As Emma Doucet tells it, it was the success of her first major renovation project — the makeover of her century-old Hintonburg house — that launched her second career as a designer-builder.
The red-brick house was, as they say in the business, a real project — a fixer-upper that needed enough work that the sellers had lowered the price three times before Doucet and her husband took the plunge, buying in 2006. Doucet then began a four-month renovation that saw her completely revamp the kitchen (opening it up to the dining room) and redesign the bathrooms. Along the way, she also turned her attention to the many design details that today give her home a sense of warmth and fun — from mouldings to wallpaper to colourful artwork and dramatic chandeliers.
Built in the 1890s, the house had had only four owners, and many of its key features were left untouched. In the dining room, for instance, Doucet found some grand mouldings intact, while in the living room, a stately fireplace set the tone. Original wood floors, once sanded and preserved, added warmth and tied in to the heritage feel.
While Doucet completely revamped the kitchen, she did so with an eye to the past, designing custom cabinets with a traditional bent and brush-painting them so that the brush strokes would be visible. Two-inch-thick wooden counters also harken back to the past, as does the pressed-tin ceiling. “The appliances may be modern, but the room has the feel of an old-school English kitchen,” she says. In a nod to the contemporary, she opened up the kitchen to the dining room, framing the space with mouldings that match the original doorway between the dining and living rooms.
Throughout, Doucet had fun with colours and textures, painting the walls in pale Farrow & Ball shades and adding visual interest with vibrant cushions and drapes. “I don’t like dark colours in older houses because they have lots of walls, so the result can be oppressive,” she explains. She added to the sense of brightness with eye-catching chandeliers and lively artworks.
After spending her spare time over the next few years helping friends and family with their design challenges, the self-taught Doucet opened Grassroots Design + Build in 2012, working with carpenter Peter Copland to offer decorating, layout, and renovation services. Their specialty? Older houses in the city’s established neighbourhoods. “Peter can make any crooked floor look straight and any cabinet fit a not quite straight wall,” says Doucet with a laugh.
For her part, Doucet appreciates older houses and the value in preserving their characters. The company name, Grassroots, references that sentiment, with the idea that good design must celebrate both the original house and the roots of the family that now lives there. “Design is a form of art,” she says. “Really, I want my clients to love their space in the present and feel connected to its history.”