To transform this 1980s townhouse into an inviting and contemporary home, designer Ben Brannen made some major cosmetic changes.
by Kim Pemberton / Photos by Joshua Lawrence
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight when Ben Brannen and his partner Richard Dingeldein first walked into the 1980s townhome that would eventually become their home.
In fact, the couple gave it a “quick pass” during the open house after seeing most of its walls were covered with wallpaper (the ugly kind with borders) and an array of textured ceilings.
But with so little on the housing market, and appreciating its location — a woodsy setting in the Broadmead neighbourhood — they returned for a second visit.
“We thought this neighbourhood was a nice little pocket,” says Brannen, the principal designer and owner of Bespoke Design.
And as for the two-level, nearly 2,000-square-foot townhouse: “It had good bones; it just needed a hug.”
Before making any final house-hunting decisions, Brannen and Dingeldein, who works for WestJet, left for a holiday in Spain in August 2019, handing over the keys to their 750-square-foot downtown condo so their realtor could show it while they were gone.
“The condo sold, which meant we were homeless in Spain,” says Brannen. “We were in a bit of a panic since there wasn’t much on the market — and then we remembered this place.”
They ended up purchasing the townhouse — while in Barcelona — and took possession in October, 2019. The townhome’s exterior is partial brick and wood, with lots of large windows and a small private patio in the rear. The outdoor space is ideal for the couple’s Yorkshire terrier, Bosey, and so far remains unchanged.
Inside, changes in the living room and upstairs bedrooms were mainly cosmetic, requiring stripping layers and layers of wallpaper, which the couple did themselves.They also improved the home’s mid-century touches, painting the vaulted ceiling in the sunken living room white, to let in light, and drywalling to hide a transition strip between the two storeys.
As for the stone fireplace, Brannen says they have yet to agree on what changes will happen, since “Richard kind of likes it and I hate it.”
Luckily for them, the previous owner replaced the downstairs flooring with walnut wood floors, a choice Brannen says he would have made himself since it works so well with their antiques.
The previous owner also had new wool carpets installed on the staircase, hallway and two of the three bedrooms (the master has wood flooring). While carpeting is not a decision Brannen would have made, it’s one they’re willing to keep for now since the carpet is in great condition.
The couple’s main focus was renovating the kitchen, which was in dire need of updating. They began by removing a non-load-bearing wall between the kitchen and dining room, to open up the space, then reconfiguring the kitchen layout. For some inexplicable reason, the original kitchen was squished into one corner of a very large room.
The kitchen is now completely transformed, with a large kitchen island and plenty of cabinetry, featuring black bottoms and white upper cabinets from Thomas and Birch Kitchen and Bath Boutique.
“We went with Shaker cabinets since they are a classic and a neutral,” says Brannen.
“The magic is the dark lower cabinets which keeps it interesting from an all plain white kitchen.”
Those darker cabinets are also seen in a built-in beverage station installed opposite the kitchen work area and adjacent to a lounging area. This helps reduce traffic in the main work space and provides extra conveniences, like a mini-fridge and drawers for their mugs and wine glasses.
“I’m quite conservative when it comes to the kitchen, because it has to endure for a very long time.” He jokingly adds, “This design was easy to do myself since I know the clients very well.” One of the main renovations to the townhouse was in the kitchen, designed by homeowner Ben Brannen.
He chose classic Shaker cabinets and added interest by going with dark bottom cabinets, light upper cabinets and a white, quartz countertop with veining. A beverage station, partially seen on the right, helps to extend the kitchen, which was previously squished into one corner of the room.
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Ben Brannen, Bespoke Design
MILLWORK: Thomas and Birch Kitchen and Bath Boutique
COUNTERS: Abstract Stone
FLOORS: Island Floor Centre
APPLIANCES: Trail Appliances, Coast Appliances
LIGHT FIXTURES: Visual Comfort through Bespoke Design
ELECTRICAL: Kendra’s Electrical Company, Urban Electric
PAINTING: Nicholas Alexander
BASEBOARD AND TRIM: Doug McKnight