Homes Photo Credit: Phil Crozier

How One Designer Gave New Life to a Century-Old Home in Calgary

Designer Reena Sotropa restores a family home after the city’s epic floods.

When homeowners Bill and Karen (names have been changed) first got in touch with interior designer Reena Sotropa, they weren’t looking to do anything too crazy: “The house really needed some updates,” says Sotropa. “Some carpet and some paint and things like that—they wanted me to help them make these little cosmetic updates.” But that all changed when the now century-old home in Calgary’s Riverdale Avenue neighbourhood fell victim to the floods that destroyed the city in 2013. “Their hearts sank because they had 10 to 12 inches of water on the main floor,” recalls Sotropa. “Their entire basement flooded right up to the top and it just kept on going.”

What started as a disaster, however, ended up being a blessing in disguise as Sotropa was able to help give new life to the house (one that had been occupied by the same homeowners for more than 35 years). “We were able to save a lot of the things that were very special to them and incorporate it into the new renovation,” says Sotropa. “You got a strong sense of how important their family and keepsakes were to them and it was really important to me to maintain those special things and work them into a fresher aesthetic.”

To start, Sotropa brought in a contractor to raise the roof at the back of the home (“It was a complete game changer”), allowing for plenty of natural light to fill the space and a better viewpoint to the river behind them. From then on, it was all about restoring the family’s antique collection, layering treasured items throughout.

The formal living room originally suffered because of an old fireplace: “We didn’t know where to put the furniture because it sort of split the room,” says Sotropa. “Removing it instantly opened up all kinds of possibilities.”


In the more casual, primary living space, Sotropa and her team tore out the existing millwork and painted it a dark charcoal grey to better match the stone fireplace: “Those shelves [hold] all their travel mementos.”


Sotropa used the same grey paint to create a dramatic contrast in the dining room: “That was a leap of faith for them because the colour is practically black,” she says. “I thought an edgy colour like that would help because their entire dining set is an antique.”


Karen’s antique china collection now hangs in her home office. “They were in cardboard boxes in the basement,” says Sotropa. “They belonged to her mom. We brought them out and of course she was thrilled.”


Without much room to expand, the kitchen remains small and galley-like, but Sotropa brought it into the 21st century with dark cabinets, modern drawer pulls and a teal backsplash.


In the bedroom, Sotropa simply restored the homeowners’ pre-existing furniture. The nightstands were originally dark mahogany—and were almost thrown out by Karen. “I said, ‘Let’s just paint them and see,’” recalls Sotropa. “Now she loves them.”


The daybed was also restored: “It had this really gross, yellow-crackle glaze on it, and blue-and-white gingham upholstery,” says Sotropa. “It belonged to Bill’s mom and they just didn’t have the heart to throw it out.” With a fresh coat of paint and new upholstery, it’s now a centrepiece in their master suite.


Karen has a humungous silver collection—tea sets and trays—but she needed a bit of a lesson in restraint. “Some of it is so exquisitely beautiful, but when there’s too much of it, you can’t really see it,” says the designer. With Sotropa’s help, she’s learned to showcase just a handful of items at one time.

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