Renovation Trends

Advice from local pros on what’s trending in renovations

The kitchen is still the queen of renovation choices. However designs continue to evolve – like this local example by Progressive Cabinets – as the kitchen becomes the primary hub of the typical family. Open concept, diverse storage areas, multiple preparation/serving surfaces and bold/contrasting colours are very popular.

Derek Rose is intimately familiar with home renovations, both personally and professionally. He and his wife decided, once their children left home, they would downsize and move into a condo. About three to four years before putting their home up for sale, they did such renovations as replacing the cabinetry in their kitchen, putting in new hardwood floors, modifying colour schemes and having the roof repaired. When they decided to put their house on the market, it sold within less than six weeks.

“By doing a renovation, you’re investing in the property,” says Rose, who by day is Sales Manager, Builder Development for Atlantic Canada at RBC Royal Bank. “You see more and more of that. The houses are getting dated. People are either investing in the home to stay in it or investing in the home with a future point of selling.”

Of course there are multiple reasons to renovate and upgrade your home, whether you plan on staying in the home long term, selling, expanding in size, increasing energy efficiency, enhancing accessibility, or making it truly yours in terms of taste, creativity and comfort.

To inspire you to make some of these functional, stylistic and, in some cases,
essential upgrades, we’ll look at some of the latest trends in home renovations, as well as advice from leaders in the biz. While there are obvious fads, what is apparent is that upgrades to your home can and should be tailored to your needs and desires.


Kitchens continue to be a top priority among renovators. But what’s exciting is it seems homeowners are spending even more time in their cuisines. “We see more chefs in the family now—more people cooking—so we’re making kitchens that are suitable for two cooks instead of one,” says Nina Boulanger, Kitchen Designer/Accredited Interior Decorator at Cabinetworks Ltd.

This culinary passion, explains Boulanger, often dictates renovation designs, whether it is including a baking station for an avid pastry producer, adjusting cabinet heights for the main chef or setting up a spice rack next to the stove for the cook fiery for flavour.

Other trendy features Boulanger has noticed are farmhouse sinks (either in porcelain or stainless steel) pot fillers (water taps) above the stove and built-in appliances. “On-the-counter microwaves are out,” says Boulanger. “It’s definitely a built-in, whether it’s built into a pantry, above the range or even in an island cabinet.”

Larger, open-concept kitchens continue to be favoured. “The last year, it’s still people tearing down walls and opening up their kitchen to their living room/dining room area,” shares Boulanger.

Equally, islands remain popular for food prep, storage, and for sit-down meals. “Layouts range from straight lines with large islands to the standard L-shape with eat-in islands,” says Rob Chaisson, General Manger at Progressive Cabinets and Millwork Ltd.

As for the overall kitchen aesthetic, Chaisson notices “the trends are the shaker style or a modern look using high gloss products and solid surface counter tops,” citing PVC high gloss cabinet finishes and granite counter tops as popular choices for that contemporary look .

“There is a lot of mixing different elements in a kitchen – even different styles – so mixing different woods with metals and aluminum frames,” adds Boulanger. “There’s a lot of contrasting in kitchens, like using dark and light colours and layering them on top of one another. So if you have a light floor, you have dark cabinets with light countertops.”

Both Boulanger and Chaisson notice that those planning renovations are doing their homework. “We’re doing a lot of customizations,” says Boulanger. “People know what they want and it’s not just a standard kitchen. No one comes in and says ‘I want a basic kitchen’ anymore. We’re getting a lot of ‘Here’s my wish list, fit it all in’ instead of ‘Oh I just need a kitchen and here’s my budget’. ”


The Moxie® Bluetooth Speaker/Showerhead by KOHLER®

Along with kitchens, bathrooms are still a trendy focus for home renovation projects. Tamara Stein, Consultant at Better Baths, has noticed that, although it depends on the homeowners’ priorities, ensuite bathrooms tend to be the most popular for upgrades.

“Lately, we’ve been finding that the priority is the ensuite, so if they’re doing multiple bathrooms but at separate times, then the ensuite bathroom will be the first one they do,” says Stein. “But if they have multiple children, sometimes the main bathroom comes first, but typically it’s the ensuite, because it’s the kitchen and the ensuite that sell the house.”

But recent renovation fads have also focused on the here and now, where bathrooms have become a place of rejuvenation for homeowners. Maurice Meagher, President of Case Design/Remodeling in Halifax says people are favouring “modern, sleek, spa designs.”

