June 18, 2013

Classic restored to its glory, past and future

Victoria couple strikes a fine balance between heritage and modern-day conveniences

Victoria Times Colonist

When Liz Banting-Cains and husband Michael saw their current home about three years ago, it was love at first sight. The couple was in Victoria looking for a house after Michael was transferred to the city on business. They had just sold their home in Ontario, a turn-of-the-century house that they had renovated. The restored house showed so well, it sold for $101,000 more than the asking price.

So when they saw their current house for sale, they knew the scope of renovations they were facing as well as the potential reward for a job done well. They learned a little about the history of the house. It was built by L.W. Hargreaves more than 100 years ago. The 3,000-square-foot, five-bedroom house had remained a single-family residence until 1959, when the permitted use was changed to allow for three suites.

When the couple bought it, the house, located in the area of Fernwood real estate agents like to call the Rockland border, had only four previous owners. Fortunately, the change to multi-family use didn’t radically affect the “bones” of the house. The majority of the home’s character details remained, even after a century of occupation. The formal entrance, replete with an impressive rich wood staircase, had been left in place. High ceilings still showed exposed beams in some rooms. The original lighting fixtures were intact. Stained-glass windows and the original fireplace had survived the test of time.

Banting-Cains knew she had work ahead of her to return the house to a single-family configuration, but was undaunted. “I knew the house needed the cosmetics to return to her former glory,” she says. “But it was functional, and felt as if it still had energy left.” There was much that had to be done. The first item to go was the old oil furnace, which burned through $4,000 in a season. Next came more insulation to keep the heat in, then replacements for the old knob and tube wiring, an on-demand hot-water system, and new windows.

While much was retained in the sympathetic renovation, which has taken about three years so far, Banting-Cains points out she was aiming for a fine balance between heritage and modern conveniences. “While I am all about preserving the character and heritage, I did not want to be a slave to the era. For example, in the kitchen I wanted something true to the era, but with modern appliances and fixtures.” The purchase of her new house and subsequent renovations were done right after the birth of the couple’s daughter. The timing couldn’t have been better.”

“I took time off from work following the birth of my daughter,” she says. “That meant I was at home most of the time, making it easy for me to organize and oversee the trades working on the renovations.” The couple retreated upstairs — where there was another full kitchen — while workers ripped apart and renovated the kitchen on the main floor. The kitchen suffered from a familiar malaise: not enough cabinets. The electrical service was overloaded, meaning the family could not boil water and make toast at the same time. Both shortcomings were addressed in the reno.

The original fir floor was too worn to be salvaged, so a floor using new-growth Douglas fir was put in. The cabinets in the kitchen are built with quartersawn oak stained a medium walnut to match other pieces elsewhere in the house. While she retained the layout for most of the rooms, Banting-Cains wanted a more contemporary sleeping arrangement. The master bedroom gained his-and-hers walk-in closets (acquiring space from the attic) and the upstairs bathroom now includes a shower and two side-by-side sinks as well as room for a traditional soaker tub.

The main floor gains a powder room — using the same pattern of floor tiles as the main bathroom. Her daughter’s bedroom has been painted a warm shade of pink but otherwise hasn’t been altered. Even as renovations continue, Banting-Cains has no regrets of the purchase. “I just love the architectural details in the Arts and Crafts and Mission-style houses,” she says. “We were lucky to find this house.”


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