‘We’re front porch people’ — renovating a century home

“We’re front porch people.”

A vacant century home that had seen better days still had enough charm left in her to capture the hearts of a neighbourhood family who took on the daunting task of extensively renovating her, pairing the best of the old with the convenience of the new to give her new life.

In the process, they restored the majesty of a Victorian house that had been one of the original ones in the Civic Hospital area, built for John Stanley Plaskett, a senior astronomer at the nearby Dominion Observatory.


“We’d been walking the neighbourhood with our dogs over the years and this place always was very intriguing to me,” says the new owner, who runs a brand consulting business but did not want to be identified. “It was set back from the road, it was up high, it was a wide lot. It had really good bones.”

Most of all, it had a huge front porch, although it had been enclosed in glass. “It was unwelcoming, but we could tell if you took those glass panels out and made it a real front porch it could be a superb place to be. And we’re front porch people. (We joke) that we really bought a front porch with a house attached,” he laughs.

front porch Crossford Construction Ottawa renovation
A new two-storey garage, uncommon for the neighbourhood, is sunken to minimize its profile and includes brick reclaimed during the building of the side addition to help it tie into the existing home. Photo: Gordon King Photography

After buying the home in early 2019, they immediately began demolishing, even before they had firm plans on just how they would remodel.


“We knew that the kitchen needed to be ripped out and we needed to do exploratory (work) on certain structural aspects,” says the owner, who had faith in their renovator, Crossford Construction, having worked with them many times in the past. “I don’t think you can do that with a builder unless you trust them.”

They also knew there would be an addition to ensure there would be ample room for the oversized kitchen that would be a focal point of the home. With no room in the backyard, which is only about 10 feet deep, their only option was to build out to the side, taking up much of the side yard and driveway.

They settled on a soaring one-storey living room with basement, an addition that proved to be one of the most challenging ones Crossford has built.

Crossford Construction Ottawa renovation
The new living room addition boasts a soaring ceiling and a nod to the home’s history in the brick detailing. Photo: Gordon King Photography

“To actually put that addition on, that was one of the most difficult additions to attach because of what we had to do to that house,” says Crossford general manager Doug McCausland. “There was some very precarious temporary shoring and demolition to accomplish that job… When it was demolished and half the house was wide open, all three storeys and temporary steel beams, we had poured temporary footings with massive long columns down to hold the house up while we put foundations in and excavated — a lot of technical work went into accomplishing the structure.”

Another feat of engineering ingenuity involved the restructuring of the main floor to eliminate interior walls.

“Everything is held up by a web of steel beams that are point-loaded at certain points,” says the owner, who was intimately involved in creating the new floor plan. “I don’t know how they managed it but there’s not a single bulkhead in the whole house. It’s pretty amazing.”


The now-open-concept plan has a circular flow anchored by a square structure in the middle of the main floor that can be seen from all rooms. It’s a visual buffer between spaces and a handy closet on one side and wet bar on the other, highlighted with dimmable cove lighting.

“That to me has really enlivened the space,” says the owner, who finds joy in the juxtaposition of the thoughtfully maintained century exterior and the thoroughly modern interior.

It was important to him to respect the façade and create an addition that would complement the Victorian architecture. That’s why, for instance, bricks taken down for the addition were carefully preserved to be reused as accents on the new garage. Some even made their way inside into the new living room.


But as a fan of modernist architecture, he didn’t see value in restoring the interior to its original form.

“What I enjoy more is the tension that exists between a house that looks like it’s traditional or historic on the outside and completely modern on the inside. I find that more exciting.”

Crossford Construction Ottawa renovation
A clever wing wall in the foyer is ‘functional sculpture,’ says the owner, with the pattern in the wood slats displaying the notes to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in a frequency graph — a nod to the home’s original owner, who was an astronomer. Photo: Gordon King Photography

The home also boasts several unusual touches. In the foyer, a slat feature wall pays homage to the home’s original owner. The current owner brainstormed with Fred Prendergast of Neoform Art Cabinetry to design and create “a functional sculpture” that displays the notes of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in a frequency graph. Incorporated into the slats are almost-hidden coat hooks for practicality.


Another “functional sculpture,” says the owner, is the stylish pantry cladding in the kitchen, a randomized pattern of shapes in wenge wood and fluted glass, also executed by Prendergast. It boasts an integrated handle — “it just feels wonderful when you open it,” says the owner — and a cat door so the pet dishes can be kept tucked away.

Also in the kitchen, which has a restaurant/industrial vibe, the island is a funky raw steel frame holding floating cabinets with open shelving for dishes that are hidden from guests.

“It’s just a practical, pragmatic way to do a kitchen,” says the owner, who loves to cook.

Crossford Construction Ottawa renovation
The side addition allowed for a 22-foot kitchen, the prime element of which is the oversized island of floating cabinetry in a raw steel frame. Photo: Gordon King Photography

The space is functional while being creative and artistic, says designer Gina Godin of Mainstream, who collaborated on the project and designed the kitchen to feel more integrated with the rest of the home. “To me a kitchen is really part of furniture now, because of the open concept,” she says.

While the family spends much of its time in the kitchen, the owner admits that his favourite part of their new home has “got to be the front porch; opening up the front porch to the street and just being able to sit out there.”

The project is a finalist in this fall’s Housing Design Awards for both the overall renovation and for exterior details.


About the Author

Anita Murray All Things Home Ottawa homes

Anita Murray

Anita Murray is the co-founder of All Things Home Inc. and owner of Three C Communications. The veteran journalist has covered the Ottawa housing industry since 2011.



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