Stein agrees. “I’ve done a few bathrooms with steam lately, so people, in their nice big custom showers, are putting in a steam generator, lending to that whole spa effect.” She also notes that stand-alone soaker tubs and separate, larger custom-designed showers are still the rage. Additionally, elements like in-floor heating and heated towel bars are à la mode.

The “newest coolest thing” for bathrooms right now, says Stein, is the Moxie showerhead by KOHLER. Now people can listen to their favourite tunes while they shower, as the Moxie has a speaker insert that can be synched with any Bluetooth compatible device, like your iPod or iPad.

The jury is still out on which fixtures are most coveted for bathroom renovators. While Stein says chrome is in, and brush nickel is out, Meagher says, “sleek modern metal fixtures, with a stainless steel, or nickel finish are quite popular.” This just goes to show that ultimately it all comes down to one’s taste and style.

Finally, one of the most poignant trends that Meagher has noticed is that bathrooms are getting bigger. “People are looking for more open area in the bathroom, and are interested in incorporating more storage space in bathrooms.”

Colour Picks – Let Your Wall Be Your Canvas

Kitchens and bathrooms – like this example by Case Design/Remodeling – are still the most common projects. And for colours, gray is now the common neutral, allowing for bold punches of contrasting colour.

One of the most cost-effective and exciting ways to upgrade the style of your home is through changing the colour of your interior and exterior walls.

“Over the last year or so we’re certainly seeing trends for use of bolder colours, either on a feature wall or sometimes in some small spaces,” says Karl Schmitt, Vice President of Marketing Research & Design for Sherwin-Williams. “People are willing to take more risks and step out a little bit with brighter, bolder colours…I would say the second thing we have seen is a shift towards gray tones as kind of the ‘new neutral,’ as well as sometimes layering tone on tone colours through a space.”

Schmitt says he and his colleagues see the whole gamut of painting targets, but for interiors, bathrooms and bedrooms are a popular choice for adding a fresh coat of pain. As for the exterior, he’s noticed that front doors are frequently updated. “It’s been how do I change the look in a simple way by putting a nice pop on that front door to add some personality to a home, but that’s also really easy to do,” explains Schmitt.

Sherwin-Williams has already determined trendy pigments and hues for next year with its 2014 Color Forecast palettes. Jackie Jordan, Director of Colour Marketing at Sherwin-Williams, illustrates how these new shades can help establish the mood of a room: “For restful, soothing spaces, such as bedrooms, opt for softer shades or neutrals. If you’re looking to spice up a space or add warmth and comfort, consider an avant-garde take on jewel tones.”

Ultimately, Schmitt appreciates that their customers do not want to be told what paint colours they should use, instead they want help with narrowing down the best options. “We encourage them to come to the store and get some assistance in making their own colour selection.”

Aging-in-Place & Accessibility

Peter Briand, President of Econo Renovations, estimates that between 30 and 40% of their projects focus on accessibility and aging-in-place upgrades. “There’s a wide range of accessibility renovations especially in the market today,” says Briand. “The market is growing and growing because, effective a couple years ago, 1,000 people turned 65 every day across Canada.”

Briand’s company also caters to a variety of clients, not just those who are aging. In one case, Econo Renovations modified an entire house for a young teenager who had become a quadriplegic due to a motor vehicle accident.

A lot of Econo Renovations’ projects involve facilitating accessibility into the home either by installing an outdoor ramp or a chairlift. For the interior, bathroom upgrades are very common, from installing grab rails and safety bars to enlarging showers or installing ones with zero thresholds (walk-in or accessible showers) to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs.

“We also have to look at the renovation as not just for today but also down the road,” says Briand. “Is this individual going to get worse? Are they going to be in a wheelchair later? So you have to accommodate for that so you’re not causing any extra work and expense for the homeowner in the future.”

Ron Swan, President of Home Safe Living, concurs. “We spend a fair bit of time upfront working with the healthcare professional along with the family and the individual and so forth to assess their ability to function safely and independently in their home, and then their long term plans,” he says.

Swan, whose company offers adaptive renovation services as well as home medical equipment, describes additional bathroom renovations, such as right-height toilets and installing pocket or out-swinging doors to better accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. These style doors also serve as a safety precaution – should an individual fall, someone outside the bathroom can still easily gain access.

Home Safe Living does a range of other renovations from installing residential elevators inside the home and enlarging hallways to incorporating porch lifts outside the home (an option to consider over ramps, as they require less maintenance, particularly during the winter months).

Swan’s company emphasizes making adaptations in the kitchen that promote independence, such as creating knee space under the sink so an individual can sit while doing the dishes, or even installing cabinets that descend, with the push of a button, for easy reach.

