Welcome to the Tales From Upper Hillsborough, where I share the journey of Urbaneer team member James Ormston and I who, eleven years ago, bought a dilapidated vintage triplex in idyllic Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
Once a stately manse dating from the 1880s, this property had been neglected until we purchased it in 2008 as a real estate experiment. Our experiment? To take a property on the brink of decay and transform it ‘no expense spared’ into an elegant income property and summer residence that would serve in the future as a space for us to ‘age in place’. As is often the case when tackling old houses, as the list of deficiencies grew, our renovation quickly snowballed into a complete foundation-to-eaves reconception and reconstruction.
Three special suites coalesced from all of our brainstorming, napkin sketches, and problem-solving, which we spent several subsequent years – and a cringe-worthy chunk of change – refining and reshaping into unique idyllic retreats.
The dreamy 2bed+ Attic Atelier – which I consider one of PEI’s Most Romantic Vacation Accommodations – is perched on the third level, affording a tranquil tree-top view. One floor below, the more recently-completed 2bed+ Captain’s Quarters is characterized by original vintage details – bullnose trim, beadboard, and high baseboards – restored and furnished with a subtle nostalgic ode to east coast Mariners. Lastly, the tranquil 3bed Garden Suite – the space which underwent the most significant transformation – unfolds across the first level, leading to a relaxing outdoor dining deck and landscaped yard.
We had a grand vision of creating outdoor spaces on each level of the three-floor dwelling, so one of our major changes was adding a substantial ‘Deck Tower’ on the rear of the house. The anchor of this construct is an enclosed dining space in the Garden Suite’s ‘Great Room’, which added much needed additional living space to this 3bed suite. (You can see this layered effect it in The Garden Suite In Progress, The Deck Tower Nears Completion and in The Garden Suite Reveal.)
As you can see by the links above, I’ve written blogs in the past showing The Garden Suite in progress. Now – finally – it’s pretty much finished, though given our love for design it’s constantly evolving in terms of fixtures and furnishings. Come take a look!
Above you can see the “Before” and “After” of The Garden Suite space plan, which shows how dramatically different the suite is now compared to its original configuration.
Entering from the side of the house (where we constructed a new covered porch and rear staircase), the original Side Hall foyer is the only space on this level that was retained and not part of the reconfiguration. The foyer isn’t large but it is well-proportioned, and given our objective was to create an entry with presence, we installed classic marble ribbon tile floors framed like a ‘carpet’, white beadboard surrounds to replace the original damaged beadboard and a quirky milk bottle chandelier. This nod to the past is contrasted by two stainless steel and a light cubes that we shipped in from Toronto’s Stylegarage (they have a Vancouver location too!) and red nautical sailing cleats for coat hooks (only $12 each from Cottage Industry in Charlottetown) which add a pop of colour and nautical vibe appropriate to island life.
Off the Side Hall is the Centre Hall from which all the interior spaces radiate. Having exacting proportion and scale, the space has a series of glass and panel doors wrapping each of the four sides, new oak parquetry floors with walnut inlay, a custom built-in closet wrapped in crown moulding to appear like a ‘wardrobe’ (even the parquetry appears to run under this cabinet illusion) and dropped ceilings which cleverly conceal the underside of the staircase to the second-floor suite.
* The ceilings were dropped in the Centre Hall and this faux wardrobe was constructed to hide the underside of the staircase rising to the second floor. *
Off The Centre Hall, the sitting area is contained in an L-shaped ‘Great Room’ which is located at the back of the dwelling and connects to the garden. It’s situated in a modest newly-constructed 8×10 foot open shed addition attached to the rear 1980s bedroom extension (which is now the location of the kitchen). To keep it interesting we vaulted the ceiling and installed an electronically operated skylight for natural light and ventilation. We went to Cottage Industry in Charlottetown to source the furnishings for this room. The elegant well-proportioned settee and wingback chair are from Lee Industries, the gorgeous white hanging pendant is by Robert Abbey, and the bright graphic pillows are by Thomas Paul. If you’re local, definitely make Cottage Industry a destination as they have all sorts of charming pieces.
In the photo below, you can see how we left the former exterior rear wall of the original house and resurfaced it in black shingles (like the rest of the exterior) to give the impression that the rear ‘Great Room’, with its barn plank floors and beams, is its own vintage addition(s) added piecemeal over time. A pair of french doors and third glass panel – set in a ‘Greek Revival Porch’ with stone inlay – connect the internal Centre Hall to the ‘Great Room’, while a pair of new frosted Pella double-hung windows with thick trim and panelling in the new shed addition continue to blur the lines between yesteryear and now. A glass door with transom window walks out to the cedar deck with a generous dining table and workhorse of a gas barbecue for summer fetes. We sourced as much of the furniture locally as possible, but several pieces were shipped in via Restoration Hardware and Stylegarage. The savvy shopped will see pieces from Winners and Homesense too, which have retail locations in Charlottetown.
