Return to Grace

From dereliction to Victorian stateliness

George and Elizabeth Procter had always admired a stately yellow-brick Victorian house across the road from their own home south of Wingham. Located on a rise, the two-storey residence had a commanding presence, as well as a sweeping view of forests and farmland for miles around.

When the owner died in 1995, the Procters decided they had to act quickly to change the inevitable outcome of the home. Built in the 1890s, it had a multitude of structural problems, as well as no indoor plumbing, running water or even a kitchen. Several windows had been broken and the house was inhabited by a raccoon.

The Procters were particularly captivated by the exterior, which boasted a deep veranda with wooden gingerbread trim, lintels etched with a graceful scroll motif, and bay windows that created a rounded effect on the main floor and the second storey. They purchased the home in 1997 and began the long process of returning it to a state of dignity.

“It was just so unique,” Elizabeth Procter recalls.  “We haven’t ever found any other house that’s exactly the same.”

As much as the couple appreciated the exterior, the interior proved to be unworkable. The main floor consisted of a hallway, a living room and a small bedroom behind it with a staircase that led to the second floor. Upstairs, there were two tiny bedrooms and a larger bedroom.

“It was a total rebuild; we had to rework everything,” Elizabeth says.

The couple hired John Rutledge, a Goderich architect, to redesign the interior. During the two-year planning process, Rutledge suggested the couple contract Oke Woodsmith Building Systems of Hensall to carry out the interior and exterior renovation work. The Procters particularly wanted to heat the home with radiant in-floor heat, a technology in which Oke Woodsmith specialized.

In 2001, Oke removed an addition at the rear of the home, leaving only a shell of four walls and the roof rafters intact. The company then gutted the interior, which included removing the original wooden floor joists and installing a Hambro composite floor joist system on the first and second floors. The combination of steel joists and poured concrete allowed for wider rooms and reduced the need for structural supports. Radiant in-floor heating was installed in all three levels of the home.

In the process of rebuilding the home, Oke used Insulated Concrete Forms in the exterior walls of two additions on the main floor to increase the home’s energy efficiency and sound resistance.

To the right of the front foyer, Oke created an open-concept living and dining area balanced by an east-facing sunroom on the opposite side. The area beneath the sunroom was excavated and the original basement deepened by two feet to accommodate a finished lower level; that work involved underpinning the stone foundation.

At the rear of the home, the company built an addition with a kitchen, a side entry, and a garage faced with board-and-batten siding. Upstairs, a master bedroom, a home office and a bathroom were created.

Oke used a combination of salvaged brick from the home and reclaimed brick to create a seamless blend of old and new. The brick was also repointed, the double-hung windows replaced and new concrete windowsills made to duplicate the originals. Elizabeth stripped and painted the gingerbread trim, as well as the columns on the front veranda, a pale shade of yellow to match the brick.

Brad Oke, an architectural technologist and a partner in Oke Woodsmith, says the greatest challenge in the renovation lay in incorporating new technologies into a century-old home. “We built the house in the same fashion as we would build a new house, but we had to retain the feel and the look of the project,” he explains.

“The biggest thing was trying not to lose the character of the home, but putting in all of the new technologies. The house is a new home, barring the brick.”

Although the interior is new, the Procters have made an effort to incorporate features found in the original home. Ash hardwood, grown in the area, was used for deep baseboards, as well as heavy window and door casings. The couple also salvaged two of the original ash doors; one became a pocket door leading into the sunroom and the other was used in the master bedroom.

One of the most striking features of the home is the impression of light and spaciousness that’s evident to visitors as soon as they enter the front foyer. Off-white walls and pale ceramic tile floors create a contrast to the dark woods used throughout the interior.

The sunroom, which is filled with tropical plants and furnished with a rattan dining set, opens to the left of the foyer. Sunlight streams through five sets of casement windows with deep windowsills and transoms above. The windows create a rounded effect that balances two sets of bay windows in the living room across the hall.

To the right of the foyer, deep cove mouldings unify the living and dining rooms, which form an open-concept area ideal for entertaining. Behind the dining area, a streamlined kitchen pairs deeply grained oak cabinets with granite counters in soft shades of peach and cream. A built-in desk, an island with a cooktop, and a pantry accentuate the kitchen’s efficient design.

A side entry opens from a recessed porch in to a long hallway with a full bathroom and a laundry/hobby room at the rear. The laundry room also accommodates a boiler that heats the water for the radiant in-floor heating system and the domestic hot water.

From the rear of the home, an ash staircase leads to the lower level. It incorporates two well-proportioned bedrooms with full-height windows and pine ceiling beams, a cold room for storing Elizabeth’s preserves, a family room with a rustic fieldstone fireplace, and an exercise area.

The second floor is accessible from the home’s original cherry staircase in the front foyer. It features a hallway that leads, on one side, to a home office and, on the other, to the master bedroom and a full bathroom.

The Procters are delighted with the level of comfort they’ve achieved in their home – from the floor-to-ceiling warmth provided by the radiant in-floor heat to the design of the interior layout. The couple will be able to use the main floor exclusively if mobility problems prevent them from gaining access to the second floor. Shallow exterior steps also increase the home’s accessibility.

“Planning the layout was extremely important and getting the spaces we wanted,” Elizabeth says.

The Procters agree that collaborating with Oke Woodsmith was a rewarding experience. “They were wonderful to work with,” Elizabeth notes. “Brad was so helpful in helping us find the right trim or the right hardware. If there was something that we felt wasn’t going to work, we just changed it. They couldn’t have been nicer.”

The renovation was completed shortly before the Procters moved into the home in July 2002.

While many people questioned the couple’s decision to renovate the home instead of demolishing it and starting over, George says he’s glad he and Elizabeth invested in their property.

“Rejuvenating a house that’s old gives you some satisfaction,” he adds.

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