While working with a client on the renovation of their home, we discovered the house had been listed as a Historic property. The main restrictions on the work we were about to complete were: a) the City had to approve any revisions to the existing structure and b) the exterior had to be restored to respect the Historic guidelines for the era of the house.
As the house in question had been a cottage style seaside home from the late 1930s we researched vintage photos to determine what would be acceptable to the Municipal Historic Board. We came upon an actual photo of the house from that era and found it had originally been a shingle sided cottage and not the asbestos sided house that existed. We proposed that we would restore the exterior to be a shingle style dwelling with the original character look of the windows and doors but requested permission to modernize the interior.
With approvals on the exterior in place, we then encountered two new complications. First of all, the house was not sited correctly on the property and therefore, City Zoning would not allow any changes to the footprint, including locations of windows and doors. Secondly, we determined that the entire interior structure had rotted out from moisture and therefore the house had to be shored up and all interior floors and walls had to be re-built. Luckily, the interior of the house was not listed and therefore we were free to re-construct the interior with a more modern design style.
The construction process was very complicated and the designs had to be modified at each new challenge. The biggest obstacle was that the foundation was not stable and original plumbing connections had deteriorated. As it turned out, the house had originally been constructed during the lead up to World War Two and lumber, plumbing pipe and all building products had been tagged by the Government as needed for the war effort. Therefore, the house we were working with had been built using an assembly of scavenged, old parts from houses that had been torn down and, since concrete was scarce, the foundation had been built using sand and ground limestone dust with almost no reinforcement. The design was modified yet again and we under-pinned the entire foundation and laid all new sewer and water connections.
Still maintaining their sense of humour, the client wished to continue with the project of restoring this quirky but wonderful seaside house. Once the exterior and foundation were all secured, sealed, clad and inspected, we were granted permission by the City to re-design and re-build the interior. The wide open shell of the house provided us with opportunity to completely re-imagine the interior. Our first step was changing the locations of principal rooms to take advantage of the seaside views. The upper floor was renovated to create a large great room area with vaulted ceilings constructed within the original roof framing. A new master suite was planned in the cozy garden side of the upper floor and the principal entrance was moved up to this level via an exterior staircase and landing. The Historic Board agreed that the design of the deck and landing fell within the look and character of the seaside cottage as long as we kept the railings and finish within the period design guidelines.
The lower level of the house could again be accessed by original front and rear garden entry doors but now serves as the family living level with two bedrooms, a family bath and a large play area opening onto the hedge enclosed garden facing toward the bay.
While the project definitely exceeded its original scope, the final appraised value of the house was greater than the purchase cost and the restoration/renovation. The client was very happy with the end result and had us return the following year for a major overhaul of the gardens to suit their re-imagined seaside cottage home.