Homes

Pattern recognition — DIY couple on budget build light-filled duplex in Hintonburg

This article was originally published in the October 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine. Image above, by Doublespace Photography, has been cropped to fit space. Full image presented below.

Tom Vtipil has been in the renovation business for a decade, so it was perhaps just a matter of time before he got the itch to build his own house from the ground up.

The clever pattern of the cladding was sketched by the architect, then the panels were painstakingly cut and placed. Mellissa likened the process to a “paint by number.” Photo: Doublespace Photography
The clever pattern of the cladding was sketched by the architect, then the panels were painstakingly cut and placed. Mellissa likened the process to a “paint by number.” Photo: Doublespace Photography

In the waning days of 2012, he and his partner, Mellissa Campbell, bought a dilapidated duplex on a quiet Hintonburg street, living there for close to a year while they drew up plans to replace it with their own vision — a light-filled duplex with a uniquely patterned exterior.

Because they were on a strict budget, Tom expertly mixed low and high during the building process. For instance, he installed a cost-efficient Ikea kitchen, then individualized it with custom counters and a knick-knack-holding pine shelf that he built into the cabinetry. Photo: Doublespace Photography
Because they were on a strict budget, Tom expertly mixed low and high during the building process. For instance, he installed a cost-efficient Ikea kitchen, then individualized it with custom counters and a knick-knack-holding pine shelf that he built into the cabinetry. Photo: Doublespace Photography

The couple collaborated with architect John Donkin, whom Tom describes as being very knowledgeable while remaining open to outside ideas. “It was a very comfortable partnership. He didn’t try to limit our input.”

Located on the top floor, the master bedroom leads out onto an east-facing balcony. The cleverly designed cutout behind the bed allows light to stream into the ensuite bathroom, just behind the wall. Photo: Doublespace Photography
Located on the top floor, the master bedroom leads out onto an east-facing balcony. The cleverly designed cutout behind the bed allows light to stream into the ensuite bathroom, just behind the wall. Photo: Doublespace Photography

The couple broke ground in late 2013, with construction taking the better part of a year as Tom and Mellissa did most of the work themselves with the help of family and friends. The west-facing duplex incorporates a one-bedroom rental apartment on the main floor; the couple occupy the upper two floors. Here, they have created a sunny oasis, with a two-storey window at the front and two balconies on the back taking full advantage of the light. That light illuminates rustic pine floors and predominantely white furnishings, giving the rooms a clean but cozy vibe.

The bathroom illustrates the couple’s aesthetic — clean but cozy. The gently rounded tub is set on warm pine floors, while the separate shower boasts tile. A powder room (not shown) allows for privacy. Photo: Doublespace Photography
The bathroom
illustrates the couple’s aesthetic — clean but cozy. The gently rounded tub is set on warm pine floors, while the separate shower boasts tile. A powder room (not shown) allows for privacy. Photo: Doublespace Photography

Indeed, having a clean palette was a deliberate decision aimed at allowing nature to provide most of the interior “art.” As sunlight filters through the leaves of a giant maple in the yard across the street, the colours within the house morph with the seasons — shifting grey tones in winter are followed by green in spring and summer, then sunny yellows and oranges in autumn.

The space at night. Photo: Doublespace Photography
The space at night. Photo: Doublespace Photography

And while the house shines like a light box at night, during the day, it is the exterior that commands attention. Eye-catching yet refined, it was created from 12-foot sections of cement-board siding, carefully cut and placed in an exact pattern mapped out by the architects. A staircase along the side of the house sees slats of cedar providing shelter from the elements.

A year after moving in, Tom and Mellissa couldn’t be happier. “We love the feel of the space,” explains Mellissa. “It’s airy and breezy, and that makes it calming.”

 The clever pattern of the cladding was sketched by the architect, then the panels were painstakingly cut and placed. Mellissa likened the process to a “paint by number”. Photo: Doublespace Photography
The clever pattern of the cladding was sketched by the architect, then the panels were painstakingly cut and placed. Mellissa likened the process to a “paint by number”. Photo: Doublespace Photography