Modern Love: After moving into a 1940s bungalow, a design-savvy couple commits to a creative renovation that gives them space while respecting the character of the neighbourhood. By Barbara Sibbald. Photography by Gordon King.
This house was featured in the 2012 Interiors edition. See more photographs and read the full story in the print edition.
For four years after buying their house, newlyweds Gillian and Michael Dawson practised restraint. But that doesn’t mean their creative juices weren’t flowing. They had purchased their modest 1940s bungalow fully intending an extensive renovation; it was just a matter of saving some money — and coming up with The Plan. The wait was well worth it. In 2010, savings and ideas came together in a renovation that transformed the tiny house into a free-flowing urban home with a show-stopping central staircase, meticulous detailing, and a practical sensibility.
The year 2006 was a busy one for Gillian and Michael married and bought their house. They toured about 40 places in their search for the perfect neighbourhood and lot, but nothing felt quite right. Then Gillian’s aunt, their real estate agent, called to tell them she had found their house. Two hours after it was listed, they knew she was right. The 870-square-foot bungalow sat on a good-sized lot. And they loved the neighbourhood, tucked into the crossroads of Main and Lees and handy to both the Glebe and downtown.
The Dawsons bought, moved in, and lived with the various imperfections of the house, all the while compulsively watching HGTV, poring over home magazines, saving money, and honing their ideas. Conceptually, they liked the slow-home philosophy: a thoughtful approach to house design that aims to improve the quality of daily life and reduce environmental impact. Overall, they were looking for a modern design concept with family-friendly spaces, smart small-space solutions, and harmonization between the old and the new building. They would have loved to build a modern, boxy house and could have knocked off the roof and done just that, “but we wanted to respect the character of neighbourhood,” says Gillian.
They found their design soulmate in Moneca Kaiser of Moneca Kaiser Design Build. “Anything we wanted to do, she elevated it,” says Gillian. Kaiser immediately put all her energy into the task of understanding their house and needs. As a former carpenter and long-time student of fine art, she brought to the table that illusive but necessary balance of function and beauty. “A well-designed home is harmonious,” she explains.
Demolition began in May 2010, and the project was completed by November. Environmental concerns are also part of Moneca’s building philosophy. And so she ended up tearing the interior of the house back to the studs to allow the addition of high R-factor spray-foam insulation. She also recommended that the Dawsons install a high-efficiency natural-gas furnace, as well as a condensing hot water tank that recycles heat at 98 percent efficiency.
The interior design details also evolved as the project took shape. One major issue was how to orient the central open staircase. Instead of angled from the front of the house toward the back, the stairs are angled from the back toward the front, a decision that allows for more usable space in the kitchen and dining area. The kitchen, meanwhile, is also open to the family room, which opens out to the backyard deck.
On the second floor, the stairs open to a large flexible-use foyer that is currently used as office space. There’s also a laundry room, two bedrooms, and a family bathroom with a free-standing tub and walk-in shower. For now, the attic loft, which is situated over the original house, houses a gym and family space.
The Dawsons are confident that the 2,500-square-foot house they and Moneca Kaiser have designed is the right size, both for their needs today and into the future. “There’s no wasted space here,” says Gillian. Looking around, she adds one final thought. “We feel good about everything we did. We love the house. We wouldn’t have done anything differently.”