Goodbye Arts and Crafts, and Hello Groovy

Stuart Stark has been involved in the preservation and restoration of some of British Columbia's most important early buildings, including Emily Carr House, St. Ann's Academy and Point Ellice House.

The heritage consultant has also worked on the preservation of historic buildings in Barkerville and Fort Steele, even a sternwheeler in the Yukon.

And his wife is a museum conservationist.

British-born Maggie Graham-Bell trained at the Institute of Archaeology in London, and has preserved Oliver Cromwell's riding boots, Anglo-Saxon swords, Romano-British mosaics and Elizabethan wall paintings. After coming to Canada, she worked with National Historic Sites in Ottawa and at the Royal B.C. Museum.

So the question is: What is this couple doing in a mid-century home with orange walls, German pottery and surfer posters on the walls?

The answer is, when the two decided to downsize recently from their large Oak Bay mansion, they wanted to make a clean break with the past.

After spending 27 years restoring their previous 1892 home, "we didn't want to spend our last years kicking the baseboards and saying: 'You should have seen our last place,' " joked Stark.

"We had achieved what we wanted there," said Graham-Bell (who is not related to the famous inventor).

"When the kids left, it suddenly felt too big."

They also closed the doors on their Charles Rupert store last October, and just retained an online wallpaper-sourcing company.

"We had been living, breathing, eating and sleeping William Morris and the rest of the Arts and Crafts designers for 25 years," Stark said. "So learning about a new era of mid-century designers and movements has been great fun - the Danish, Scandinavian, Italian and German designers of the mid-century.

"And looking at it critically, the mid-century is the last historical period where designers still used real materials - teak, metal, stone - and were still making future antiques. Today, unless it's incredibly custom, everything is flat-pack, veneer over particle board."

Graham-Bell added they didn't realize how much the mid-century period resonated with them until "we each started to unpack loved items from that period, things that had never seen the light of day in our Victorian house. We had a stash of stuff squirrelled away. Stuart's Marimekko fabrics and my Denby pottery for starters."

Hunting for mid-century treasures has been a treat, but finding the perfect house was a challenge, since they were downsizing but still wanted a home with at least one grand space. "Then the smaller rooms wouldn't matter," Stark said.

They viewed dozens of condos, apartments, townhouses and houses, and when their Realtor suggested a place in the high Quadra area, they were less than excited.

"I thought, you must be joking, but as we turned off Quadra and drove up and around this little hill we thought it looked very intriguing," Stark said.

Graham-Bell felt right at home in a way she didn't expect.

"It's rather a magical area, a hidden gem that feels like Brigadoon," she said with a chuckle.

They made an offer half an hour after their private viewing.

Shag carpet hid flawless concrete

Everything in the home was well maintained, but they made lots of changes.

First, they took up the old shag carpet and found a flawless concrete slab underneath. "It was more eco-friendly to polish it rather than import tropical wood from across the world," Stark said.

He designed a new kitchen and had cabinets made locally with white quartz countertops, ultra-deep cupboards, pullout pantries and rollout shelves, "otherwise you are on your hands and knees all the time." Glass cabinets help visitors find their way around.

They stripped white paint off the window trim and restored the dark walnut contrast as an architectural feature. Hot colours were added to the house, which had been beige inside and out. Living room windows previously fitted with vertical venetian blinds, which gave the space an office feel, were hung with red hot and pink curtains.

Graham-Bell sewed five-metre-long drapes and "Stuart was the fabric wrangler."

He also added two slim side-screens to suggest a division between living room and library, "to make it a little cosier," and designed one of them to fold back, making space for a Christmas tree.

These interior screens echo two on the covered porch, which he said are part of the whole mid-century "infusion of Polynesian culture and Oriental design."

The two-storey living room and library are four metres wide and 10 metres long - and tall windows at both ends make the space seem even larger. Above both rooms is an L-shaped balcony leading to bedrooms, his and hers offices and the television room.