We reconfigured the space plan so the sleeping quarters and new baths are located in what were once the kitchen, living and dining rooms of the original house, and then expanded the ugly rear 1980s bedroom into the open plan Entertainment Space. This entailed adding a 10×13 foot extension to the existing 1980s 10×13 foot bedroom addition, demolishing the dilapidated bathroom shed addition off the kitchen and constructing a second 8×10 foot addition in its place, and linking them all into an open L-shaped Entertainment Space. Our objective was to create two distinct separate zones in the suite – one a quiet private zone for rest and solitude at the front of the dwelling – and the second a convivial social zone of indoor-outdoor living at the back of the house.
Wanting to respect the original scale, proportion and formality of our Centre Hall shingle manse, we re-introduced high baseboards, substantial mouldings, vintage hardware (thank you Restoration Hardware!) and classic tiles (from Pollocks on Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto) to convey the elegance of yesteryear throughout the sleeping quarters and entry halls. But in the new additions, now configured into one open-plan, we chose to contrast the formality of the original house with the casual atmosphere that comes with 100 hundred-year-old barn beam ceilings and old thick plank floors. Not only do the barn beams keep the space relaxed, but the largest one was cut into a U-channel to wrap around and hide the massive steel I-beam which supports the upper levels.
The kitchen has white flat cabinets with push latches (they’re not faring well so we’re adding pulls imminently), wrapped in butcher block for functionality while keeping the lines clean. The island with butcherblock waterfall counters has open shelving on the cooking side with a microwave tucked underneath. Two white open shelving cubes from the owners of Prestige Kitchens (who also did our Attic Atelier kitchen and Captain’s Quarters kitchen – love!) are mounted on the beadboard wall to hold the dishes and glasses. We were hoping to keep the kitchen wall unadorned but even we, as minimalistic cooks, needed more storage.
The dining area has a banquette in front of the windows. We had an oval top made for the metal legs (it can hold 9 people in a squeeze) so that guests can scootch in and out while dining or playing board games. This room is bathed in the morning light, though the one-hundred-year-old white ash tree does provide some shade on the garden. At night the garden has several spotlights nestled in it to extend the eye and create different focal points when perched on any of the three outdoor spaces (one for each suite).
This gutted to the studs suite has three cosy bedrooms which accommodates up to 6 guests (the beds, towels, and household appliances are predominantly brand names from Sears). Our amazing contractor Paul Coles made the substantial headboards from trim and door panels to emphasize the high ceilings. A wood wardrobe serves as storage in one of the bedrooms (you can see it reflected in the mirror in the photo below), and a narrow custom closet made out of door panels with glass knobs provides storage for the other. Each room has its own distinct character.
Below is a photo of the third and smallest bedroom, followed by the other two which face the street.
The full white bath is fitted with hexagonal white marble floors and is wrapped in subway tile except for the wall with the vanity which has floor to ceiling mirror. We installed a glass transom between the washroom and the Side Entry Hall to let in the natural light from the south exposure. We found extremely affordable washroom vanities ($379 and $119 for each) at the now-closed Wicker Emporium and reconfigured them to accommodate our sinks. Sensing a theme? Charlottetown has a limited supply of home furnishing retailers, so it’s important to be inventive! If you have the patience to sift through the ‘predictable’ until something unique speaks to you, you could take home some great bargains!)
Below, in the deep blue-grey jack and jill powder room fitted with marble floors and black fittings, we placed floor to ceiling mirrors on the opposite walls behind the toilet and the sink to create an unexpected ‘fun house’ vibe that both surprises and expands this diminutive space. Guests find the ‘fun house’ vibe either entertaining or completely impractical (the lighting is not terribly bright), but it still makes me giggle every time I’m in there brushing my teeth!
We love how this suite walks out to a large deck with dining area. There’s plenty of space for kids to play, too.
There’s no way this could have been accomplished without so many of Charlottetown’s best trades, services and retail destinations including our contractor Paul Coles of Paul Coles Renovations, Cecil Kenny of Kenny’s Plumbing and Heating, Robin Yates of R. Cudmore Electric, Wade Clements and his crew at Mallard Painting, Steve Cote of Steve The Painter, Robbie Gaultier with Totally Tile, Hardwood Floors by Heritage Floors, Paul Holmes did the amazing floor finishing,
Prestige Kitchens, Philip Farnham of Farnham Roofing, Doirons Landscaping & Garden Store, Cottage Industry Modern Home Decor; Moving Designz Home & Cottage; Luna Eclectic Emporium; Moonsnail Soapworks; Emmett & Ellie’s & The Soap Drawer; The Dunes Studio, Gallery & Cafe; Details Past & Present Art Gallery; + our House Manager April Clow and her team at Sparkle and Shine! We have so much gratitude for your friendship, and all of your attention to detail and outstanding work. We truly couldn’t have done it without you!
Many thanks from Steve & James!
This suite is available as a weekly rental during the summer months, and monthly during Autumn and Winter. You can see more at www.charlottetownaccommodations.com!
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:
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