A HOUSE WE LOVE: A showcase house for Danish Modern finds in Old Ottawa South

A HOUSE WE LOVE: A showcase house for Danish Modern finds in Old Ottawa South

The smart, efficient design of the interior extends outdoors. the front walk is flanked by two cedars taht stand sentry amid square pavers, lending a degree of thoughtful symmetry. Photography by Gordon King.

Immaculate Concept: A graphic designer showcases her own furniture designs and Danish Modern finds in an imaginative renovation undertaken over more than a decade. By Andrea Tomkins. Photography by Gordon King.

This house is one of five innovative modern designs featured in the 2012 Interiors edition. See more photographs and read the full story in the print edition.

Lisa Rickenbacher loves vintage Danish teak pepper mills. She shows off a tray of them; they vary in size from short and squat to tall and lean. They’re warm to the touch, so very simple and beautiful. No wonder she collects them, really. They are functional art, an accessible tabletop industrial design that neatly falls into that old William Morris quote: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” And Lisa doesn’t even like pepper.

Although not a furniture designer by trade, Lisa designed a lot of her furniture herself. The clever wall unit (at right in photo) spans an entire wall of the living room and plays a clever game of hide-and-seek. The flatscreen and fireplace are in plain view, while household detritus is hidden behind closed doors. Photo by Gordon King.

A 40-something self-employed graphic designer, Lisa has a spicy sense of fun and a love of great design — especially when that design is executed in teak. And so begins the story of a tiny single-storey home in the pretty neighbourhood of Brantwood Park. When she bought the 1940s house in 1999, it was dark and claustrophobic with less than 900 square feet of usable living space. Another person might have done the obvious — torn out and enlarged, bumped up and bumped out — but Lisa saw things differently. She would spend the next 12 years slowly renovating, planning exactly what she wanted to do and saving up the cash for each phase. The end result is a house that’s minimalistic and modern yet at the same time warm and comfortable. It’s also a house that pays homage to the beauty of teak.

It's often said that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and in this case it is very much a hub despite it's compact size. "I once had 50 people in here," Lisa says. "It totally worked. It encouraged people to interact." Photo by Gordon King.

Inside, every square inch of the compact house is carefully designed and spoken for: two bedrooms in the front, with an open-concept living room, dining nook, and sleek kitchen in the back. Despite its small size, this house feels oddly spacious — that’s partly because Lisa created open space by designing a lot of her own furnishings as built-ins that line the walls. On the visual side, she amplified the illusion of space by cleverly staining the hardwood floors to match the furniture, giving the rooms a seamless and unified look, then painting the walls white for brightness.


Lisa has designed her daughter's bedroom with the same warm wood tones and bright whites that are apparent throughout the rest of the house. Photo by Gordon King.

So how does a graphic designer come to design furniture? “Furniture porn,” says Lisa, laughing. Her inspiration comes from design magazines and websites. It helps that she has an eye for what would look great in a certain space and has the ability to design something beautiful (and useful) that suits her purpose and fulfills her inner nerd at the same time. Many of the pieces in her home — including a floating dresser in her daughter’s room — were designed by Lisa and built to her specifications by friend and carpenter Wayne Joanisse.

Why Danish modern? There’s an unmistakable elegance amid the clean lines that makes it attractive to her. Lisa grew up in a home with lots of teak furniture, although she didn’t appreciate her mother’s taste in home furnishings at the time. “It’s like wearing your mother’s clothes,” she says. “Kids don’t think their parents are very cool, but ironically, I grew to love and appreciate it.”

Why the collection of Danish teak pepper mills? If form is going to meet function, it might as well be on your kitchen table, bringing joy to you and your eggs benny or caesar salad. Lisa’s pepper mills are not just any pepper mills; they’re vintage Jens Quistgaard, a Danish designer who is credited with bringing Danish design to the dinner table.