Back in 2011, Ottawa couple Matthew Ball and Fraser Valentine were contently settled in their new Westboro home, until a listing for a mid-century modern home in Rothwell Heights piqued their curiousity and led to a drive. Design, architecture and real estate enthusiasts, the couple recall feeling as though the house was strongly calling to them, just moments after entering the front door.
Built by an architect in the late 1950s, Fraser says that the house was intentionally positioned on the property in a way that follows the light. “The sun rises outside of our bedroom and tracks around the house so that it remains sunny by the pool until late in the day. The seasonal views at any time of year are spectacular.”
The large, lush property also fulfilled mutual dreams of a cottage, without many of the associated hassles of maintaining two residences. Despite succumbing to emotion as the main driver of their purchase, Matthew and Fraser also knew that the process of restoring the home and grounds would be very challenging and expensive, requiring a series of extensive renovations.
The installation of a new septic system was an early project that entailed digging down eight feet into the front yard and removing of 60 tons of rock. Giving the expansive space a new manicured look using native plants, the couple hired local landscape designer, Ailsa Francis, to create a master plan for the property that would respect the look and feel of the house and neighbourhood.
Ready to invest their own energy, Fraser and Matthew spent the summer of 2013 planting over 800 plants, placed by Ailsa, in hues of purple, yellow, white and pink. At least 300 thyme plants were selected to provide a low-maintenance ground cover which flowers in a beautiful bright pink, early in the summer.
Renovations to the backyard included the addition of 400 plants, such as ferns, hellebores and groundcovers, to create a completely naturalized woodland garden. Welcoming touches of feeders and a fountain invite birds, squirrels and a local fox to drop by when in need of sustenance.
Asked why they chose to plant their gardens themselves, Fraser smiles. “Gardening is really the only thing I can do where I don’t think about anything except what I am doing. It is organic and doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Matthew agrees. “As I get older, I find nature to be increasingly important and being outside, with my hands in the dirt, to be very grounding.”
Offsetting the natural and serene tones of the property are pops of bright whimsical colour, such as robin egg blue chairs for the front porch and a bright yellow front door, painted by Matthew. “Our aesthetic has always been that we like what we like. We are not afraid of colour and don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
With many projects behind them, Matthew says it was the construction of a new 1,500 square-foot pool deck that cemented their commitment to the home. “In 2016, we also upgraded the pool by replacing tired coping with limestone accented by one-inch-square aquamarine tile. It is absolutely gorgeous, and we now spend all summer outdoors. We both work downtown and by living a little further out of the core, I truly feel like I am at the cottage.”
Fraser adds that the house and property also feel very different in the summer and that they live in it very differently during the warmer months.
Firm believers in the joys of casual entertaining, the couple extend an annual open invitation to friends to join them at the pool on sunny, summer days. A thoughtful basement renovation now boasts a large butler kitchen, providing dedicated space for party essentials like platters, glasses and cutlery.
Given this past summer’s social and travel restrictions, Matthew and Fraser were more grateful than ever for their, “cottage in the city”. Choosing to take the month of July off together, they agreed to make minimal plans—apart from gardening projects and ample pool time. Thanks to the generous layout of their property, the couple were able to enjoy visits with a few friends and celebrate Matthew’s 50th birthday.
Reflecting on their renovation journey, Fraser muses, “What is kind of neat about this house is that everything that we have done to restore and improve it has been very much for us. The goal was always to create a space that makes us feel good and nourishes us. What has been fascinating to watch is just how much other people really like coming here.”