Ottawa Magazine - - A Fresh Start -

When Holly Wagg and her seven-year-old daugh­ter Ad­di­son bought their Cen­tre­town row house in June 2017, Holly was plan­ning

only a small ren­o­va­tion, just enough to let some light from the front to the back of the house, which was built in 1892. She moved into the house in Au­gust and moved out again in Oc­to­ber when it be­came clear that if she in­tended to do the job prop­erly, it would re­quire more than a sim­ple reno.

Holly and her wife, Ju­lia, who died of leukemia in April 2017, had lived in Over­brook for many years. They liked their house, they liked their street, but it had no chil­dren liv­ing on it. “It was mostly older peo­ple,” ex­plains Holly. “Ju­lia and I were kind of stuck. While we wanted to, we couldn’t seem to make the move.” The day af­ter Ju­lia’s fu­neral in April, Holly went to a memo­rial party for peo­ple in­volved with the Ten Oaks Project, a camp for LGBTQ kids and their fam­i­lies, which Ju­lia had co-founded. The party was on Elm Street. “It im­me­di­ately felt like home,” she says. “It’s a great neigh­bour­hood, there’s lots of foot traf­fic and lots of queer fam­i­lies in the ’hood.” And then a list­ing came up.

Holly made the leap. “When I make a de­ci­sion, it’s usu­ally done pretty fast,” she says. “And part of this de­ci­sion was in­flu­enced by the re­al­iza­tion that it was me on my own, rais­ing Ad­di­son.”

The new house of­fered a clean slate. It’s not that Holly and Ad­di­son have for­got­ten Ju­lia in any way, as they fre­quently re­fer to her in con­ver­sa­tion — it’s sim­ply that this house of­fered them a way to move for­ward and into the next stage of their lives.

Holly chose to work with de­signer Emma Doucet, founder of Grass­roots De­sign. “Her style is quirky, or­ganic, and glam,” says Holly. Her in­struc­tions to Doucet were to take down the in­te­rior ground-floor walls of the house where nec­es­sary to let light into the back of the house. But the house had other plans. “You go in with a plan,” says Doucet, “but then when a house de­mol­ishes it­self, you have to adapt.”

When the team started to open walls, they found they couldn’t do so with­out mov­ing a bath­room. The only place to fit the bath­room was un­der the stairs, so then they had to move the stairs, and that’s to say noth­ing of the HVAC. Once they de­cided to hide the HVAC in the ceil­ing, it be­came ap­par­ent that the ceil­ing at the front of the house would not be the same height as that at the back of the house. That was a prob­lem.

“When things went wrong, we turned them into op­por­tu­ni­ties,” says Doucet. To solve the prob­lem of ceil­ing height, Doucet found a very large barn beam and in­set it into the ceil­ing be­tween the two spa­ces. It adds a lovely rus­tic el­e­ment and looks orig­i­nal to the house. “I’m a fan of in­fus­ing nat­u­ral wood into a space,” says Doucet. “It re­laxes the eye when you look at it. It should add points of in­ter­est but not take over.” She also used grey-toned barn­boards to cre­ate a vent hood over the stove.

In the kitchen, the pair chose Ikea cab­i­nets but went cus­tom with the doors, work­ing with Bench Dog cab­i­nets in Vanier to achieve the bold fi­nal re­sult. With the ad­di­tion of brass han­dles and dark, lus­cious wal­nut coun­ter­tops made by Bizier, near Wake­field, the room has a so­phis­ti­cated, nat­u­ral feel. That feel­ing is echoed in the ad­ja­cent fam­ily room, where Doucet used old slate tiles around the fire­place and to cam­ou­flage the tele­vi­sion, which sinks into the deep grey colour. More nat­u­ral tones ap­pear in the cloak­room area at the

“I’m a fan of in­fus­ing nat­u­ral wood into a space. It re­laxes the eye when you look at it.”

front of the house, where Doucet de­signed a bench and coat-hang­ing space with wood her­ring­bone walls.

Holly and Doucet used pops of pat­tern through­out the house with bold wallpaper and colour­ful heavy linen cur­tains. For the tiny pow­der room re­lo­cated un­der the stairs, the pair chose a deep teal blue pa­per with gold palm trees and cres­cent moons. Com­ple­mented by a shell light fix­ture, gold taps, and a small tri­an­gle live-edge sink shelf, the re­sult is a whim­si­cal gem of a room. On the stair­case wall, they used a soft feather-pat­tern pa­per; a moun­tain scene in the laun­dry cup­board came from the same Bri­tish com­pany. “It was su­per fun to choose wall­pa­pers with Holly be­cause she has eclec­tic taste and likes fun sur­prises,” says Doucet.

