’t accessible from the rear of the home, the indoors and outdoors were completely separate.

“The pool always felt very disconnected,” Laurie notes.

Oke built a Victorian-style gazebo as an extension of a covered rear patio, which is accessible through a garden door in the sitting room. Radiant in-floor heating was installed in the floor of the gazebo to melt the snow, allowing the family to use it for dining in late fall or early spring.

While a simple side porch would have been historically sympathetic, it wouldn’t have achieved the family’s objectives.

“What we have here incorporates all of the architectural elements of an original side porch, but in a living space that works for today,” Steven says. “The biggest single thing is that the outside feels like it’s connected to our house now instead of just being the side yard.”

In the spring of 2005, Oke replaced the deck and fencing using a combination of white painted wood and wrought iron around the swimming pool, and built a rustic pool house. He also built an outdoor fireplace made of Shouldice Designer Stone that forms part of an entertaining area opposite the gazebo.

In the third and final phase completed last fall, Oke transformed a garage that was designed for a motor home into a coach house. Built of reclaimed yellow brick to resemble the home, the garage now features ornate white fretwork and coach house doors topped by arched soldier courses of brick. Its design is practical since it allows Steven and Laurie to park two vehicles beneath two other vehicles on raised lifts.

Heated sidewalks were also installed at the front and back doors, and the west side of the house was landscaped with symmetrical, English-style flowerbeds. Boxwoods and yew, interspersed with pink hydrangeas, lavender, hostas and magnolia trees, create a sense of formality.

Steven and Laurie agree the thought they put into the renovation has paid off. “One of the things I enjoy about it the most is that it flows so well,” Laurie says. “The kitchen flows to the gazebo and the pool area, and all of the landscaping around the house ties it together really well.”

Steven says he understands why owners of century homes are tempted to gut entire rooms and start from scratch. Undertaking an historically sympathetic renovation – while it was the right thing to do – added time, work and expense to the project.

The couple never considered the alternative, however. “It was really worth the investment and that has been exciting for us,” Steven says. “In terms of the windows and the woodwork and the trim, Brad’s guys have been great in replicating everything.”

Laurie agrees. “Brad has such wonderful ideas and he’s great to deal with. We always felt very confident in the workmanship.”


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