House & Home

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of House & Home

Lynda Reeves portrait

You can probably imagine how many scouting shots of condos and newly renovated houses arrive in our office every month. Over the 30-plus years of looking at thousands of photos, patterns emerge that can’t be ignored. Some have been great, while others, not so much….

The problem is when a certain look reaches a tipping point, and we’re over it, having seen the exact same thing in so many renovations, there must be the inevitable backlash, right? For example, there was the “Ionic column trend.” Back in the ’80s, when walls were coming down on the ground floor of old Victorian houses, fat faux columns complete with Doric or Ionic plaster capitals were going up. They were all the rage for at least a few years. And then they weren’t.

Or how about the pass-through window between the kitchen and dining room? It was the first step to the open kitchen we now take for granted, and it’s one of the first things that gets ripped out in today’s renovations.

For a time, we were in love with front foyers and hallways. Long, narrow corridors from the front door through to the back of our houses were not only expected, they were necessary to avoid having to step from the entryway right into your living room.

Kitchens were prized for the number of overhead cabinets and the amount of storage that could be crammed into that huge island. The style was heavy wood with carved mouldings. Ugh!

I recall when the first condos hit the luxury end of the market. The best ones were built out with panelled walls, deep mouldings, English- or French-style mantels and miles of built-in bookcases and cabinets. Except for the views, you could easily be in a traditional mansion instead of a box in the sky.

Today, we’ve turned the tables. Old houses are being renovated to look like new condos with open-concept floor plans replacing traditional formal rooms for the loft look that is popular with both the luxury market and the more moderate midrange buyer.

outdoor-indoor living windows

Right now, I’m looking at scouts from Montreal of two different renos by two different designers, and I can hardly tell them apart. It’s the new “It” Look, and it’s a formula: wide open from the front door through to the backyard. White walls, one big room dominated by the open kitchen/living/dining area. Blond wood floors, sleek, airy cabinets and loads of light through big windows and NanaWalls, and plenty of room for dramatic art. That’s what we’re seeing over and over again.

I asked Maggie Lind of Chestnut Park Real Estate, whose clients tend to be affluent, downtown couples and families, if it’s true that most buyers are looking for the same thing. Most of all, I wanted the hit list of what you should do if you’re renovating and want to have the best chances to maximize your investment on a resale.

entryway with glass stairs

She agreed. “There is still the affluent buyer who appreciates a house with formal rooms, although they admit to rarely using them”she said. But, by far, most people want open-concept layouts. “Clean lines, open spaces, easy to come home to” was her description of the new dream home. I asked her about my theory that people must be sick of seeing the same look over and over again. Wrong, she told me. Apparently, there’s comfort in the familiar, and we’re far from tiring of a style that is prized by most buyers in urban markets across North America.

laundry room with textured tile

I asked Maggie to review my hit list of “wants,” and she added a few surprises that you should consider if you’re renovating. If you can check all these boxes in your renovation, you’ll have a prime house for resale.

  • Real hardwood floors over engineered wood floors. Light blond is fine, but dark floors and mid-tones are making a comeback.
  • Signature ranges. “People love their Wolf stoves,” says Maggie, but they also love complete suites of appliances including drawer microwaves, wall ovens and wine fridges by high-end brands such as Miele, Sharp, JennAir, LG, Thermador and Fisher & Paykel.
  • Exhibition kitchens with eating counters, always open to family rooms or dining areas.
  • “Wine storage walls” made of glass that line a dining room or kitchen, instead of basement wine cellars.
  • Mudrooms are a must, along with good laundry rooms.
  • Basement walkouts to a backyard or deck, especially for a family house.
  • Principal bedrooms with a walk-in closet, an ensuite bath with a freestanding tub, a separate shower and water closet and double sinks.
  • Gas fireplaces for ease.
  • An elevator corridor for a future elevator in houses that are more than two storeys. A working elevator is the best, but just having thought out the space and allowed for it is in itself a huge plus for a future buyer.
  • Sliding or folding glass doors that open up wide to the outdoors.

I also canvassed several agents who all agree on the single biggest-selling feature: high-end buyers want a house that is done. Great kitchens and bathrooms will sell a house. No one wants to have to do that work. If they did, they would most probably buy a “redo” that needs a total renovation.

