HOMES: A New Edinburgh gem throws open its doors for a historic house tour

HOMES: A New Edinburgh gem throws open its doors for a historic house tour

A fine old New Edinburgh house throws open its doors on June 11 to help mark two historic anniversaries in Ottawa history

Front hall and living area of Henrietta Southam's New Edinburgh house

Two years ago, when interior decorator Henrietta Southam moved into a house in New Edinburgh, she toyed with the idea of a Hollywood Regency design for its lofty interiors. But she wanted her children to feel at home, too, so she asked her sons for direction. They wanted animals. Hmmm. Southam went shopping and devised a playful design where Hollywood bows to the Enchanted Forest and an owl-topped totem pole lives with extravagant dragon chairs and ostrich-feathered wall sconces. You can visit the Enchanted Forest this summer, when the house is part of a historic house tour.

Fifty years ago, IODE Laurentian Chapter — a women’s service group founded locally in 1906 — conceived a novel idea for raising money. They asked friends and neighbours, including the prime minister, to open their houses to the public. “Over the years,” says Laurentian Chapter president Valerie Blais, “our tour has had many imitators, but ours was the first. We have deep roots.” In 2011, the chapter is joining forces with a second deeply rooted community, the Village of New Edinburgh, to mark another anniversary — 10 years since the establishment of a Heritage Conservation District in one of Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhoods. The village will build on the Laurentian program on June 11 with walking tours, lemonade stands, tea, and hospitality. “Henrietta’s house is just one of hundreds of fine old buildings in New Edinburgh, which has survived virtually intact as a 19th-century village,” says Joan Mason, president of the New Edinburgh Community Alliance. “We want people in Ottawa to know and celebrate the village as heritage that belongs to us all and needs our protection.”

The Southam House is one of six New Edinburgh houses — ranging from mid-19th century to modern infill — opening to the public on Saturday, June 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 each. For more information, check the website at or call 613-842-5304.

Front hall and living area of Henrietta Southam's New Edinburgh house
(Photography: Marc Fowler/Metropolis Studio)

In the front entrance, woven hens and cocks wander in a dark, flowery countryside in an old Flemish tapestry left to Henrietta Southam by her father, Hamilton Southam.

Boldly juxtaposing old and new, East and West, Southam transformed two plaster columnar Thai statues into lamps. “Use what you love,” she says, “and everything will work together.”

The living and dining rooms are perfectly proportioned squares, 15 feet by 15 feet, with 11-foot ceilings. The wide arch connecting the two rooms creates a brighter, more open look for the entire space.

The stately cast iron mantelpiece is original to the house and represents a Victorian form of central heating: as the fire burns, the metal warms and heats the room.

Silk curtains from Uzbekistan display the spots of the giraffe. The cloth was woven from pre-dyed threads by a traditional process called ikat, famous for centuries along the Silk Road.

The chandeliers (there is a second in the dining room) were made by hand in Murano. The Venetian glass helped Southam establish a colour scheme for the rooms. Its leaf-like pattern is part of the Enchanted Forest motif.

A Haida totem pole from the 1870s features an owl sitting on a bear with huge eyes and paws. Eagles are depicted on the wings.

The animal theme continues with long-haired Mongolian sheepskins covering a pair of loveseats.

A second design theme is the extravagant Hollywood Regency, seen in details such as the gold-tasselled legs of the coffee table.

The two dragon thrones — one female, the other male — are Chinese antiques, the arms formed of dragon heads with staring ivory eyes.

The floor of the Enchanted Forest is a rare Persian carpet executed in the unusually light colours of lavender, rose, and celadon, with an exuberant design of plants and flowers.