When designer Eva Healy’s clients purchased their Victorian-era semi in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, they wanted to preserve its historic charm but also make it work for their thoroughly modern lives. “The object of the renovation was basically to create a space that’s modern and functional,” Eva explains. “But heritage features like the stained-glass windows and the beautiful staircase give it a unique character and warmth, which we wanted to bring out.”
According to Eva, there’s no need to treat old houses as if they were museums. We don’t live like the Victorians did, and there’s no shame in altering, adding or subtracting to fit what’s important to our lives today. For example, one of the most complicated items on the clients’ wish list was a main-floor powder room – not a common sight in a Victorian home!
On the other hand, some period features were worth bringing forward in ways the original occupants would have never dreamed of, like the full-height brick wall hidden behind five layers of plaster, lath and drywall that the new owners spent months restoring.
“It’s about making the space fit the clients’ list of wants,” says Eva, “while still appreciating the many years that the house has been here.”
DESIGN, Eva Healy and Rachel Subic, Avenue Design. sofa, Hudson’s Bay. CLUB CHAIRS, RUG, CB2. COFFEE TABLe, Rove Concepts. FIREPLACE INSERT, Odyssey Fireplace Ltd. WALL PAINT, Chantilly Lace OC-65, Benjamin Moore. Niche PAINT, Black Truffle, Pure & Original Lime Paint.
The living room is the homeowners’ sanctuary at the end of the day, but they also love to entertain, so extra seating was important. The home’s original stained-glass window pops against the white walls.
To banish the gloom that old hallways can be heir to, a glazed-panel door and transom fill the hall with light; a slatted side wall allows for air circulation and adds a modern edge opposite the richly textural old brick wall.
“A line of brass inset into the herringbone slate floor is a small gesture that adds a bit of grandeur.”
PENDANT, Mitzi Lighting. MIRROR, Hudson’s Bay. FLOORING, Holten Impex International.
So Happy Together
Marrying the historic and the new in older homes requires sensitivity, creativity and sometimes even a bit of bravery.
The details that lend themselves most naturally to preservation are those that are primarily decorative rather than functional: stained-glass windows, ceiling medallions, beautiful original mouldings.
In some lucky cases, an old house may have elements that are both beautiful and functional. Here, the owners painstakingly stripped the original brick wall, which runs from the main floor all the way to the top of the house. After power-washing and sealing, it's sure to last for years with virtually no care.
Don’t feel bad about changing what doesn’t work anymore. Many old houses have rooms that today we would consider cramped or dark – moving or knocking out walls is a perfectly acceptable solution, as is adding or enlarging closets, bathrooms and a modern kitchen to fit today’s standards.
“The panelling on the side of the staircase looks simple but hides lots of storage, which you often need in old houses.”
From the staircase – which was painted charcoal to make it pop against the brick – on up, small and often cost-effective changes yield maximum impact. In the primary bedroom, for example, a geometric arrangement of trim pieces painted fresh green makes a striking artistic wall treatment.