And then there is that other factor: location, location, location…. But you already know that.

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House & Home

This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of House & Home

Lynda Reeves portrait

Kitchen design has a way of bringing out strong opinions in many of us. Everyone has their view on exactly what they don’t like, plus a list of things they’re considering but wonder about. The investment is always big and the results permanent, so deciding what materials to use is especially critical in a kitchen renovation

Inevitably, the kitchens I gravitate to are handsome, with some classic detailing, heavy polished hardware, some feature appliances like a great range, a mix of painted and natural wood cabinets and always counters and backsplashes of natural stone — soapstone, granite, slate or marble — plus oiled or varnished woods.

For the longest time, I’ve only ever considered real marble with a honed or half-honed finish for my own kitchen designs. Believing that imperfections and the inevitable scratches and stains would only enhance the patina of honed marble counters, I wouldn’t even consider a man-made alternative. But then, I also thought that jeans had to be 100 percent cotton denim with no synthetic mix, and only pure linen pants would do, no matter how much better a little bit of Lycra could make them fit.

I’ve totally changed my tune, just in time to avoid a dinosaur designation, because not seeing the huge advantages of today’s alternative materials would be crazy. Engineered stone is any man-made material that mimics stone. It includes brand names such as Caesarstone and Silestone, both manufactured from quartz and resin. The advantage to these surfaces is that they aren’t porous so they don’t absorb liquid, they don’t stain and rarely scratch, and they come in a huge number of great finishes with a wide range of textures and colors, including subtle shades from nature. You can create a larger surface with no seams than you can using natural stone. Even the biggest real marble slabs won’t cover a whole kitchen without multiple seams.

The granddaddy of all composite solid surfaces is Corian, DuPont’s brand name for its groundbreaking material that debuted in 1971, which is now offered in more than 100 colors and can be installed to look virtually seamless.

Dekton, which is Cosentino’s sophisticated new blend of glass, porcelain and quartz, offers the ability to produce a seamless surface of any size that has zero porosity, is heatproof and comes in a wide range of colors and finishes.

If you’re building a new kitchen and can’t give up on the beauty and tactile feel of the real thing, consider using a mix of both natural stone, wood and engineered materials for what is perhaps the perfect marriage. Mixing materials in a curated way is the number one trend I’m seeing in the best kitchens around. I’ve picked two that are my current inspirations for my own kitchen refresh (stay tuned!), and both fit the bill of being handsome, tactile and bespoke-looking, with mixed materials and touches of old world elegance. I love the feeling that these could be kitchens in a grand house, even if the butler is actually only me.

steve gambrel kitchen

“Grand Casual” is still my favorite decorating style, and it’s especially on show in these fabulous rooms. The first is the townhouse kitchen in the former home of New York designer Steven Gambrel (top and above). You can see that it’s partially below ground with steps that lead up to the garden. It’s a subtle mix of salvaged architectural antiques and materials, such as the marble-slab stone floor, vintage marble work table and the marble farmhouse sink with antique brass faucets and handles retrofitted with new interior parts. Notice the extra-tall backsplash behind the sink, and the way the sink is tucked into a corner and the faucet is side-mounted.

les ensembliers kitchen

Next is the Westmount, Quebec, kitchen in the home of Montreal designers Maxime Vandal and Richard Ouellette. It’s such an uplifting room with huge charm and plenty of display space against a window wall so their collection of handmade bowls and dishes are backlit. Lovers of natural stone, yes, but the designers chose ceramic floor tile from Stone Tile, laid in a herringbone pattern, for its beauty and durability. The wall behind the range is clad in natural marble called Turkish Lilac, and the upper cabinets are oak with a linen hand finish, which means they have the texture of weathered oak. Notice the mix of metals, including the matte gold finish on the custom range hood. It’s interesting to note that both kitchens feature vintage tables in place of new islands and painted cabinets in their mix.

les ensembliers kitchen

Kitchens, because they’re permanent installations of craftsmanship, are the best place in your home to experiment with different textures, finishes, hardware and architectural details. Choose which appliances you want to feature on full display, and which ones will be hidden behind custom panels or tucked into an island. Experiment with paint colors and playful light fixtures. Find your own perfect recipe for a joyful kitchen. You may never go back to what you thought you had to have. I can’t imagine life without stretchy jeans. Can you?

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