A winner overhaul

This extensive, and impressive, Glebe renovation won the 2000 Design Award from OCHBA

The Ottawa Citizen, December 9 2000 – Kathryn Young

Renovate? Never.

For years, Lynn Curry resisted updating her Glebe home, preferring the thought of purchasing someone else's renovation project since that's more cost effective.

She and her husband, Chuck Shields, had rebuilt the porch on their 88-year-old home near the Rideau Canal when they bought it in 1984, but nothing had been done to repair crooked floors, bring the electrical and plumbing systems up to code or overhaul the cramped kitchen.

"I tried desperately to avoid doing a renovation," she says. "But given the neighbourhood and situation of the house, we decided it was worthwhile to do it."

While most people would have simply got three estimates from contractors and started the project, Ms. Curry embarked on two years' worth of preparatory work, which paid off in the end with a spectacular renovation that won the 2000 Design Award from the Ottawa-Carleton Horne Builders' Association for best custom renovation over $250,000.

"One of the big stories here is preparation," says the psychology consultant who works from a now-enlarged home office with built-in shelves and cabinets, a curving U-shaped desk and a skylight lined with mirrors to reflect more light.

In the two years between deciding to renovate and the first shovel hitting the ground, she researched the entire history of the two-storey home, interviewed 10 architects before settling on Linda Chapman Architect, and decided to hire a kitchen specialist for that all-important room.

In a renovation that touched virtually every room in the house, completely gutted the key rooms of kitchen and master bath a d added a two-storey addition on the back, research and planning were vital keys to its success.

They started with two givens: the cooking area and the counters, she says, pointing to the two Dacor wall ovens and the gas cooktop. "The altar, this is called," she laughs. "My husband and I are both serious cooks. The first thing we decided on was the stove and ovens.

And the second decision was the granite." She sweeps her arm toward the dark green granite counter that now provides a wealth of working space in the well-designed kitchen featuring cherry cabinets trimmed with maple.

She and Ms. Chapman selected Cina Tite of Design First Kitchen Interiors to plan the kitchen and Rex Engel of Engel Construction to wield the hammers and saws.

"We got really good people together," says Ms. Curry, obviously the type of person to jump wholeheartedly into any project worth doing.

The kitchen had been a small, tight area at the hack with crooked floors that turned out to have cracked beams underneath. "We had to reinforce a lot of the structure," says Mr. Engel.

"In past renovations, they'd taken a number of short cuts. That's the sort of stuff that's hidden."

He was pleased that the design award judges also toured the basement, taking the structure itself into their considerations, not just the design and finishes.

What used to be the back wail of the house is now open, with the kitchen counter on one side and a maple-topped breakfast bar on the music room side. There's a ledge above and a green post on one side, trimmed in matching maple and cherry-stained wood. Since it was a load-bearing wall, the supports had to stay, but Ms. Chapman turned the requirements into am eye-catching design feature that echoes the transoms over all the windows.

"The idea here was to keep the same theme of the transom," says Ms. Chapman. The ledge, which holds treasures gathered from her worldwide travels, also helps visually lower the high ceiling to lend an air of cosiness.

"Good details really distinguish an average house from above average," she says. "Good details are critical."

The music room - sporting custom-built maple cabinets trimmed with cherry along three walls to hold Mr. Shields' stereo equipment, CDs and even LPs - is part of the two storey addition across the back that also accommodates a luxurious master bath/laundry room and Ms. Curry's expanded home office above.

"It's worth while putting resources into areas you're going to spend a lot of time in," Ms. Curry says.

One wall of the master bath houses a stacked washer and dryer behind doors, with another cabinet storing the ironing board and associated paraphernalia. A curving glass-block screen hides the toilet, bidet and telephone, a wide walk-in shower boasts a long ledge for sitting, and double sinks give each their own space.

A new old-style clawfooted soaker tub sits next to the window overlooking the backyard oasis, also renovated to include a deck insulated and heated storage closets for bulbs and plants, a pond and flagstone patio and a carport backing onto a rear lane.

Other areas of the home didn't receive as extensive a renovation, but were rejuvenated with new floors or drywall or paint or all three. The front-porch piers were fixed up, new windows installed throughout and two stained-glass windows found in the attic were installed in the front vestibule as a screen.

Repairs were done to the original front door with its stained glass window which inspired the paint choices. Both inside and out, the home is painted in several shades of three colours: mustard, terra cotta and forest green, providing a unified look, despite its closed design. But those colours stand out on a street of conservative Glebe exteriors.

"You notice this house," says Ms. Chapman.

Inside are five shades of terra cotta, three shades of green, and cream coloured trim. "We walked around with yellow stickies with notes to the painters and taped colour chips to the wall," says Ms. Curry.

The former bathroom is now his-and-hers walk-in closets with four floor-to-ceiling pull-out shoe racks. A wine cellar was built in the basement.

A skylight was added to Mr. Shields' third floor office and the room extended into the space below the side angles of the gambrel roof, creating an extra four feet of floor space.

Both Ms. Chapman and Mr. Engel praise Ms. Curry for being heavily involved in the day-to-day decision making. Many home-owners, it would seem, I are wracked with indecision.

"You can't just throw up your hands and say 'Do it,' " she says. Regular consultation with Mr. Engel and Ms. Chapman was key to making the project a success.

"Unless you're happy with the way the work goes from day one, you're not going to be happy with the product," says Ms. Curry, who reduced her consulting contracts during the work period so she could be available to answer questions all the time. She jokes she made about 150 decisions a day.

"We stayed in the house and moved from room to room." The total renovation cost about $300,000, including all the appliances, landscaping, carport, outside painting and new windows, Ms. Curry estimates.

But the result was worth it.

Click here for more on this renovation.

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