Holiday Home Decor: Renovated 1920s House
A Vancouver designer turns a near-disaster reno into a classic, jewel-toned holiday charmer.
It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare: a house purchased with a simple plan to renovate suddenly turns into an unexpected major overhaul. For a Vancouver couple, the purchase of a 1920s home in a leafy west side neighbourhood was supposed to be straightforward. A minor facelift seemed all that was needed to bring the house back to its former glory, but while the character house eventually became the perfect jewel-toned setting for a classic holiday design on last year’s Homes for the Holidays tour, it almost didn’t survive the renovation that the “facelift” became.
It all started with a series of unfortunate events. Soon after taking possession, the couple discovered that in order to move interior walls, the basement would need to be dug down. Unfortunately, an architect and a couple of different contractors complicated rather than solved the process: ultimately, construction was halted so the homeowners could regroup. When interior designer Janie Hungerford finally came to the rescue, she found the house in far worse shape than it was when the couple had started: moisture had seeped in, rats were bedding down, and the home was stripped down to the studs.
Hungerford hoped the jewel of a house wouldn’t have to be torn down. “They were in such a bind and it was hard to watch them flail; I really wanted to help them pick up the pieces,” says the Parsons graduate, who has a penchant for working with older homes—and the Pandora’s box they often present. “You have to really love a house to justify saving it,” she says, explaining how the attendant cost of reconstruction is often not far off the cost of tearing the house down and starting over.
The homeowners grew up on the west side and had an appreciation of older houses; preservation was always going to be the ticket. Hungerford, too, was on board: “My favourite thing is to take something old and retain elements while making something entirely new out of it,” she says. “It’s a lot more satisfying when you get to walk through every stage of a house gut and have free rein.”
The first question was how to respect the home’s original bones, given the major disarray. She first set to work changing the blueprints, which included restructuring the entire main floor’s traditional cross-hall floor plan to improve flow. The living room was opened up to the kitchen, which had moved to where the old sitting room used to be; the dining room would no longer be an enclosed space but part of the new great room. (“A reflection of how we live now,” she says.) Although she was working toward a contemporary interpretation, Hungerford intended to keep the inherent charm throughout: “You don’t get those old, patinated windows with their dimpled effect, the little nooks and crannies or the little roof lines when you start from scratch,” she explains. “I like to preserve those arches because they would never quite look the same if we were to try to recreate them.”
Once the new shell was carved out and the rooms shuffled and expanded accordingly, the interiors came next. Both homeowners and designer are big fans of colour. “Vancouver is fairly neutral and conservative,” says Hungerford, “so having clients who are open to playing with colour is a lot of fun.” Many of the walls express bold, energetic shades: the front hall’s purple with grey undertones contrasts well with the dark, wide-plank oak floors installed throughout, while a boldly striped runner from Colin Campbell adds contemporary punch and draws the eye upward. The kitchen transitions to a lighter rendition of the same purple, while its custom oak cabinetry made working with a 100-year-old frame that much easier: “Even as you’re making things level in an old house, you’ll still never be able to align them perfectly; custom work makes it more fluid,” says the designer.
When the epic restoration project was finished, its jewel tones created a perfect backdrop for holiday decor in the annual Homes for the Holidays tour last year. “The house was already full of colour, so I kept things on the neutral side,” Hungerford explains. “Gold, silver, sparkly—to set against the vibrant backdrop.” Pottery Barn’s classic decorations graced each room, fresh garlands were wrapped around banisters and mantels, giant ornaments were clustered on the lawn—all of which helped highlight the contemporary versus the classic and the interplay of bright against neutral. “In an old house, you have discrepancies, but they’re all part of the charming package that history brings,” says Hungerford.
The 10th annual Kids Help Phone Homes for the Holidays takes place in Vancouver, November 29 and 30. For more info, visit homesfortheholidays.ca.