BY SUSAN HOLLIS | PHOTOS BY JOSHUA LAWRENCE
No one who undertakes an interior renovation wants to hear that the project will need extensive, unexpected infrastructure upgrades to things like sewage and plumbing lines, but most houses, regardless of vintage, often prove unpredictable behind the scenes. So when Sharon Daly and her husband, Sig Isaac, decided to tackle an interior renovation of their two-level, three-bedroom Rockland home, which was built in 1972, they knew to expect a few surprises. What they didn’t factor in was a massive overhaul of underground exterior lines that resulted in the gutting of most of the sloped exterior landscaping surrounding their home.
“We wanted a place that looked integrated and we didn’t want to do it ourselves. Then the project got bigger and bigger and bigger — we had to redo all the things that make your house work and function, but that you don’t want to pay for because you can’t see it,” says Daly. “But having our electrical, mechanical, plumbing and perimeter drains done does give us peace of mind.”
Having already refinished the home’s dated popcorn ceilings and textured walls, along with all the electrical and the kitchen five years ago, Daly and Isaac were ready to tackle the rest of the 2,700-square-foot home last year. The house was spacious enough, but didn’t meet their storage and esthetic needs. Awkward closets, insufficient bathroom spaces and lack of a wow factor meant the house was in need of a general overhaul, but not one that required an extensive redesign — something designer Lisa Dunsmuir of Step One Design says is key to keeping budgets and expectations under control.
“Working within an existing footprint helps to maximize dollars on any project,” says Dunsmuir. “Everybody has a different take on what’s important or a priority in a project, so I think it’s important to pay close attention to that, to what their needs and requirements are, and, at the same time, help them to choose where to place their money.”
Introducing a 900-pound basalt boulder water feature and lush, deer-proof plants, landscape designer Melissa Baron executed a complete overhaul of the front garden, including a new path, gate and a generous sprinkling of bee- and bird-friendly shrubs.
Careful planning and communication with builder Alan O’Rourke meant aspects like the master bedroom’s upgraded ensuite bathroom and new walk-through closet were achieved with a maximum of storage and a sleek design, without having to blow up the main floor’s original layout. A wall was moved to give more space to the ensuite and closet, but the change wasn’t monumental — and exposed a very wet situation behind the bathroom walls that needed attending to.
“That whole area is quite tight but functions really well,” says O’Rourke of the master bedroom upgrades. “A lot of thought went into that area when we were building, really being aware of how our doors were going to open and exactly where things were coming to, so all the tile and glass worked out well.”
The pantry remains uncluttered, despite the number of appliances hidden in the space. Featuring a Miele washer and dryer, fridge drawers, a microwave, coffee maker, extra food storage, a linen closet and a hamper, Daly calls this the hardest-working room in the house.
Off the kitchen, a small, hardworking pantry is now Daly’s favourite room in the house. Bright with natural light, the space houses a Miele washer and dryer, extra fridge drawers, a microwave, food storage and a coffee bar, plus a linen closet and hamper.
“We tried to get as much as we could in here while keeping it functional,” says Isaac. “It keeps the kitchen less cluttered.”
Throughout the house, custom cabinetry by Splinters Millworks allows each room to function at its best — something not always achievable with store-bought inserts, and an extra that Daly and Isaac say was well worth the cost.
Downstairs, which was taken down to the studs before being carefully redesigned, is now home to a spacious media room, featuring a large TV room above a Valor fireplace and an integrated sound system. The space is framed by large windows and a walk out to the mature, private back gardens. Just off the main room is Daly’s office — a quiet, light-flooded space that was formerly a furnace room. In addition, the full-height lower level boasts a new bathroom, mudroom, ample storage, two more access doors and an interior bike training gym for the pedal-loving pair. The entire space was designed to be easily upgraded to a secondary suite — it is up to code, features a multi-split heat pump, is kitchen-ready and all ceilings were double drywalled for sound.
Though initially taken aback at the extent of the work needed outside for what was supposed to be a strictly interior upgrade, Daly and Isaac decided to capitalize on the surprises, hiring landscape architect Melissa Baron, who works with Demitasse Garden Centre, to create a sophisticated front exterior landscape to match their breezy, streamlined esthetic goals. Though Daly and Isaac are accomplished gardeners with a well-established back garden, Baron wanted to keep the front landscaping low maintenance and in-line with the home’s esthetic.
By replacing a retaining wall with large boulders, rockery plants and ferns along the side, and adding a 900-pound basalt rock water feature, Baron ensured the front maintained a natural, slightly rugged feel to counter the geometry of the new paths joining the street and driveway to the front and back of the house.
“I like combining the really clean, modern lines of the rectangular walkway with really soft plantings,” says Baron. “Some modern landscape designs seem more formal and less soft and flowy, so this one was a nice combination of the hard from the modern path, and the soft of the plantings.” Drawing on Daly’s appreciation of plants that are both ornamental and functional, Baron included a number of berry bushes, plus a range of bird-, bee- and butterfly-friendly species.
Now back in the house for a year, Daly and Isaac have a few final projects they’re working on inside the home, but they’re clearly satisfied that they won’t have to worry about any infrastructure weaknesses in the years to come.
“To have wiring we knew was going to work, and all the plumbing done so that when we sealed up the ceiling for the last time, we knew we wouldn’t have leaks, actually gives us a lot of peace of mind,” says Daly. “Now when there’s a rainstorm we can just lie there and enjoy it.”
Before the renovation, the all-white stucco house had a traditional grass lawn and pillars along the front wall. Due to sewage and drainage issues on the sloped Rockland property, the entire front yard had to be dug up, sparking an exterior overhaul that Daly and Isaac hadn’t anticipated. Landscape architect Melissa Baron contrasted the sharp angles of the rectangular walkway with flowy, durable grasses — an homage to Daly’s prairie roots while meeting her request for low-maintenance shrubbery. New hardscaped pathways connect the front to the side and backyard, and beneath it all new perimeter drains and sewage lines keep the house and property safe and dry in any weather.