March 5, 2013

Everything is illuminated

Renovation puts a premium on bright, light spaces

Victoria Times Colonist

How cool would it be to have a son who could walk into your newly purchased home, size it up from top to bottom, start removing walls, tearing up floors, redesigning the space and then top it off with lots of cool accessories? That’s what happened to Janet and Roy Rolstone. After 20 years of living in a shady part of the Victoria area’s lower Broadmead neighbourhood, and wishing they had a little more light and some views, they found a house that suited them to a T. It was just up the hill, facing due south, drenched in light and blessed with expansive vistas.

They leaped at the idea of retiring in style — and they had their son to help them. Jason is a designer, renovator and stylist who knew how to update the house and make it sing. The artist then accented the walls with stripes, bold colours and his own paintings. “This house was an ’80s special,” he said, on a recent visit from Vancouver, where he lives and works. “Every surface needed to change.”

His parents were also bucking the demographic trend. They had decided they wanted a bigger house, so their two sons (Jason and Derek) and three granddaughters could stay. Their previous home was 1,800 square feet, while this one is 3,800. Jason hired Victoria contractor Luke Nadiger to do the work. Wes Thurn, a Vancouver-based furniture designer, helped spin ideas. The reno took seven months, during which the owners lived downstairs. “The house has great views and great potential, but had a lot of small rooms,” said Ottawa-born Janet.

Jason’s first move was to open up the entry by removing two closets. Coats now hang in a lower-level closet, and the uncluttered entry is now home to a trendy silver bench and tall plinth topped by a large soapstone carving — and giant painting by Jason. Upstairs, on the main living level, the designer knocked down walls to create an open living and dining area. The former living room became a large master bedroom with southerly views, while the former long, narrow bedroom (which used to face the street) became a large walk-in closet, dressing room and small office.

The dressing room cabinets, from Ikea, erased any need for storage in the bedroom. “The old days of a mirror and triple-drawer dresser are long gone,” said Janet, glancing around her new dressing room, which is loaded with storage including a low bench under the window with more drawers. The master ensuite stayed where it was, but everything was replaced, except the tub and old cabinets, which look modern when teamed with new countertops.

A short hall linking the dressing room and ensuite features a dramatic striped wall with a huge silk-flower arrangement sitting on a slender sideboard. Another hall leading from the master bedroom to dressing room showcases a scattering of family photos, all in different sizes but unified by black and white frames. A former small bedroom was transformed into a lounge. “My parents didn’t want a formal living room anymore. It’s such a waste of space,” Jason said.

So he created a snug conversation area with four huge armchairs upholstered in suiting grey. The ultralow coffee table is topped with durable marble, and doubles as a foot rest. “We went for oversized chairs, not sofas, because they look more modern, and in a pinch can fit two people each,” explained Jason, who has a degree in urban geography but fell into marketing, then design. French doors expand the lounge area, drawing the eye outside to Roy’s completely redesigned and replanted garden. Every door in the house — 23 in all — was replaced and all the upstairs interior doors have frosted glass to allow more light to flow through.

The kitchen was gutted and now includes new countertops, fixtures, appliances and cabinets from Ikea. Jason assembled them himself and the savings allowed his parents to create not just a backsplash, but an entire feature wall of tile. “It would be normal to stop at the window, but we did the whole thing because we all like horizontal tiles.” All the home’s tiling — including charcoal and taupey greys in the bathrooms — was done by Hourigans Flooring, which also laid all the lower floor carpet.


“I love grey, black and white with splashes of colour because you can change the splashes anytime you want,” said Jason, who likes to use spray cans of paint to update a table or picture frame. Among the home’s most dramatic elements, sourced by Roy, are the oak floors. “A salesman at European Flooring showed me a small piece of it and I thought it was really nice. They apparently used it for the Trump Tower penthouse in Toronto and had just a couple of thousand feet left over.

“It’s quarter sawn and came from a forest in France run by monks in a monastery,” said Roy, who was raised in Calgary. The floor was laid throughout the house, including down the stairs and in the entry — with no breaks at thresholds — creating a sense of continuity. The Rolstones are thrilled with how the house turned out, and proud of their son’s talent. “When our friends come over they just say, ‘Wow!’ ”

And, of course Jason, enjoyed the challenge. “Designing houses is an occupational hazard,” he said with a grin. “When I walk into any room, I immediately start rearranging things in my mind, moving walls, removing clutter, painting things. When I first saw this house I thought we could really do something here.”

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