We always hear that the top three most important features in a house are location, location, and location. But truthfully, when most of us think of our dream home, we envision more than a short commute or an easy walk to school; we want the beautiful details that have filled our inspiration boards forever, right?
Giulia and her husband bought a house that didn’t seem like it would be their perfect home. It isn’t the style they thought they wanted, but it is strong and solid and flooded with light, though, as well as close to everything they wanted to be near. So while they may not have chosen a home that lived in their dreams, they’ve found that they’re living in one in which they can easily build them. There’s a really good lesson here, Friends. Enjoy the tour!
Q: Tell us a little about the family who fills up this house!
A: This is the home to my husband, our four-and-a-half year old daughter Maelle, our three year old son Desmond, our cat Heidi, a fish called Tom, and myself. I grew up in Europe and moved to Canada nine years ago, and my husband is Canadian — from the East Coast — ocean, lobsters, and all!
My husband is an engineer and I am an Associate Director of Communications. In typical engineering fashion, my husband loves to take things apart, put things back together, and can tinker for days until projects are just right. I, on the other hand, have grand ideas in my head that I’d like to have happen overnight; if I can’t execute them to the speed or quality of my imagination, I get frustrated. I’m continuously working on this flaw, especially when it comes to home renovation!
Q: How did this house become your home? Was it love at first sight?
A: After our son was born, we started actively looking for a new home. We wanted to move away from a less than stellar neighborhood and a townhouse with lots of stairs. This house became ours because it was in the right neighborhood, within walking distance to an excellent school, the perfect distance to both of our offices, in our budget, and most importantly the first home my husband saw and even considered.
Once he said “Yes…I could see this work,” and I saw the potential in what it could be down the road, it became ours. It was the ugly duckling on the street, but it was the first house we felt was right for us.
Q: Your home’s design wasn’t on your wish list — not a Victorian and not the Cape Cod you’d envisioned! — but the neighborhood was ideal for your family in many ways. How did you readjust and finally fall in love with your house?
A: Yes, a 1950s split level house was not on my must-have list of homes! I am usually drawn to Victorian architecture or the relaxed feel of a Cape Cod. I was used to old European apartments, and liked those features. And this 1950s house is by no means a glamorous Frank Sinatra, Palm Springs kind of house! It’s one of those boxy split levels with yellow brick and cedar siding, built by a plumber.
But we realized that things beyond the exterior design were more important to our family. There was the fact that we would not be spending hours on the road, or the fact that we had a great school down the road, and tree-lined streets with sidewalks; those details made our decision easy.
Once our family was living in the house, the advantages of a split suddenly became apparent to me: it keeps our family close. Nobody is ever far off. My kids are both under five now, and this was essential when we first moved in two and a half years ago. If I’m in the kitchen and the kids are in their rooms or in the playroom, I can hear them and feel connected. The house is solid and strong and flooded with light.
Q: What advice would you give to someone living in a home that isn’t exactly their dream house?
A: Really, a house is just the walls that surround you — you and your family make it a home. The most beautiful house with all the things you imagined filling it won’t guarantee you a true home. It’s what you make of it: the memories, the laughter, the tears.
Maybe because I spent most of my life renting and moving every couple of years, I never got too attached to the shell. Mostly I remember most of the places I lived in very fondly because of the memories and events that happened there.
Q: Do you feel somewhat pushed to stay true to some parts of the 50s style of your home?
A: Yes and no. I imagine that not everyone in 1959 owned what we now consider Mid Century Modern furniture. I imagine different houses had different styles as they do today. I never owned a piece of Mid Century Modern furniture, and the closest we own in that style now is a dresser in my daughter’s room that we got off Kjiji, which is the Canadian Craigslist. It was a steal at $15 and the only reason I got it. I see many coffee tables, side boards, and chairs that I’d love, but I never feel compelled to spend the money for that design, even when sourced second-hand. I’m also not very good as scavenging through thrift stores or listings; that’s where I get impatient!
We’ve collected a mix of things, like a table from Provence, white Parson dining chairs, a beat-up flea market side chair, a yellow IKEA cabinet, a floral chair, leather ottoman, and IKEA couch. It seems to work for us without too much effort.