Original plans called for a soaring ceiling over this balcony, but the home's first owner lowered it to add more attic space, which blocked a bank of high windows. Stark, who stands six-foot-four, opened it up again: "It made a huge difference. You didn't even see the clerestory windows before."

Nasty little doors of

only six-feet-eight

The house was designed by an architect, but had been "dumbed down by the original contractor, who installed nasty six-foot-eight-inch doors and little bi-folds. Raising all the main-floor doors to eight feet made a monumental difference."

Stark explained: "The idea is, whether you are dealing with a century-old or mid-century house, you take the existing architecture and expand on it rather than working against it. You take your cues from the existing house, so that the changes look inevitable and harmonious. By ramping up the details, you add architectural gravitas."

"Good design in any era doesn't go out fashion," said Stark, who has a degree in fine arts and architecture.

"We are having a great deal of fun finding things at thrift shops," said Graham-Bell, who said they got rid of almost all their Victorian furniture.

They found their new, enormously long, teak sideboard, for instance, at the Fabulous Find on Herald. Stark spotted a sticker inside and from that managed to track down the grandson of the Danish builder.

They've since been in touch online and Stark learned it was originally sold to Standard Furniture, "a significant taste-making shop in Victoria at the time."

They found a couch online and bought it from a man who had purchased it from Standard Furniture, too. It has been re-upholstered and is now in their library.

Being environmentally aware, they decided to use geothermal heat, since the house previously had baseboard heaters and was freezing in the winter, despite $600-a-month heating bills. Pro Star Mechanical Technologies was hired and had soon drilled two 70-metre wells.

The system cost more than $35,000 and was more expensive than usual because the house had no existing ductwork. They also chose a high-velocity air system that fits into small wall ducts.

Almost everybody asks about the payback, which Stark finds curious, considering no one ever asks about payback on a $40,000 kitchen or $35,000 bathroom.

"We did it because when you retire, you're at home more, so it's an investment in comfort and adds to resale value. Hydro rates have just jumped 25 per cent and with geo exchange, we have air conditioning, too.

"We didn't want to be old and cold," he joked.

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REISA President Greg Moulton Says 'renovator's Delights' Regain Popularity
REISA (Real Estate Institute of SA) president and CEO of Harcourts, Greg Moulton. Picture: Sam WundkeSource:adelaidenowIT'S not unusual to find an older home advertised for sale with a "sparkling new kitchen" featuring stainless steel appliances, dual ovens, glass splashbacks and more.Or perhaps it has a newly renovated bathroom complete with heat lamps, floor to ceiling tiles and an extra deep bath.Undoubtedly modernised homes attract buyers, with many agents advising vendors to at least "tidy up" properties for sale.But just how much "modernising" is advisable if you're looking to sell your house for a profit? And how do you guard against overcapitalising?REISA (Real Estate Institute of SA) president Greg Moulton says "renovator's delights" are starting to regain popularity with buyers, following a lull last year."In 2012 there were less people buying to renovate. People are starting to renovate again now," he says."We're starting to see small capital growth but more importantly, more demand."He says the key to a successful renovation investment is buying at a great price, adding to your need to do your research before picking up the sledgehammer."The most important thing when you're looking to renovate or develop is your purchase price," he says. "The most common mistake people make is they pay too much in the first place."HIA (Housing Industry Association) SA director Robert Harding agrees research is the key to a successful renovation. He says the location of a house may well affect your likelihood to overcapitalise."It's always been that you could generally get your money back on higher end areas in the inner ring of the city," he says.In the outer suburbs, however, you could well find yourself "ahead of the market" with absolute top-of-the-range improvements.He warns anyone renovating a property for the rental market, in particular, to pay close attention to what renters in that area are actually willing to pay.Mr Harding says the biggest money sinkers when it comes to renovations are kitchens, bathrooms and, more recently, back yards."There's no doubt the outdoor entertainment market has increased substantially in the past five years," he says."It's easy to go overboard when you're looking at additional work for things like paving and feature walls."
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