The best of both worlds
With a less-is-more vision in mind, this couple found a middle ground between old and new while renovating their first family home.
W hen carpenter and photographer couple David Bryant and Candace Berry bought their 100-year-old house, they knew they wanted to make some major changes. The location was prime—a dead end, north end street on a park—but the circumstances, not so much. During the renos, Berry was both pregnant with the couple’s first child and on a hectic schedule of shooting 30-plus weddings (one of which was in New Zealand), meaning their greatest obstacle in the project was time.
Luckily, this wasn’t their first rodeo. In 2014 the couple teamed up with Bryant’s dad to quickly transform a little north end house, which sold nearly instantly, but this time, they were playing for keeps so a little extra stress was worth it.
“You can buy a house anywhere and make it look good, but you can’t change a location,” says Berry. “The house itself was probably more work than we wanted to do. In a dream world we just wanted to do cosmetic touch-ups.”
Because of its century old qualities (small kitchen, one bathroom, no laundry, choppy space), Bryant and Berry decided that putting an addition on the first floor was the answer.
“We basically had to take the back off the house,” says Bryant. “It was a lot of work tying together the old and the new.”
This was something the couple was passionate about, not just for their personal, minimalist tastes, but for re-sale potential too. They wanted everything they updated to be stylish, but more timeless than trendy.
Along with keeping the trim consistent throughout, Bryant used reclaimed maple hardwood from the former Greenwood army bases to keep the flow of the home, from old to new, seamless.
“I bought it from a guy in the valley called Happy Joe,” he says.
“We knew we wanted a blank canvas, we wanted white everywhere,” says Berry, who was drawn to classic black and white, mixed metals and light wood in her planning. The addition made room for a much larger, open concept kitchen and pantry, a full bath downstairs, a mudroom and coat closet and a home office.
“Things like tile, vanities and faucets really pop if the rest is kind of a blank slate,” says Bryant. With this in mind, Berry paid close attention to little details, like matching her faux brass light fixtures (the focal point of the kitchen) to her cupboard handles, and leaving open shelf space for practicality purposes, but also decor. But the standout detail of the add-on? Black and white porcelain tiles that imitate the look of vintage, handprinted cement ones, the kind that might actually exist in a century-old home.
While her keen eye for aesthetics helped Berry create a simple, clean, stylish space, so did her love of good light. Because “everybody looks good and feels good in a room with lots of sunlight” she suggested finding another way to let it shine in—using an old window frame from her parents’ farm as a transom.
“We got married there in the backyard and collected windows from the farm next door and used them in the wedding,” she says. “We had it for the last five years, sitting outside our apartment door. And I said, ‘I think this window would fit perfectly.’”
And wouldn’t you know it, just like the rest of the addition—it did.
“Ifeel like I’ve always been visual,” says Mary-ellen Power. “I can see the good in places, especially because my dad’s a realtor too and homes, it’s always been in my blood.” Thanks to the housing know-how in their genetic makeup, both Power and her brother Graeme have made careers in real estate, branched out together in the furniture-making business with Power Designs and, most recently, started flipping houses.
“We had a client who was interested in the house and wanted to do a quick flip on it, but the deal fell through. We were like, ‘Why don’t we do it? If they can, we can,’” she says of the small potential-filled place in Dartmouth’s in-demand Crichton Park neighbourhood. “It was just kind of like a lightbulb moment.”
The Power siblings saw past the house’s deficiencies, like how the kitchen had no cabinetry at all, in hopes of making its selling features—a corner lot and big backyard, new windows, a new roof, hardwood floors— shine as bright as they knew they could. “And I think just the neighbourhood, like they say in real estate—location, location, location is everything,” says Mary-ellen, who’s currently living in the house.
She and her brother initially decided to renovate just the main floor of the two-bedroom bungalow, but once they’d budgeted, hired contractors and dug into the work they decided to go big on the little home and gut the basement too. The kitchen, or lack thereof, was their biggest concern, as was refinishing all of the hardwood floors, but the basement wound up getting the biggest makeover.
“It’s difficult to sell a two-bedroom house so it was a no-brainer,” says Mary-ellen of the project that resulted in two extra bedrooms, a brand-new bathroom and a rec room. It meant completely re-framing, re-wiring and insulating the floor, putting in new windows and installing baseboard heating.
The decor was inspired by a lot of Pinterest peeping, but mostly took its cues from the one piece in particular— the doors. The Powers re-trimmed all of them to create a five-panel look and painted them black, a perfect modern accent to the bright, neutral walls and natural, rustic looking hardwood details like the floors, and handmade Power Designs pieces like a headboard, coffee tables and dining room table.
“We did a ton of looking online on Kijiji for stuff, we found our backsplash on there—it was marble and this guy was selling it for dirt cheap, it was leftover from a reno he did. We found a cool mantle a guy was selling and put that up around the fireplace,” says Mary-ellen. “Other than the furniture we made, we bought everything off Kijiji.”
Though she’s loved living there, Mary-ellen hopes to be passing on the house to a new owner in the spring. But before taking on their next flip, she and her brother will take their own advice: “I think the biggest thing is to not take on too much. Let the professionals do their work, especially when it comes to electrical and plumbing.”