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Who better to refurbish an early 20th-century residence in Vancouver’s Dunbar-Southlands neighbourhood than an interior designer with a talent for transforming long-forgotten homes and furniture?
In 2020, Victoria McKenney, founding owner and principal designer at Enviable Designs, and her husband had grown tired of their “narrow and long” Kitsilano duplex. When she set eyes on the real estate listing for the 4,000 square-foot residence in the neighbourhood she’d lived in as a child, she knew it was the one. “It spoke to me, even though it was a bit of a disaster,” she says.
The exterior was so obstructed by overgrown trees and shrubs that it was barely visible from the street. Inside, it was dirty and filled with cobwebs. “It was almost like a creepy haunted house, and it looked like no one had lived there for three years,” McKenney recalls.
But she was able to see past those things to the residence’s redeeming qualities. Most of its authentic architectural details, finishings and character were still intact, including the wall and ceiling panelling, original farmhouse windows, interior doors and hardware.
Almost immediately after taking possession in October 2020, McKenney set off on a three-month-long renovation that would bring the home back to life with fresh paint, lighting, furnishings and window treatments while honouring its history.
The three-level residence is set on a 66-foot wide and 100-foot-deep lot, and McKenney chose to maintain the original layout. Featuring a high-pitched roof and cedar shakes on the exterior, as well as high ceilings and spacious rooms common to its era, the house boasts four bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs, a main floor solarium, a formal dining room, a formal living room, a powder room, a kitchen and a basement.
McKenney’s first course of action, and the one that would make the biggest impact, was giving the previously dark brown exterior a coat of custom creamy taupe paint, updating the exterior trims with white paint, and cleaning up the yard. “Just those things alone created such a huge transformation — people walked by and said, ‘we had no idea this house was here,’ even though it has been there for a hundred years,” she explains.
Inside, the rooms were painted a crazy mismatch of colours — from pink to orange to ochre yellow. To bring a sense of cohesiveness, McKenney used Farrow & Ball’s Pointing on the walls in almost every interior space, including the foyer and the kitchen cabinets. This immediately brightened up the entire home and created a beautiful contrast with the original red oak flooring, which the designer chose to keep and refinish.
Incredibly, very little was removed from the original home during the renovation, making this project extremely eco-friendly. “We kept as much of the house as we could. Hardly anything went to the landfill,” says the designer.
McKenney did opt to replace the existing industrial track lighting and old ceiling fixtures, instead illuminating the spaces with wall sconces on the fireplace, table lamps, floor lamps and statement lighting such as a chandelier she and her husband brought back from Florence. A few high-tech features like Nest thermostats were installed, but no air conditioning, yet. “The drapes keep the heat out in the summer,” she says.
When it came time to furnish the spaces, McKenney’s vision was to create “a classic farmhouse and transitional design esthetic with a bit of European flavour.” She drew inspiration from the trade shows she often attends in Europe, including Maison & Objet in Paris, opting for an eclectic mix of antique and contemporary luxe elements.
As a nod to the home’s history, McKenney selected traditional print fabrics she’d collected over the years from Lee Jofa and some from other European fabric houses. She adorned windows in the solarium with swooped Roman shades, drapes that puddle on the floor in the dining room, and layered beds with floral-patterned duvets, pillows, and bedspreads.
Many of the furniture items — including two sofas and swivel chairs in the living room and the tete-a-tete chaise in the solarium — are custom-made pieces from McKenney’s own product line, Namesake, which she launched in Spring 2023. She and her husband made some of the items right in the residence’s woodworking room. “The last owner did a lot of woodworking, and we’ve made tables, benches and birdcages,” she says.
When it’s time to relax, the designer retreats to the home’s solarium, which is flooded with natural light. “I like to sit in there in the afternoon in the sun,” she explains. “It’s a really peaceful home.”
McKenney says she loves living in such a well-built home with so much history and character. She appreciates the scale of the rooms, the height of the ceilings and how all the rooms are connected. “This is a place where families have been raised. It feels warm and loved and comfortable,” she says.
The big cedar trees on the property are remnants of an old cedar farm. “We believe the house was made with cedars grown here,” she explains. “The craftsmanship is so authentic. It will last another 200 years.”
Contractor: Eyco Building Group
Hardwood refinishing: Fancy Floors
Carpet: Colin Campbell & Sons
Painting & Wallpaper: Deverill Painting & Decorating
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