“I’ve had seniors come to me and say, ‘I didn’t think we could stay here and now we can,’ beams Swan. “We all want our independence and that’s what it’s about. They’ve lived in their homes for many years, they’re comfortable there, their friends and neighbours are in the area…they’re part of the community.”

When it comes to choosing a renovation contractor/consultant, Briand recommends that you make sure to use a company that is properly qualified. This includes safety certification, liability insurance, Workers Compensation, and the CAPS (Certified-Aging-In-Place Specialist) credential (which is earned through training provided by the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association).

Energy Efficiency

Dan Boyd, Energy Programs Officer with the NSHBA, conducts an air-blower test on a home – part of a Home Energy Assessment to determine a home’s energy use.

Energy efficiency is increasingly becoming a priority for homeowners. With rising fuel prices, homeowners want to ensure the heat they are paying for is not being lost due to poor insulation, and equally that they are not expending more power than needed to cool their homes. For those who are ecologically conscious, they are also empowered to reduce their fossil fuel footprint.

Nova Scotians seeking to improve their energy efficiency will be pleased to know about Efficiency Nova Scotia’s Home Energy Assessment programs. “The programs offer a suite of rebates designed to encourage homeowners to concentrate their energy efficiency upgrades on the building envelope,” says Donald Dodge, Efficiency NS’s Program Manager (Marketing, Insights and Planning).

The first step, Dodge says, is to contact Efficiency NS and book a home energy
assessment. Homeowners pay $200 plus HST for the assessment and Efficiency NS covers the remainder of the $315 cost. “Within two weeks of your initial assessment, you will receive a report of your home’s energy use from attic to foundation,” says Dodge. “The report will outline upgrades that will improve your home’s energy efficiency and which improvements will save you the most energy and money.”

You can then decide which incentive program to participate in. Efficiency NS offers either up to $3,000 worth of rebates to be used within 12 months of the assessment OR zero percent financing (OAC) from $2,500 to $15,000 for up to five years.

“We recognize many Nova Scotians may not have the funds upfront to take on energy efficiency upgrades,” says Dodge. “That’s why we offer zero percent financing
(OAC) for Home Energy Assessment upgrades, solar hot water equipment and green heat projects.”

If you choose the rebate option, repayment incentive amounts vary by type of improvement, such as up to $750 for ceiling insulation, up to $240 for draft proofing, up to $1,875 for exterior wall insulation and $40 per window, door, or skylight upgrade.

Dodge adds, that Efficiency NS also offers rebates if you choose to switch, or supplement, electric heat sources, such as to wood stoves and geothermal heat pumps. He recommends contacting their office if you plan on transitioning.

“The greatest advantage of the Home Energy Assessment program is the professional, independent advice you receive,” says Dodge. “The Certified Energy Advisor who comes to your home is not trying to sell you anything and will always give you great advice that will lead to long term savings. As well, Efficiency Nova Scotia has highly trained energy advisors on hand to assist homeowners once they have had a Home Energy Assessment performed.”

Financing Options

While for some, cost may not be an issue, for others it may feel overwhelming as they try to figure out how to afford the renovations they’d like to do on their home.

“The really good news is that renovations today are really popular,” says Derek Rose from RBC Royal Bank. “We as financial institutions have products that can help. But we need to know your particular situation to advise you on what the right product is for you to use.”

While the best financing option depends on many factors, such as the size of the renovation project, the reason for the renovation, whether the client is working or retired or one’s financial status, one of the common products used today is what’s called a Homeline Plan at RBC, says Rose. (In other banking institutions it may be called an “Equity Plan” or by some other name.)

“It’s basically the ability to take the value of a client’s asset and provide various types of mortgages based on the value of that asset,” says Rose. You could set up a line of credit within that Homeline Plan that could then allow you to do the things you need to do to renovate your home.”

Ultimately, it comes down to the individual and which financial product works for them. Rose strongly recommends making an appointment with your bank’s mortgage specialist or account manager to discuss the best options available.

“Give me 10 clients and I can probably give you 10 different solutions,” says Rose. “There’s so much available and we’re all financially uniquely different, regardless of our age and our lot in life. Financial institutions have an array of product solutions to meet those needs. You just need to come in and learn what works for you.”

Michelle Brunet

Michelle Brunet

Michelle Brunet is a freelance writer based in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She has had the pleasure of contributing to various publications and websites, including Celtic Life International, Halifax Magazine, The Coast, Bedford Magazine, Resources Quarterly, Atlantic Books Today, up! magazine and My Destination Nova Scotia