Vignettes Of Progress At The Black House

Tales Of Upper Hillsborough

Ok, so my apologies in advance cuz I’m going to prattle on today about my love affair.

Yes, it’s our four-year anniversary since we began tackling tuning-up, renovating, expanding and decorating – remotely from Toronto, Ontario – a vintage triplex in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island – which we bought in 2008. Called The Tales Of Upper Hillsborough, our blog is about a house we painted black which we subsequently named The Black House. Below is a photo of the house taken six years ago when we were completing our conditional home inspection, followed by a photo taken last night, where you can see our landscape uplighting that showcases the 100 year-old Ash tree in the rear, and the front and side gardens of our property. Oh, and how black the house is:



For those who are new to our blog, this project started serendipitously back in 2008, when James Ormston and I bought this once-neglected severely-butchered triplex for $153,000, plus around $4000 in closing costs. Click HERE for the story on how it happened.

Since then, we’ve systematically tackled a top-to-bottom renovation including two additions (one three floors high!), to turn this dilapidated dwelling into 3000 square feet of luxury accommodations both for ourselves and for tenants who will appreciate our commitment to quality.

Here’s our Garden Suite and our Attic Atelier today – after a $550,000+ capital injection – which we offer as weekly and monthly luxury furnished rentals.

While the 3-bedroom garden suite and 2-bedroom+ attic atelier now serve as ‘Home Away From Homes’ for our summer guests, we’re now occupying the nearly-complete second floor suite – which we affectionately call The Captain’s Quarters – as we approach the end of this substantial reno/restoration. Yuppers, after six years from purchase we’re in the final stretch of elevating this former merchant class home.

And for those investors out there who are keeping tabs, the final tally to rebuild and furnish this luxury rental triplex is approaching three quarters of a million dollars. We promise this labour of love shows in our attention to detail and – because of our commitment to quality – in the revenue income it generates.

Fortunately, as this undertaking draws closer to completion, we’re pleased to admit this portion of the renovation was one of the less expensive ‘phases’. One significant reason is that this project was ‘cosmetic’ and didn’t require any structural modifications. We already tackled that when we undertook a massive three-story deck tower addition on the rear of the house two summers ago. However, as anyone who takes on a renovation challenge knows, even the smallest of jobs can unravel into something much larger. So while the final financial tally of this project is unofficial, we estimate this unit just received a $50,000 cash injection to elevate it into its highest and best use as a luxe furnished rental.

Ever since our fantastic tenant Chad moved out six months ago, this well-loved slightly-dated unfurnished suite has sat vacant while we’ve upgraded the house through email from Toronto, where we live. Communicating our detailed scope of work electronically to our brilliant – and thankfully exacting – contractor Paul Coles, the execution of the project has been near effortless. To Paul’s credit, he knew precisely how we envisioned this suite, allowing he and his Charlottetown A-list of trades (email us for our referrals, anytime) to refinish the original wood floors, restore the original stair banisters, construct a built-in dining banquette and bedroom headboards plus renovate the kitchen from top to bottom – a last minute addition which delayed us a further 10 weeks. While a lot of final details remain in progress (yesterday we executed a last minute design change, opting for a glossy white penny tile in lieu of the already-installed cream subway tile we originally chose – which translates into a 4-week delay), we can practically taste the finish line. However, we’re the first to admit our dawdling and desires are causing delays. Yup, we are those clients who change their minds mid-stream and see their renovation costs escalate.

If you want to read more back story, here’s a recent post called The Captain’s Quarters Renovation Begins At The Black House.

Oh, and it you love a floor plan – like we do – then see below.



James arrived last month to begin his annual summer gig at the Charlottetown Festival. He’s been handling all the final details – like stocking the kitchen with dish ware, pots and pans; getting housewares like an iron and board, hair dryer and vacuum; along with six sets of linens for the three beds (one’s a pull out couch). Prior to my arrival I sent him scurrying around the island in his Smart Car previewing my finds on, while he also scoured the stores for stylish furnishings that can withstand a constant battering by rotating vacationers. It’s been an interesting challenge trying to execute – for the third time no less – a top-to-bottom fully-furnished suite on a budget using as many local resources as possible. Of course, this has been compounded by the remoteness of our island location, despite it being Charlottetown, the birthplace of Canada’s Confederation!

Without a doubt, creating our definition of domestic bliss has been challenged by the lack of product.

