VIBRANT VICTORIAN: Masterful blend of old and new

Monday April 03, 2017 - 3:04 pm

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Vibrant Victorian
“Chestnut Villa,” as it originally was called, is an elegant historic home, part of Brant's Landing on Lakeshore Road. It serves as a lesson in how to update a classic without destroying its soul.
The sprawling home, part Georgian, part Victorian, with Edwardian details, has a history that is closely entwined with the history of the city of Burlington itself. The house was built for a local jeweller in 1855 on land that was deeded by the crown to John Brant, son of Joseph Brant. The small original structure was enlarged and redesigned by subsequent owners who added the Victorian and Edwardian details and transformed the home from its modest size to an impressive residence. It was home to Maxwell Smith, mayor of Burlington in the early 1900s.
In 1984, when the land was sold for the condominium development, the house couldn't be demolished because of its historic value, so it was moved closer to Lakeshore Road and incorporated into the condominium complex.
The home, on its new foundation, was divided into two luxury condominiums, and the present owners have carefully redesigned and updated their half of this grand lady, keeping many of the fundamental and beautiful elements.
One of the great advantages of adding a new foundation to the original house was that it made it possible to add drive-in underground parking and storage space. And because the building is part of the condominium, the owners have the pleasure of living in their own historic home as well as enjoying access to all the amenities of the condo complex: pool, sauna, BBQ area and party room.
The design firm of Barnard Speziale has given the interior of this Victorian lady a refresh, and it couldn't have been any other way. The proud new owner of this home, after all, is one half of the design partnership: Morley Barnard. Along with his trusted professional other half – Jan Speziale – the transformation was planned, making a confortable and contemporary home for Barnard and his wife.
The first order of business was the kitchen, a space that was already nicely modernized but needed new detailing. They replaced the original countertop on the centre island with a larger quartz counter, white with grey flecks. New counter stools with pneumatic bases were added, and the backsplash, once a brown marble tile, was painted in high gloss white and now looks like modern subway tiles. The walls were painted black, making the white cupboards pop, and all the hardware was updated to stainless steel. “We used black as a neutral accent throughout the main floors,” Barnard says.
The back wall of the kitchen is floor-to-ceiling windows with sliding glass doors leading to a private patio, which opens up the area and creates a sense of volume.
Black rattan furniture with black and tan cushions makes the patio a perfect place for a quiet dinner in good weather, or for outdoor entertaining. A black and tan awning, and black patio enclosure makes the space sharply contemporary as well as inviting.
The floors throughout the house are wood, in a warm walnut tone, and the main walls are painted a soft grey. Because the original walls of the house were double brick, the windows have foot-deep attractive sashes. Most of the wide mouldings and trims in the house have been retained, and the restored plaster ceiling mouldings remain. Ten-foot high ceilings give the space a sense of grandeur that is very Victorian in spirit.
A large arch boasting the original wide trim, opens up the main rooms. In the dining room, the dining table is a large round shape, seating six but expandable to ten, with a simple but eye-catching fixture suspended above it. Barnard Speziale built in a wall-to-wall servery and mirrored the wall above it up to the ceiling, expanding the visual space.
The living room is warmed, both literally and figuratively, by a fireplace with a French-inspired mantle whose marble echoes the grey and cream tones throughout the main floor. The providence of the fireplace is unknown in that it could have been added during one of the home's early renovations, but the stunning piece was retained for its beauty and vintage charm.
A Tibetan carpet marbled in cream and grey softens the room. “We kept the furniture clean-lined and classically simple,” Barnard explains. “The colours too are soft and gentle. This is a house with a great history and fine architectural details and we did not want to distract attention from the good bones of the place.”
Fabrics match the tones of grey and cream used throughout, with variety and interest added by different textures. Chairs in the dining room are upholstered in fabric that matches the grey of the walls, but enhanced with metal stud details. The legs of the chairs are stained the same warm walnut as the floors.
The result is a quiet elegance reminiscent of European design that incorporates contemporary style seamlessly without overpowering the traditional classical elements.
All of the hardware and fixtures were changed to cleaner, modern styles, adding a vivid contrast to the traditional details that have been retained, and creates background interest. It's a successful blend, what Barnard describes as contemporary transitional style.
Colour accents, primarily variations on orange and grey, are added by toss cushions and works of art, pieces the owners have collected and love, that add a visual punch to the rooms.
One of the real show-stoppers in the home is a massive mirror in the entrance hall, framed very large, with a sconce style light fixture installed in the centre.
The heart of the house, and a unique architectural feature, is found at the top of the central staircase leading to the third floor. The original form of a widow's walk has been retained, and the white, framed windows above throw natural light down the staircase and into the rooms.
The upper floor has two bedrooms. One is a cozy den, the place where the owners watch TV and relax. It is painted black, and a sofa bed can accommodate sleepover guests.
The master bedroom, with its ensuite, exists almost like a separate wing of the house, and here the same tones used in the lower floors have been repeated. Lots of windows let in light, there are two walk-in closets, and generous room for a king size bed.
“It was a stroke of luck that the original mouldings, casements and architectural details were preserved,” Barnard comments, “and that someone had the foresight to keep them. We took it from there and created a different interior without disrupting the uniqueness.”
The result is a seamless facelift for a graceful lady, keeping the classic details while adding contemporary improvements.
Definitely the best of both worlds.