When Erin O'Brien and Nicholas Heins first stepped into the "haunted" house across the street, they were surprised by how warm and welcoming it felt.
After standing abandoned for over two decades, the stately brick home suffered from serious issues ranging from a collapsed roof to an infestation of squirrels and raccoons.
Just 18 months later, careful ministrations by the Heins family had transformed a decaying, century-old wreck into a stunning, six-bedroom home slated to receive a 2011 Certificate of Merit from the Ottawa Architectural Conservation Awards.
From the moment they took possession of the sprawling red brick house, and throughout the demolition, restoration and rebuilding process, the undertaking was a labour of love for the couple and their three children.
"When we bought it, we couldn't wait to make it our own," says Erin, a senior executive with the Department of Finance. "We feel that our home is a reflection of our family - happy and inviting."
MODERN FAMILY DINING
"Having a virtual ‘blank slate' to work with when designing the rooms was such a bonus," says Nick. And this was especially true for their dining room, which was built to fit with their existing furniture, handcrafted from solid black walnut.
A traditional buffet is recessed in a custom-built cubby and, along with the matching table and upholstered chairs, contrasts engagingly with the large, stunningly modern crystal chandelier. A streamlined stainless-steel fireplace, which runs on alcohol rather than gas to avoid overheating dinner guests, adds both a contemporary touch and delightful foil to the grandfather clock standing nearby.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
"We love to entertain, and we're not fancy," Erin explains, adding that a lot of their get-togethers involve kids as well as adults. With this in mind, they designed a large, open-concept kitchen and family room, which boasts enough space for little ones to play as well as more grown-up features like the KitchenAid wine and beverage fridge with three different temperature zones.
"The creamy colour gives the counter a softer look, yet it's extremely durable and functional," says Erin, a talented cook, who keeps her eye on the kids while they do their homework as she prepares dinner at the centre-island cooktop.
BATHED IN SUNLIGHT
This third-floor master bath is a place to relax, showcasing custom-built cabinets with double sinks, basket-weave tiling, and a stand-alone bathtub built for two. The spacious shower and steam-room combo is the perfect place to retreat after working up a sweat in the attached home gym. The glassed-in shower doors and neutral limestone tiles enhance the feeling of openness.
WHEN WORKS MEETS PLAY
As owner of the company Westboro Homes, Nick was able to use his decades of building and developing experience to create a space that is both respectful of tradition and suited to his family's needs.
"Marrying the old with the new was a challenge I loved," says the meticulous builder, who worked closely with the designer and architect to make sure every detail was perfect.
His cozy home office, with a restored wood-burning fireplace, is representative of the impressive results found throughout the home. Featuring both the carefully-restored original hardwood floor and door, the sunny room is decorated with framed drawings of Nick's past and current projects, and accented by two sleek leather chairs.
A PLACE FOR EVERYONE
There was no sibling rivalry when it came time for the children to choose their bedrooms, as each second-floor room has a unique bonus feature. Russell (aged 4) has his own personal playroom attached, while Julia (7) has her own balcony. In the largest of the rooms, 11-year-old Emily enjoys a whole wall of windows and enough space for a second bed for slumber parties.
"The girls each picked out their paint colours," Erin says. "I wanted their rooms to reflect their personalities - bright, colourful, playful - but not to be so cutsie that they would out-grow them."
Their knack for reconciling their reverence for tradition and quality with their passion for contemporary design is reflected throughout the couple's lovely home. They definitely achieved their goal of preserving the character of the house, while creating open, livable spaces for both family time and entertaining.
The Long and Short of It
LOCATION: A tree-lined street in Civic Hospital area
OBSTACLES: Bringing a 100-year-old house up to today's building code standards. Nine steel beams had to be installed in the structure, while one whole side of the house had to be removed and supported. Also, in order to have a finished basement, they had to dig a foot and a half down through rock.
RENOVATION LENGTH: Nine and a half months - moved in December 2009.
MOST FRUSTRATING MOMENT: About three months before they were finished, the carpenters disappeared just after being paid and left to do another job. They even abandoned all of their tools.
GREATEST GAIN: "I love my family and I love what I do," Nick says. "So having the opportunity to restore and rebuild our home is the best of both worlds for me."
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