This article first appeared in the 2021 Interiors edition of Ottawa Magazine.
It’s not what you’d expect in an early 1960s Alta Vista split-level. But the burnished-cedar ceiling of the main floor, original to the home by legendary Ottawa builder Robert Campeau, sure caught the eye of interior designer Serina Fraser when she and her husband, architect Jan Veer, first stepped inside the home in 2019. “We thought it was a really interesting aesthetic to maintain,” says Fraser, who owns Ottawa’s Clear Interior Design and is partway through renovating the four-level split, which she and Veer bought almost on sight.
“A lot of people commented, ‘Oh, I bet you’re going to paint it white.’ ‘No, we’re keeping that.’ It’s a very strong architectural feature of the original build… . The feeling of it is warmth, so in a volume of space like this, you want to create warmth and coziness.”
The couple didn’t buy the home for the ceiling alone, of course. Both fans of mid-century architecture (she namechecks Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier), they’d been looking for a home like this for ages when they stumbled across the Alta Vista property. The sellers were the original owners and had left the home largely the way it was built. That meant Fraser and Veer wouldn’t have to undo a truckload of someone else’s renovations — a common bugbear when buying an older home — to achieve their mid-century dream.
They have made changes. For example, upon entering the home, there’s now a fluted-glass panel where there was once a direct opening into the living room. This creates what Fraser calls a “subliminal procession” from the entry down a hallway, through the kitchen, into the living room, and finally into the dining area. Before, she says, the opening into the living room created too many choices for anyone entering the home.
The couple has also shifted the former galley kitchen from the middle to the back of the home. They’ve added an island, quartz countertops, and white oak custom cabinetry for the uppers and, for the base, custom thermofoil. The island panelling is fluted, as is the ceramic tile of the backsplash, echoing the new fluted glass at the entryway and elsewhere in the home. They’ve also begun work on the second level, turning a bedroom into a television room and opening up a wall so that the space now overlooks the kitchen.
The home accords with Fraser’s approach in her residential and commercial design practice. “We like to create volumes and planes,” she says. That means lots of the linearity that defines her own home. “Creating horizontal lines is a strong connection to horizons, so that’s a natural equilibrium and easy to look at. It’s calming.”
Volume and planes aren’t the only things Fraser loves about her home. The floor plan, for instance, blends an open-concept design with elements of privacy (Fraser and Veer love the floor plan so much they have framed and hung the original 1963 plan, which the sellers had preserved and gave them as a gift). She also praises the split-level architecture as a dynamic, interesting way to move through the house and one that connects the outside with the inside. “This type of house really explores [that connection] because there’s so much natural light that comes in. And at night you get the artificial light, which has its own vibe and mood.”
Fraser and Veer moved into their home just as the pandemic struck, and she’s looking forward to opening it up to guests soon. “It’s a great house for entertaining. We haven’t experienced that yet and can only imagine how cool it’s going to be.”