Earthy elegancePublished on November 18, 2008

  • This do-it-yourself renovation was a labour of love for our "Smart Designer" contest winners, Marie Poirier and Charlie Saddington. Photo by Darren Brown

The response to our first-ever "Smart Designer" contest has been overwhelming, with so many talented readers sending in stunning before-and-after projects.

From stylish kitchens and overhauled basements to a gazebo and a classic nook for reading, the renovation smarts in Ottawa are abundantly apparent. But there could only be one winner of the trip for two to New York City and one do-it-yourself project really caught the eye of the Ottawa At Home staff. After much consideration, we decided to award the 2008 "Smart Designer" crown to Marie Poirier and her husband, Charlie, for the total makeover of their 300-square-foot kitchen with its earthy palette and classic features.


Marie and Charlie are no strangers to renovation madness and mayhem after deciding to completely gut and redesign the main floor of their in their 1920s-era home in Ottawa's Little Italy last year. Given that the couple were not only completing two masters degrees and working full-time, but also in the midst of planning their wedding, time and finances were both in short supply. "We had to do the work ourselves," says Marie about the three-month project. "I don't know if that's smart or maybe just crazy. Overall it was really fun because a lot of it was about making mistakes and learning how to do it right. We hadn't done any of it before, from the tile work, the cork flooring to finishing off the kitchen."


"We were lucky with the renovation because the kitchen was a wide open space and we ended up leaving the dishwasher, the stove and the fridge all in the same place," says Marie. "It's now a very functional space and I think one of the most useful parts is the floating bar shelve (on the countertop when you enter the kitchen) because before the room was really open and people didn't know where to go when they came in. Now when I'm cooking in the kitchen, guests will just stand and lean at the bar while we chat."


The contemporary look of the kitchen was achieved through the use of IKEA cabinets, multi-coloured tiles in earth tones from Ceratec Ceramic Tiles, stainless steel appliances and butcher-block countertops. The couple also opted to use sustainable materials where possible, such as cork and bamboo flooring from The Healthiest Home. "I found that it's best to tell the people at the stores and tell them exactly what you need something for," says Charlie. "I found out that there was a big difference between buying a cork floor meant for kitchen use where there's more moisture and getting one that is a commercial grade. If we had gone with the cheaper product and water got on it, we could have had a disaster on our hands."


Marie and Charlie agree that their most ambitious challenge in the kitchen was making the concrete countertop. "I think it's my favourite part of the renovation because was a real labour and it's nice to have such a hard surface in the room," says Marie. "Plus it was a real adventure - we built it in our shed, which was home at the time to a family of raccoons. We'd be working away and look up to see four little faces staring down at us." From creating a form, adding green glass aggregate, pouring the concrete, sanding, sealing and installing the countertop, the pair says the project was a nightmare at times, but they're completely happy with the end results.

As true reno warriors, Marie and Charlie have their own list of do-it-yourself makeover tips:

DON'T expect the project to take a short amount of time, especially with an older home. DO respect Murphy's Law - if anything can go wrong, it will. Charlie says even the IKEA cabinets were difficult to install because the ceiling was crooked and walls weren't straight. DON'T lose your patience. DO take time off work, if you can afford it. DON'T forget to do your homework, with lots of online research and in-depth talks with store personnel. DO take time to savour the end results. Marie describes their kitchen as a definite conversation starter and they're glad they got it just the way they wanted.

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