Pride on the river side: Building a forever home in Arnprior

Pride on the river side: Building a forever home in Arnprior

They were looking for a cottage but instead found their forever home. In 2018, Lino and Jennifer DiNardo had decided to sell their family home in Kingston to settle in Ottawa, where two of their three children were living. They found a condo and thought a cottage would be a good rural complement. Their search took them to McLean Avenue in Arnprior, a dead-end street that runs parallel to the Ottawa River. En route to checking out a cottage, they drove by a house that was for sale. It had been delisted, but with help from a realtor, they found the owner that same day.

 The house, built in 1986, was in good structural shape, but its situation on the lot was what really sold them: close to half an acre on the waterfront, mature trees, and spectacular views. The nearby woodland walking path was also a draw. They ditched the plan for a condo and set their sights on making their Arnprior property a place to last.

It was a move back home for Jennifer, who was born and raised in Arnprior; her siblings, father, and other relatives all live nearby. “I’m so happy to be back here. The people are so nice.”

 Despite all the pluses, they both recognized that the interior of the house needed work. The size was ample — about 2,200 square feet, plus an unfinished basement, with three bedrooms and a main level office — but the interior didn’t suit. 

The formal dining room and kitchen were too small, and the living room and family room were separated by a wall and had no access to the backyard and the river.

Large open spaces allow light to flow through the main floor. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

At the time, the DiNardos were busy with their jobs in Kingston. Jennifer, a registered nurse, was teaching personal support workers, and Lino was running two businesses (Hospital Alliance Group, which manages sleep labs in hospitals, and Sleep Longevity Group). They decided to call in the designer Lino had worked with on commercial sites. Diane Ernjakovic and her partner at the time, Rachel Shore, owned Oakville-based One Three Design, which focuses on residential properties. 

Jennifer was apprehensive about hiring a designer. “I didn’t want it to be gaudy or all modern. I hoped Diane could see my vision, though I wasn’t sure what I wanted.” 

After several conversations, the style emerged: an inviting, casual, and comfortable open-concept space with a central kitchen and dining area where everyone could hang out and a single living room area. “I think it was her vision too,” says Jennifer.

The living room space is brightly lit and inviting, with peaceful white walls that contrast nicely with the engineered walnut flooring. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

Indeed, Ernjakovic also envisioned more light on the main level, a larger and more functional mudroom, a redecorated powder room and, at the top of the stairs, a comfy sitting area with a wood burning fireplace — Lino’s ask — plus a reconfigured master bedroom with walk-in closet and remodeled ensuite bathroom. 

By early 2019, the floor plans and 3D renderings were ready, everything from the placement of LED lighting to the built-in shelving. The DiNardos were involved in every selection. They took some delight in teasing Ernjakovic. “We would email her photos of hideous fixtures, asking what she thought,” says Lino. She was always gracious. 

Ernjakovic’s biggest challenge was avoiding the expense of moving the fireplace and staircase while creating an open area on the main floor. The solution was to widen the opening and create a curved wall between the kitchen area and the living room, which opened the sightlines. The walls of the formal dining room were torn down, creating a farm-sized kitchen with a huge island that truly is the hub of the home. White custom cabinetry is offset by smoky blue touches and earthy walnut engineered flooring, echoed in accents of dark stained wood. 

A fireplace with custom wood mantle helps to create a cozy atmosphere. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

“Diane insisted on staining the vent cover, and it made a big difference,” says Jennifer. “She has such an eye.” 

In lieu of a formal dining room, they opted for a custom banquette and an expandable table to accommodate large family gatherings. 

Ernjakovic’s second challenge was to merge the living and family rooms, which were previously on different levels. This meant raising the lower floor to make one level space. Windows on the river side were replaced with patio doors for easy access to a new hot tub. On the street side sits a round table for doing puzzles. 

The only furniture they brought from their Kingston home was a few dressers and a table. Everything else was new; the comfy sofa, chair, and ottoman in the living room were custom made for the space. To allow more light into the kitchen area, the laundry room was moved to adjoin the garage and the corridor was shifted to run along the back wall. Light from two windows floods the entire space. 

A centrally located kitchen and spacious dining area brings family and guests together. Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

The laundry area and mud room are a playful mix of scalloped tiles and dusty blue accents, with enviably ample storage space.

 “I’m in awe of everything,” says Jennifer. “It’s just really nice.” 

By October 2019, the house was complete except for the accessorizing. Ernjakovic, who has worked on HGTV shows Scott’s Vacation House Rules and Buyers Bootcamp, loves to accessorize and then surprise her clients with a reveal moment. “It’s the custom details that make the difference. On TV it’s often quick fixes, but if you take the time and really know your client, it’s really worthwhile.” 

The DiNardos left for 14 hours while Ernjakovic unpacked a crammed U-Haul and carefully placed things. 

“Jennifer was floored by what she saw,” says Ernjakovic.

“I cried,” says Jennifer. “I was shocked. Overwhelmed. Everything was tied together. I would never have the talent to make it so pretty. It’s really what the house needed.”

There were new duvet covers, vases and flowers, tasteful ornaments, artwork depicting birds, and soft subdued landscapes. Ernjakovic also placed framed family photos on shelves. For Lino, who used to work in theatre, she framed some of his scripts. In the living area, two three-by six-foot custom prints depict Ottawa scenes. 

“It feels more like home,” says Lino. 

“It feels complete,” says Jennifer. “It feels like Lino and me. We aren’t city folk.” And with space for big family gatherings, on Boxing Day 2019, they hosted dinner for 30.