When they moved back to Nova Scotia from Calgary a few years ago, Lise and Galen Sokolowski weren’t sure if they were going to buy a new home or renovate their Beaver Bank home, a side split they had built in 1989 that sits on a two-acre lot overlooking Beaver Bank lake. After checking out a great many comparables available on the local market they came full circle deciding that all things considered, renovation made sense.
The couple then hired a designer to help them create a new look for the home. They had a very specific design in mind and there were a number of elements in the house they wanted to change. For example, the main level of the home was broken up into a living room in the front with a view of the road, and a kitchen and dining room in the back with a view of the lake, which couldn’t properly be appreciated through the smaller windows.
“Everything was really boxy,” said Lise of the original design. “The idea was to swing it around, to take advantage of the lake view and open up the space.”
They also wanted to make the master ensuite bathroom larger, widen the hallways, as well as update the fixtures, lighting and paint. It would be a lot of work, not only for the Sokolowskis, but also for Econo Renovations who headed up the project. Peter Briand, owner and operator of Econo, and winner of the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association Peak Award Renovator of the Year for 2009, says the Sokolowskis made the right move by working with a designer before coming to him.
“A designer is key,” Briand says. “They put a customer in focus and give us the details we need. A set of plans is one thing, but a designer will give us the finishes on how it should look.”
The Lakeridge project was one of the largest Econo Renovations has done, with work starting in September 2009. The entire home was gutted and the roof over the main floor section was removed. Three additions were included in the design: an eight-foot space that included the new dining room and media area on the main floor; a 13-foot section to accommodate the new kitchen and entrance and another 15-foot space added to lengthen the upper level, increasing the size of the ensuite and allowing for installation of a new laundry room on the bedroom level. The sunken family room was changed into a games room and a railing that had separated that room from the old kitchen was removed and closed off with a new wall. A mudroom was created between the garage and the new games room. The kitchen was moved to the front of the house and the living room would go to the back and include a vaulted 16-foot ceiling, large bank of windows and a centered stone fireplace. Closets would be moved and enlarged and a new powder room was added on the main floor. On the bedroom level the master bedroom stayed essentially the same size, but the ensuite grew considerably. A spacious and modern laundry room was added next to the newly designed main bath, which included a walk-in shower. A linen closet was relocated, and the hallway upstairs was widened. The large deck off the back of the house was painted to compliment the new colours inside the home. Lise said a door exiting off the two-car garage is just about the only original piece left. Econo also helped install a new heat-pump system. Donnie Snow of Quality Electrical Services did the rewiring, while The Roofing Connection took care of the new shingles and siding.
Briand has a simple philosophy for his business.
“Be upfront and frank and that keeps everyone onboard.”
Having spent a number of years in the business, he’s learned there are a number of things homeowners can do to make a renovation, like the one at the Sokolowski home, a better experience. First, he says homeowner should do their research, and make plans before they even give a contractor a call. Concrete decisions should be made about all of the small details such as lighting, fixtures, paint and floorings, so the project can go ahead smoothly. Those items should be purchased early to ensure they arrive when they are needed. Again, working with a designer will help a homeowner put their vision on paper.
“Try to stay a step ahead. It only takes one sub-trade to fall behind and then it’s not just one week. It can be two weeks or more. And then it just starts snowballing and you fall behind.”
Once the work is underway, he suggests homeowners take a walk through the house when the framing is complete, so if changes need to be made, they can be done then, not at a later stage when it would be more difficult.
And finally he says that everyone involved in the project – the homeowner and the subcontractors — should be in constant communication with each other. A little patience doesn’t hurt either.
“The lines of communication have to be open throughout the entire project,” Briand says. “Everyone has to be on the same page. I tell them to be patient. It’s just around the time when the house is roof tight that things seem to slow down.”
Not surprisingly, each project comes with its share of challenges. Briand says he’s worked on projects in which the homeowners haven’t done their homework, constantly changing their minds about details or just can’t make a final decision. Again, Briand stresses the importance of planning ahead.
Some of the challenges are beyond the control of anyone involved in the work. In the Lakeridge project, Mother Nature often made her presence known, making more work for the crew. Briand says he remembers days during the renovation when, before the new roof was on, he was shovelling snow out of the living room before he headed outside to shovel the driveway. Still, he says, weather damage was avoided.
Briand says the company is now working on a number of renovation projects including basement and bathroom projects. He says business is good as owners of homes that were built in the 1970s and 80s realize their houses need upgrades and a new look. And he says Econo is also expanding upon some of its renovation aspects of the business. Briand says they’ve recently started adding transition and accessibility renovations to their portfolio. These renovations involve work done to a home to make it more liveable and safer for seniors or homeowners with mobility issues. Econo Renovations is the only Certified Aging in Place (CAPS) builder in Atlantic Canada. Briand, a former paramedic and firefighter, takes a particular pride in that designation.