Up­stairs, the fo­cus was on im­prov­ing the flow of the rooms. With two bath­rooms back to back and a choppy floor plan, it was, ac­cord­ing to Holly, “very 1980s.” So she set­tled on one lux­ury bath­room for her, Ad­di­son, and any oc­ca­sional guests to share. But Doucet in­sisted that it must be a four-piece with tub and shower to main­tain re­sale value of the home. Af­ter much wran­gling to fit it all in, “this is now our favourite room in the house,” says Holly. And Ad­di­son agrees, leap­ing into

the empty deep soaker bath to show off her new cus­tom-made wooden iPad shelf. “I love watch­ing movies in the bath,” she says with a grin.

In the master bath­room, the pair once again com­bined nat­u­ral tex­tures with con­tem­po­rary style. An off­set sink set into a dark con­sole with a grey mar­ble coun­ter­top pro­vides am­ple counter space, while a Moroc­can etched hang­ing light casts soft shad­ows over the ceil­ing. Hexag­o­nal pat­terned tiles pro­vide plenty of in­ter­est on the heated floor.

“Ev­ery piece in this house has a story,” says Holly, and the tiles are a case in point. Holly had seen the tile de­sign on Pin­ter­est in 2012. When her chance came to use it, she told Doucet what she wanted. But the tiles were avail­able only in Swe­den at a king’s ran­som and with huge de­lay. At the point of giv­ing up, Doucet’s team found them in the United States at a far more rea­son­able price. Still, the com­pli­ca­tions of get­ting them over the bor­der, to say noth­ing of the fact that they were in­cred­i­bly com­pli­cated to lay, means that Holly ap­pre­ci­ates them all the more ev­ery day.

This is a house lay­ered with mean­ing­ful pieces. A gallery wall of pic­tures speaks to Holly’s love of pho­tog­ra­phy. “It re­ally be­came home when the pic­tures went up,” she says. “I love my cam­era and hope to get back to it, as ev­ery pic­ture has a story.” A cus­tom book­shelf made from thick wooden shelves and in­dus­trial pip­ing groans with books and trea­sures. But Holly’s most pre­cious pos­ses­sion is her kitchen ta­ble — a re­fur­bished Mex­i­can door, chunky and with the patina of age, it was the first piece of fur­ni­ture Holly and Ju­lia bought to­gether.

Clearly, Holly has an eye for de­sign. She reads de­sign blogs, loves pho­tog­ra­phy, and ad­mits to a weak­ness for car­pets. She also un­der­stands how im­por­tant feel­ing com­fort­able in one’s space can be. “Space is re­ally im­por­tant to me,” she says. “I’ve re­al­ized over the years that if I feel good in a space, I’m much more quick, ef­fec­tive, ef­fi­cient, and happy.”

by Hat­tie Klotz Pho­tog­ra­phy by Justin Van Leeuwen

Bring­ing to­gether con­tem­po­rary touches with nat­u­ral tex­tures, a fam­ily re­builds a Cen­tre­town row house — and em­barks on a new phase of life

Holly and Ad­di­son love liv­ing on Elm Street, where there are lots of fam­i­lies. Their 1892 row house is close to a park with a wad­ing pool, per­fect for hot sum­mer days

Above: By re­mov­ing a cen­tral wall and re­lo­cat­ing the pow­der room un­der the stairs, the ren­o­va­tion al­lowed light to flood through the house. In­cor­po­rat­ing nat­u­ral wood in creative ways, such as the vent hood over the stove, adds a point of in­ter­est. The Ikea cab­i­nets are given a per­sonal touch via cus­tom doors by Vanier-based Bench Dog

Right: Open wood shelv­ing of­fers an airy al­ter­na­tive to up­per-level cab­i­nets, while colour and per­son­al­ity come by way of the well-loved books on dis­play

Left: The cus­tom book­shelf, made from thick wooden shelves and in­dus­trial pip­ing, is a trea­sure trove of lit­er­a­ture and mem­o­ries

Above: The pow­der room fea­tures gold ac­cents and deep teal blue wallpaper, cre­at­ing a whimis­cal gem of a room

Above: More walls came down up­stairs to cre­ate the four-piece master bath­room, which boasts a lux­u­ri­ous soaker tub, large walk-in shower, and en­chant­ing Moroc­can light fix­ture. Holly spot­ted the floor tiles on Pin­ter­est years ago; the chal­lenges of sourc­ing and in­stalling them make her ap­pre­ci­ate them more ev­ery day

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