A once tiny starter house is transformed into one family's dream home.
A young family goes from starter home to forever home – without moving! – thanks to two talented and trustworthy designers.
How to Build Your Dream House 101, a case study. Lesson One: Start from the ground up. When these homeowners (he’s a lawyer, she’s a nutritionist and stay-at-home mom) realized that the tiny Vancouver bungalow they’d been living in for the past 12 years was far too small for their family (which includes two growing boys, aged 9 and 10), they had it bulldozed. They loved their lot, but the home had never been renovated, and the foundation footprint needed to be expanded before they could go bigger – so demolition was the obvious option.
Lesson Two: Understand exactly what your dream house entails. Having lived on the property for more than a decade, the homeowners had crystal-clear ideas about how to make the most of the ample light and stunning views. Plus, they analyzed their lifestyle and knew what it demanded – a large open-concept living space (so the family could be close even when they’re not in the same room); plenty of über-organized storage (since this super-sporty gang bikes, skis, swims and plays soccer); a quiet area away from the kids (because, well, kids); and a kitted-out kitchen for the wife, who’s an avid home chef.
Lesson Three (and perhaps the most important of them all): Hire people you trust to deliver the dream. Enter Sophie Burke, whose sister introduced her to the wife (they’re friends). “I felt Sophie would understand the needs of a young family and not make things too precious,” says the wife. “I had seen her clean, elegant and sophisticated style on her Pinterest boards and in other projects she’d done and just knew that if I couldn’t decide on something, I’d be happy with her choices.”
Sophie and the project’s lead designer, Jennifer Millar, were involved from the start – from recommending an architect to build the 2,800-square-foot four-bedroom house to shopping for its finishing touches. “Both designers are smart and talented, and I was always impressed with their selections – unique and interesting yet unfussy,” says the wife. “How could I not trust them?”
With carte blanche to create the family’s dream home, Sophie and Jennifer set about creating a traditional aesthetic (which ties in the exterior architecture) with a clean, contemporary character. “Finding the right balance between the two styles was one of the biggest challenges for us,” says Sophie. But the timeless and trendy palette of black, white and grey used throughout the space helped unify it all. In the open-concept family room, dining area and kitchen, old-world touches like window casings, wall panelling and thick baseboards are tempered by sleek simple-lined furnishings and punched up by of-the-moment elements, such as herringbone tiles, brass hardware, Mid-Century Modern pieces and industrial light fixtures.
The designers also delivered all the practical features the homeowners sought: a quiet sitting room closed-off from the rest of the house, ample storage to accommodate all the kitchen gadgets and sports gear, a separate upstairs bathroom for the boys and a rec room and laundry room in the basement. In addition to the homeowners’ family-friendly requests, Sophie and Jennifer offered up another brilliant idea: to include an office nook in the family room so the kids would have a spot to complete their homework while remaining close to their parents. No doubt the homeowners will be thanking the designers for years to come – not only for delivering their dream home but also for anticipating needs they hadn’t considered. It goes to show how far the words “I trust you” can take you. That’s the best lesson we learned today.
The small sitting room of this Vancouver home is closed off from the rest of the open-concept living space. A retreat where the family reads or the adults entertain, it’s a spot for solitude in this otherwise ultra-active household.
“The homeowner is a really talented baker and cook. Her former kitchen was teeny tiny and cut off from the rest of the house, but she still came up with incredible creations,” raves designer Sophie Burke. In the sprawling new space, with its ample storage, second oven and magic corner (to name just a few highlights), we can only imagine the meals this home chef now creates! (Drool....)
The kitchen’s herringbone-tiled walls offer a dramatic yet subtle look.The trendy pattern is grouted in grey for a more vintage vibe – a testament to the interplay of new world and old in the house.
The family didn’t need a formal dining room, but they did desire a large space for hosting holiday dinners. So Sophie and her colleague, Jennifer Millar, selected a dining table that can extend to seat 16 and stashed an extra pair of chairs in the boys’ rooms to accommodate more bums. The striking light fixture lends the perfect industrial edge to the panelled wall. “Jennifer is a genius at sourcing lighting,” says Sophie.
“We just went all in,” says Sophie of covering the main-floor powder room walls in chic gold polka-dot wallpaper. While the brass picture light and faucet follow suit, the simple mirror and sink temper all the glitz and glam.