In fact, I was recently lamenting about the lack of ‘antique-anything’ on Prince Edward Island in my recent post called Dishing Design At The Black House. Fortunately, since arriving 72 hours ago where I’ve been spinning around Charlottetown shopping at our already limited options (if you count shopping at Sears, Canadian Tire and Winners as limiting – ha ha), James took me to a downtown storefront called Emmett & Eillies. Donna Keenan – purveyor and soap maker – loves to breathe new life into old pieces. She picks up old furniture and – respecting the patina of yesteryear – refinishes them in a manner that happens to suit our suite which dates from the late 1880s. Not only did we pick up some great finds in her store, but she took us to her workshop where we purchased a couple of pieces she had yet to recondition. We purchased the bijou desk and the old window frame in the photo at the top of this blog. Her seven pieces have been a wonderful addition to the house.

While there’s still a ways to go (6-8 weeks) to fully complete the suite and having it ready for rental, in the interim James is in full occupancy while I come and go from Toronto to get the project finished and, well, actually enjoy Prince Edward Island after starting this project six years ago. Still on the agenda are delivery of a pair of modern Bauhaus dining chairs and 4 sets of linen draperies from Restoration Hardware, two ‘rooms’ of outdoor furniture from Wicker Emporium (they’re having a wicked outdoor teak furniture sales at prices which are a STEAL (oh and! the Garden Suite is having the custom outdoor privacy panels installed this week too – stay tuned for that post!) along with finished our outstanding list of accessories necessary to ‘layer’ the interior and ensure it feels more ‘intimate and lived in’.

Rather than show you a bunch of incomplete rooms, here are some vignettes that show our work in progress. We hope you like!

Below is the front centre hall where we laid in a ‘marble carpet’. This hall was originally two spaces that had doors for both the ground floor and second floor suites. We re-oriented the entry to the ground floor suite to the side of the house when we had the ‘Side Porch’ built to create suite entries of equal importance. The original centre hall entrance on the street is now dedicated exclusively to this second floor suite, making it more elegant and gracious. I found an old church pew that had been restored on and this mason jar light fixture on

Isn’t it amazing how you can shop online to furnish your property nowadays? Though you need a really good design eye, the ability to envision a space’s dimensions in your head, and then fit the measurements of a piece of furniture into said space. We’ve had some epic fails by getting this wrong, but you’ll never see those oversights, thank goodness.



Below is a photo of the top of the landing of the centre hall from which all the rooms radiate. We had the banister restored as a number of pickets were missing, and portions of the railings had been sawed off. We added some crown moldings and then painted the ceiling black to make the space more transitional than a focal point. We’re awaiting the install of the stair and hall runners which are a crazy-patterned black and cream carpet… it will look a bit kooky when it’s done –> a sort of ‘English Granny meets Alice In Wonderland’ effect! There’s a chance our apple green walls will look all wrong, necessitating another paint job. It’s a risk we’re prepared to face. Even we like to push the envelope of our own aesthetic!



The living/dining room is far from complete. Along with my bedroom there’s a ways to go. While we await the installation of a modest flat screen tv (a necessity in any furnished rental), I took advantage of the opportunity to create this little vignette with a Rebecca Krupke landscape, a tray of black and white plates and some ‘branch lights’ tossed in a crystal vase perched on a tray table from Charlottetown’s Moving Designz.



I LOVE our recently acquired 1960s Philco record player in the living room (another local find for $150 including three crates of records), on which a metal lamp from Winners sits (a closet retail salvation for surprise finds) anchoring a small resin photograph I bought at the Toronto Queen West art fair 2 years ago. In the background, a leather library chair from Restoration Hardware with lobster-embroidered cushion from fab local purveyor Cottage Industry offers a cozy perch on the Centre Hall landing.



Although we had intended to Velcro a series of mismatched china plates on the living/dining room wall – here’s that Dishing Design At The Black House post with our inspiration pics – we ended up putting them around the perimeter of the kitchen above the bead board detail. They’re high off the floor and out of the reach of children, while adding just enough of that insouciant Granny effect we’re striving for.

We like them. Do you?

Oh, here’s a peak-a-view of the custom built-in china cabinet I designed and had our kitchen company build, after shipping a pair of custom diamond-leaded windows made from antique glass crafted in Toronto. It was a big leap to spend $4000 on what is effectively a kitchen storage cabinet (this is the smallest yet most expensive kitchen of the three in the property), but it’s down-lighting and glass shelving make it a jewel in our bespoke vintage-inspired space.



Below is our ‘vintage bath’ – which we renovated four years ago – with marble inlaid floors, subway tile walls and bead board. This is quickly becoming one of my favourite rooms, probably because it’s mostly finished. The bead board cabinet holds the stacking washer/dryer which we had installed. The ceiling is painted lead grey to match the restored radiators and lower kitchen cabinets.



When your best pal and co-owner is a musician, you’re going to happily find music. Here is James’ music stand lit by a strand of lights, which are temporary until we get some proper light fixtures. I rather like it just the way it is, but they’re too dangerous to leave in a vacation rental with children.




Do you like?

Stay tuned for more reveal in The Tales Of Upper Hillsborough, coming soon.


~ Steven

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