It’s our first condo home tour! And it’s a beaut.
All photos by Findley Foto
Who: Myrna and John
What: 1300 sq. ft. condo with two bedrooms, a den and two bathrooms
Where: A 10-minute drive from Parliament Hill and close to the Experimental farm, Arboretum, Dow’s Lake and Rideau Canal where the couple has always loved to walk
Why: Condo-living has never been more popular in urban centres, whether you downsize like Mynra and John, or are buying for the first time. This condo, designed by Irene Langlois, underwent a renovation to suit the homeowners taste. "We were concerned that we would be moving from a place full of architectural elegance, quirks & flourishes to a much smaller place built 25 years ago which was much less distinguished. We were extremely fortunate to have engaged Irene as a designer. She was able to see past the dull and merely utilitarian to something striking, original and totally liveable," explains Myrna.
HGTV: Why did you and John decide to downsize?
Myrna: When we bought our condo we were living in a fairly large 3-storey Victorian house in the centre of Ottawa. We had lived there for 30 years and decided to sell while we still had a choice. We had no difficulty managing the stairs, the up-keep and the much-loved garden but knew that this state of affairs would not last forever.
HGTV: What sort of reno work did you plan with Irene?
Myrna: It involved gutting the kitchen and bathrooms, removing the walls around the kitchen and reconfiguring the heating ducts to minimize the bulkheads which seemed to dominate the main rooms. The kitchen cabinets are custom-made and veneered with textured black wood sheets, the counter tops are Caesarstone and the backsplash is made of over-sized coloured glass tiles.The kitchen is not only visually attractive, it is wonderfully efficient. There is loads of counter space and everything is within arms reach. It’s a pleasure to cook in it.
HGTV: Dark wood kitchen vs light wood floors – how did you decide on mixing the two woods?
Irene: If you are mixing two woods, it is best that they either match very closely or, as we did, have a sharp contrast. I feel that when the woods match, the effect is a bit more rustic or casual. We were after a sophisticated understated feel.
HGTV: Tell me the gist of the kitchen design – it seems very unique and perfect for the space.
Irene: Because the kitchen is wide open to the entire space, we didn’t want it to feel like a traditional kitchen. We avoided standard upper cabinets, and went with the open stainless steel shelves. The lacquered cabinet hides the vent hood. Display cabinets in strategic sightlines also help to minimize the “kitchen” effect.
HGTV: What are some of the custom features in this design? Tell me about the fireplace mantle – it’s a very sleek interesting design, and is surprising shallow, but still looks like it accommodates some decorative items.
Myrna: Our kitchen cabinets were meticulously made by Frank Prendergast of Neoform Cabinetry whose work is beyond reproach. He is a furniture designer and came up with the amazing idea of building the fireplace mantle of industrial steel. The steel has been treated with a ‘concoction’ he obtained in Japan which brings out subtle colours in the steel and stabilizes the surface.
The walls and floors of the master ensuite are grey travertine; the cabinets are custom made and lacquer finished.
HGTV: Tell me about the art collection? Has the condo space limited your ability to enjoy/display your works?
Myrna: During the 30 years we lived in our house we acquired lots of ‘stuff’: paintings and sculptures mainly from our many artist friends, books, china, etc. We have never bought a painting or object for any reason other than that we liked it. Somehow it all seemed to meld in. But there was no way it would all fit into the condo. The junk-shop look is not for us.
We ruthlessly pruned our belongings keeping only what we loved most and gave truckloads of furniture, paintings and kitchen cupboard contents to our children and friends. Our dining room set also had to go as it was clearly too large for the condo. The only furniture we bought was a round table and four chairs to replace this set. The deep drawers on the dining room side of the kitchen counter serve as storage for table linens, serving pieces, etc.
HGTV: How important was lighting in this design?
Irene: Critical! The ceilings are concrete, so we were not able to use any sort of recessed lighting. Instead, we went with this track system. It gives the homeowners tremendous flexibility in changing the lighting depending on the artwork. It also enhances the modern eclectic feel of the space.
HGTV: What are you learned from the whole downsize process?
Myrna: I’ve learned three important principles from this moving/renovating process. The first is to hire a designer who will work with you; someone whose work you admire and who will truly listen to what you want and won’t try to impose the designer’s trademark ‘look’. At first glance the added cost of a designer’s fee may seem an unnecessary expense, but if you look at the money in terms of a percentage of the total cost of the renovation it really is a steal.
Secondly, if you are going from bigger to smaller remember that less is more. Overbearing furniture and useless clutter never add to a look.
The third principle is not to be too committed to preconceived ideas and to listen carefully to what the professionals have to say; not just the designer but the heating expert, the painter, the plumber, the floor installer, the tiler. They have all done whatever you’re having done a zillion times before and come up with useful suggestions that should be weighed and considered. For example, the expert who installed the tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms suggested ways of cutting and installing the tiles and suggested the idea of a burnoose trim both of which subtly enhanced the appearance of the bathrooms.
We are very comfortable and happy here and pleased that we finally got up the courage to make the move.