“It’s a huge trend as people grow older. But I also find it very gratifying because the customers really appreciate the transformation.”
While the interior design may be the icing on the cake, it takes the same amount of planning as the baking of the cake itself. Before the work even started on their house, Lise had a very specific look in mind. For example, the interior of the original home was painted in pastels and Lise was looking to incorporate warm earth tones. So she hired interior decorator – and a close friend – Micheline Bourdage of Harmony Interiors to help get the exact finishes she wanted.
“Lise knew what she wanted, but she needed help making the final decisions. Whether you are building or renovating, there are so many decisions to be made from the types of fixtures you want to the colour of the tile grout,” Bourdage says. “Lise wanted a rustic yet classic feel to the house.”
Bourdage says Lise spent a considerable amount of time picking out samples for the flooring, stones for the fireplace, fixtures and lighting. Bourdage helped make decisions on specific features as well as helping them put all of the pieces into a bigger picture. They went with a walnut-coloured hardwood for the flooring, bronze fixtures with a “touch of a swirl” and carriage-style lighting from Living Lighting in Dartmouth. Bourdage also designed draperies for the new master bedroom, as well as silhouettes for the bathroom. She helped them figure out how to incorporate a flat-screen television with the new fireplace, a centrepiece in the massive space. She also recommended they keep the main windows drapery-free, but coat them with a film that would prevent the sun from fading the new floors.
“They constructed this house with the lake view as a primary consideration, so we weren’t going to hide it.”
For the kitchen, Bourdage recommended Lise go with Halifax-based Craftmade Kitchens whose craftsmanship and professionalism she had been impressed with on previous renovations. Bourdage said the craftsmen didn’t disappoint calling the kitchen the “crown jewel of the house.”
“I would copy it in my own house if I could!” Bourdage says Lise made an excellent selection using Italian granite for the countertops. The cabinets are painted a cream colour with a glaze, giving them an antique appearance. The highlight of the kitchen is the extra-large island, stained in a contrasting walnut colour. Bourdage says Lise and Galen as well as their eldest daughter are avid cooks while the youngest daughter enjoys the results, so the island serves them well not only for food preparation, but also entertaining. Painting the island a different colour than the cabinets is a new trend that accents an important part of the kitchen.
The vaulted ceiling was painted a bright white which the subcontrators said was a good choice for such an open space but Micheline and Lise disagreed. At first she suggested beams be added to the ceiling but cost wouldn’t fit in the budget. So she suggested the ceiling be painted a warmer colour, making the room cozy and warm.
“They all said, ‘What kind of decorator would suggest that?’” she recalls. “But white is too harsh. We needed to lower the ceiling with a better colour. I’ve been in the business a long time and I knew they would like it.”
And she was right. The colour compliments the interior’s main colour, and keeps the space open while making it cozy at the same time.
And as with any portion of a renovation, Bourdage doesn’t recommend homeowners go it alone.
“People don’t realize how many decisions need to be made. And they also don’t know where to go to get the right products,” Bourdage says, adding that many designers and decorators can access suppliers the general public can’t. She also emphasises another important part of her job includes helping clients open their minds to a new look.
The Final Product
Seven months, a million decisions, and a handful of cold days later, the project was complete and the Sokolowskis had a new home. The family moved in this past March. Briand and the team at Econo were certainly pleased with the outcome.
“It’s a beautiful job. I was very happy with the end result. They have very good taste and made good choices,” Briand says.
Lise and Galen Sokolowski are relishing the results, too. They say they still have more plans for the home and consider it a work in progress. The landscaping will be updated, the girls’ bedrooms will be painted a different colour and new furniture and pictures will add a more personal touch to the space.
Lise says all of the work was worth it and credits her husband Galen who worked on many areas of the project and was on site almost everyday, Micheline Bourdage of Harmony Interiors for her expert advice, friendship and professionalism, the entire team at Econo Renovations as well as the subcontractors, for making their vision a reality. She said she appreciated the extra touches Econo brought to the renovation, including a thorough cleaning before the family moved back into the house.
“We’re thrilled with the end result,” Lise says. Galen and I purchased a beautiful lake front property 21 years ago, got married, built a house, had two wonderful daughters and made many memories. We came back to renovate a place we love and always considered home. We live the cottage life everyday of the year we couldn’t ask for anything more.”