Our house does have some distinct 1950s features, like the corner windows in the living room, which I absolutely love. Also, I love our offset fireplace that someone messed up with an ugly tiling job; I want to get back to the original as fast as I can! We kept a room divider between the living and dining room even though people urged us to take it out. I think it’s quirky! The open wooden vertical bars in lieu of a stair railing going upstairs is, again, a nice detail and allows light to flow through.
Q: What projects have you tackled so far?
A: When we first bought the house, we hired people to put in a new furnace and duct work. After that, we gutted the playroom and mudroom. We removed fake wood paneling, tartan wall paper, and carpet, and then dry-walled, installed paneling and sinks, painted, etc.
My husband did all the work himself, so we had all our toys and office stuff in our living and dining room for four months! My husband also built a corner bench and table in the kitchen to take advantage of some unused space, and we recently completed a mini bathroom renovation. We also painted every single room in the house.
Q: Can you share some of the lessons learned along the way for DIYers or those of us who want a new look this very minute?
A: Unless you have unlimited funds and can hire help, it just won’t happen. It’s always more expensive than you think and takes longer than you think. And if you do the work yourself, along with your full-time job and two kids, that number just goes up and up and up. We’ve been living in our house for two and a half years now, and I never thought that I’d still be looking at that fireplace the way it is now! But we had to set priorities and I had to learn to be patient.
I have noticed that by waiting, we know our house better and we’re learning what works. If we had had the money and the time right at the beginning, we might have torn down walls and done things to the house that were not in the best interest of the house or our family.
Q: Do you have a favorite — and harmless! — way of splurging on your home while saving for the changes you want to make?
A: Paint! It can transform a room for little money and little time. I’m thinking about painting our master bedroom a more dramatic color just to change it up a bit.
Q: You love blue in all its shades, don’t you? And you’ve used it in such a way that it’s as clean and refreshing as white! Did the blue theme just happen naturally or was it a design statement? Are there any other colors you want to try?
A: Blue just happens. If I look at a bin of throw pillows, I’ll be drawn to the blue. If I look at art, I’ll be drawn to the blue. I wear a lot of blue. It’s a fresh color that works for both masculine and feminine design. It’s versatile. It can be airy and breezy like a beach house, or moody and dramatic in a Victorian dining room. I try to inject other colors to change it up a bit, such as yellow in our bedroom or pops or red throughout the house, but those are conscious efforts to shake things up a bit.
Maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to own a beach house and I’ll have every room in blue and white.
Q: Your favorite space in the home…
A: …is our living and dining room. It’s open and connected and we have north, south, and west facing windows so it’s always bright. In winter we love to cuddle up with a fire.
Q: What’s your general philosophy when it comes to living with kids?
A: Both my husband and I are pretty tidy and keep things organized. We had to learn that, with kids, we can’t pick up all the time and we can’t hound them to be tidying up all the time either. So our kitchen table might be overrun with drawings and odd toys, our living room will have a picnic displayed for two days, and a bucket of cars will be dumped in the playroom. I’ve learned that I can still enjoy a night of TV with those things not being cleaned up. I do still cringe, but most of the time I can let go. We do, however, always clean the kitchen and every two weeks we are lucky enough to have someone come clean our house, so if all else fails the whole family makes sure that everything is tidy the night before cleaning day.
We involve our kids in our home design. My daughter decided that she wanted to change the colors in her room, so we let her choose the wall color, the bedding, and curtains. I like that she had a say in the space that’s hers because her room is an extension of her personality. If my son shows interest in choosing things for his room, then he’ll be able to do that as well.
Q: If you could begin and end one project tomorrow without any effort or worry about price, what would it be?
A: I would have all of our 19 windows replaced! It would have a huge impact on the look of the house from the outside and the inside. Our house would be more efficient, and I would no longer have to wriggle open those old double aluminum frames.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: …that it doesn’t always have to be perfect to be great. I have high expectations of people, design, work, and myself, but living with kids has shown me that imperfect can be great. I try to focus on enjoying the now instead of always working towards tomorrow.
Giulia, thank you so much for the tour around your home! I love how you’ve treated shades of blue as your basic white paint; it’s just as clean and visually refreshing to me.
Friends, what about Giulia’s thought that she never gets too attached to the shell? I’ve read her words a few times, and the idea that keeps sticking is that a house becomes a home not with the ideal decor or immediate renovations, but rather with your family’s memories, your laughter, and your tears. So true, I feel it in my heart.
How about you? What’s your favorite feature of your home that has nothing to do with its design? Are they right about location, location, location?