Reclaimed Beauty: Designer Martine Ast Makes Old New Again
A radical update to a vintage ’70s home in Calgary has more than a few playful nods to its original era.
Martine Ast has a knack for spotting potential. Her previous home, featured in our January 2014 issue, was an unrenovated ’60s bi-level in Calgary’s Dalhousie neighbourhood—one that she’d transformed into a warm, open space featuring a riot of colour and character.
But even as she wrapped up the renovation of that home, she was already itching to find another project. “I’m just looking for the right place—something untouched again,” she’d said back then. And, sure enough, she found that great potential again, this time in this ’70s-era home in Varsity Estates. The two-storey walkout was perched above a golf course that offered the possibility of great views—if only the windows were bigger and a sunroom didn’t block the way. Rethink the floor plan, pull a wall down here, open up to the view there, thought Ast, and the dated space could have a second life as a great home for her and her family—including her husband, Stephen Hubbard, and their almost-two-year-old son, Hugh.
“Working within the confines of an older home, you don’t have the luxury to create all these new spaces,” says Ast, who’s worked at Paul Lavoie Interior Design for over a decade. “You work within the footprint and create within that area.” The first task was to capture those views out back. The sun porch that acted as a barrier between the living room and backyard was reclaimed as interior space in the living room. The formerly shoulder-height windows on both levels were brought nearly to the floor, and the living areas were reworked to better fit with modern living—open concept for the main floor save for the master bath and Hugh’s adjoining room, and a new powder room where once was a pantry. (The home originally had five bathrooms, which Ast reduced to a more user-friendly three.)
At the front of the home, Ast brought the entry doors right up to the ceiling and added glass around them, bringing light into the living space inside. From the entry, guests can head up a few steps to the main floor, where a striking architectural railing replaces what was once a wall.
That railing, a tribute to the home’s original era, was a project in and of itself—Ast rescued it from a home in Bel-Aire that was about to be demolished. “The contractor called me and said, ‘If there’s anything out of the house you want, come and get it,’” she says. “I had one evening. I called my brother-in-law, and we went there with a metal grinder and a sledgehammer and ripped it out.” Originally painted, the railing was sandblasted by Modern Metals, who then plated it with polished chrome. “It’s literally the highlight of the home for me,” says Ast. “And I’m so glad to have been able to reuse this, to recreate and reinvent it for our space.”
Throughout the house, there’s a playful use of both high contrast (all of the millwork is a combination of a rich charcoal stain paired with painted warm-white cabinetry) and bold colour and pattern—Ast is known for fearlessly introducing creative combinations. In the living room, for example, a pair of vintage chairs have their original fabric, a playful bird motif that has become stylish and current in a way that “almost feels full circle,” says Ast. The nearby main feature wall is painted a striking black, the perfect contrast for boldly colourful artwork from artist Aron Hill. And textured and patterned throw cushions create points of contrast in shades of lemongrass, chartreuse, lime and coral.
In the master bedroom, Ast wasn’t able to find the square footage for a walk-in closet, so instead she lined one wall with storage, cleverly combining the interiors from Ikea’s Pax wardrobe inserts with custom-millwork doors. The black and white millwork is thoroughly modern, while boldly floral drapes—Chiang Mai Dragon by Schumacher—nod to the original era of the home. “They’re a very heavy, textural linen,” says Ast. “It’s really reminiscent of what would have been hanging in this house in the ’70s when it was first built.”
Downstairs, the loungey vibe of the main living space, where vintage pieces combine with more contemporary finds, is inspired by the couple’s extensive record collection (latest favourites: Dave Brubeck and Bahamas). Wallpaper on the ceiling appears to look like smoke, reminiscent of a jazz club. The sofa is a ’70s original, black with a gold and yellow floral pattern. (“I bought it from someone who I’m sure kept plastic on it their whole life—the fabric was pristine,” says Ast.) A pair of vintage tub chairs frame her grandfather’s teak coffee table, along with a lamp she received from an aunt and uncle.
Overall, it’s a home that’s made to be lived in—warm and welcoming, with conversation zones that naturally flow from one space to the next. But is it on to the next great find? Ast smiles. “The temptation of a new project is always appealing. But we’re very comfortable where we are at the moment—so I think we will stay put for a while.”