With a cubby for each family member along one wall and meticulously laid-out closets on the other, the mud room is an ultra-organized treat for the active family.
The cozy family room, which has its own office area, is open to the kitchen so the homeowners can keep an eye on the kids, whether they’re doing homework or watching TV.
Grey paint not only modernizes the traditional panelled wall but also blends in with the TV.
Simple, serene and pared back, the master bedroom, with its layered textures and neutral hues, is one of the most feminine rooms in the house, says Sophie.
Image: Nicole Cohen
After a series of nips and tucks, a derelict brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y., reaches its full potential – and then some.
Four years ago, Nicole and Jordan Stein made the trip from the maelstrom of midtown Manhattan to a quiet, leafy street in Brooklyn that, compared with the city, felt downright pastoral. They had come to tour a brownstone as part of an estate sale, and immediately saw its potential despite certain drawbacks.
“I definitely had some trepidation because the house was in extremely rough shape,” says Nicole, who designs fine jewellery she sells through her online Etsy shop, ByNicoleAlexis. Conversely, Jordan, a Montreal-born business consultant and entrepreneur, was confident it could be brought back to life – after all, he had watched his parents successfully transform a beat-up Vermont ranch when he was younger.
“Our goal was to marry classic architecture with a modern aesthetic,” says Nicole, who wanted the interior envelope to look original to the house. Though the idea of gutting the space and blasting out the walls was brought up, it didn’t get far. “We bought a brownstone, not a condo,” says Nicole cheekily. “Sure, we have a narrow hallway and a tiny powder room, and yes, it’s a little quirky, but it’s true to the original home.” So the small rooms remained intact and were slowly brought back to code over the course of a year under their contractor’s exacting eye.
Next up? Christine Dovey, a designer based in Oakville, Ont., who has remotely kitted out homes (via email) from America to Norway, stepped in to apply her signature style: ravishing rooms with traditional architectural details in a modern palette of black and white with bursts of pink; spaces in which provocative contemporary artwork often sits alongside antique furnishings.
To deliver an authentic period look, Christine suggested the homeowners invest in crown mouldings. “Nicole wanted something that looked like it was there originally, so we went with big plaster mouldings as a splurge on the living room ceiling but regular crown throughout,” says Christine. Making sure the interior looked more downtown than Downton, the designer balanced the historic architectural elements with what she calls “a mixed bag of edgy yet elegant furnishings.”
In need of some hand holding a little closer to home, Nicole also worked with local designer Natalie Kraiem, who helped achieve the look by choosing key pieces including the rugs and living room artwork.
The sculptural replace in the eat-in area of this Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone was in such rough shape, it had to be removed and rebuilt. Above it, the enormous antique filigree mirror that belonged to the previous owners lends romance to the space. “We loved it so much we negotiated it as part of the sale of the house,” says homeowner Nicole Stein.
Dripping with crystal beads, the antique brass basket chandelier was a splurge, but Nicole insists it’s a forever piece. “I’m crazy about it too,” says designer Christine Dovey. “I love how it contrasts the rough-hewn wooden table.” The bespoke kitchen peninsula, with its marble waterfall edge, was also pricey, but Nicole had the fabricator use the scraps to make luxurious window ledges. “Everyone comments on them,” she says.
A blend of vintage- and modern-look furnishings gives the formal living room an eclectic, collected feel. Sculptural retro Alky chairs are a fun contrast to the stiff-backed caned settee. Heavyweight-cotton curtains draw the eye up to the 11-foot- high ceiling. They were originally placeholders, but looked so fabulous that Nicole decided to keep them – proving that you don’t always need to spend a mint on custom drapery.
Inspired by the iconoclastic Mexican painter, Frida is a punchy print that presides over this area of the living room, where a brass Sputnik lamp, oversized mirror and sculptural fireplace surround offer exciting diversions.
Wild! This spotted antelope-print runner gives an unexpected punch, introducing a graphic pattern into the front hall. “It’s classic but edgy,” says Christine.
Show-stopping architectural details on the ceiling of the living room’s media area are period appropriate but were non-existent when the couple bought the brownstone. Nicole tracked down a plaster restoration specialist in Long Island, N.Y., and sent Christine samples to narrow down the options. The installation took a week and was definitely a splurge. “It’s a real art. There is literally someone there with a cotton swab and a fine blade forming everything by hand,” says Nicole.
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