Linking Old and New

Photography by Stacey Brandford

Posted on Apr 14, 2010

My vision for taking a little old country farmhouse and bringing it into today was helped by the insight of John Robinson of Robinson Residential Design in Regina. He devised a way to link old to new with both sensitivity and a seamless approach.
Linking Old and New

I yearned for an open, expansive space reminiscent of a barn, with simple details, big windows and welcoming proportions. But knowing what you want is the easy part; making it happen can be a challenge. I drafted my needs and handed it over to the pro to sketch. Here's what I learned along the way.

Be Clear On Your Goals

I've been the designer on too many jobs in which an addition is planned without properly taking into account the clients' goals. I knew I wanted a big gathering area, so I made sure the program from the get-go was to create great interior spaces using relatively efficient and inexpensive building methods and materials. Grand architectural spaces are only lovely if you have the funds to finish and furnish them appropriately. Since my heart lives in the details of fabrics and furniture, lighting and artwork, paint colours and pretty things, I asked John to design a structure that I could afford to build and furnish. To my delight, he was one of the only people in the building field that I've ever encountered who shares my views on this (what a relief to not be forced to strip out details or forgo furniture in order to bring the project to life).

Consider Magnitude

Soaring high ceilings add drama, volume and wow to a room, but you don't need cathedral proportions to get the effect. If you go too high, it will dwarf all the furnishings and make it a veritable feat to create a feeling of intimacy and warmth (not to mention amp up your utility bills with all the heat that gets stuck up in the peak). My ceiling is 14 feet at its highest point, and that more than does the trick.

Linking Old to New

Play With Trim

Creating a through line between houses old and new was a challenge. I wanted the new living room to evoke a barn, yet knew rough-sawn wood and rustic details would seem completely disjointed next to the sophisticated details of the adjoining dining room. Drywall is okay on flat ceilings, but it just doesn't do it for me in the great room. I wanted texture (and something new), so I delved into my box full of trim profiles and found my country-appropriate solution. First I clad the ceiling vertically in one-by-12-inch pine boards that were installed side by side. Next I (and we all know I don't really mean me here) applied a small astragal trim profile to cover all the joints. Since pine boards are rarely if ever perfectly straight, applying trim over the seams offers both a decorative and practical solution.

Bring The Fields In

Not satisfied to limit my textural references to the ceiling, I was craving a bit of outside influence on the walls. I'm always seeking a link to the natural surroundings, and the hay in the fields nearby is so beautiful when it shimmers in the afternoon light. Instead of literally attempting to apply hay to the interior walls (I shudder to think of how hideous this DIY project would be), I applied a pale, oyster-toned silvery grasscloth to the walls above a chunky chair rail. To keep the room from being bathed in too much neutrality, I added a rich orange clay tone to the lower wall section. While I know the grasscloth is a keeper for the long haul, I can easily change the mood of the room by repainting the painted wall section whenever I tire of the current scheme.

Linking Old to New

Frame The View

A country setting doesn't necessitate drapes for privacy, but I can't live without them. On chilly evenings, I like to close the drapes to brighten the room and diminish the stark look of black windows. Big rooms with large volumes need echo dampening and tactile touches to make them cozy and comfy, but I also appreciate the way simple yet elegant drapes can help soften and frame the view. A word of caution: If you are about to order drapes for a big room, make sure you measure the windows first and do your yardage calculations. My windows took 60 yards of fabric; hence my choice of a simply classic striped linen/cotton blend that need not be replaced for years.

Fire Up A Faster Solution

Modern-day building has its conveniences, and one of them is related to ye olde hearth. I found out that you can buy a wood-burning insert complete with full metal flues and avoid having to build a standard masonry chimney. What's the advantage? You'll likely save at least $5,000 on the chimney build by using the manufactured insert, and if you're tight on time, you'll save a good chunk of that too. The specs on these units can be a bit tricky to comprehend, so make sure everyone understands the plan to save yourself any hassles. Not inclined to forgo the traditional look of an old brick chimney, I sourced reclaimed brick to be used as the cladding on the exterior so it looks very old school. The good news is, once it's installed, you can clad it with the non-combustible material of choice and cover right over the frame so no one but you will know it's an insert.

I find many country fireplaces look too heavy and dark for my taste, so I headed to the stone yard and asked to be shown some lighter and prettier options. I chose a beautiful, wheat-toned, locally quarried limestone from Owen Sound. Thanks to my fabulous father-son team of masons, I now have an exquisite focal point that combines an antique section of a salvaged bay window, a modern fireplace insert, and beautiful stonework now that's my kind of mix!

Linking Old to New

Don't Be Too Proud To Be Picky

I don't mean selective here, I'm talking about garbage picking. On a cross-town jaunt to a high-end showroom, I happened to notice a shapely old dame of a chair sitting dejected by the curb as a light rain started to fall. My car was packed to overflowing, but thankfully a couple of my cohorts were close by with room to spare and scooped up this gem of a chair. The seat cushion was long gone, but when you're reupholstering anyway, who cares? Do the sniff test (to make sure it's not covered in cat pee ewww), and jiggle it to make sure it's not rickety. If it passes both of these tests, and you like the look, you've just scored a winner. Since I couldn't decorate the entire room with roadside treasures, I filled it out with some other great finds. I nabbed a crazy, curvaceous, yet decadently comfy sofa for $350 at the Christie Antique Show and a very cool pair of tufted armchairs from an estate sale for $175. Of course, I reupholstered them all, but it's the vintage vibe and the interesting lines of old pieces that I love so much.

Sources

Stone for fireplace facing and hearth: Beaver Valley Stone, beavervalleystone.com | Drapery fabric: Thibaut, thibautdesign.com | Fabric for all sofas and chairs: Designer Fabrics, designerfabrics.ca | Accent pillow fabrics: Schumacher (available through Bilbrough), fschumacher.com | Curved-back sofa, mirror above bar, iron chandelier, kids' chair, desk lamp, carved side table, wood bin, pair of bridge lamps: Christie Antiques Show; antiqueshowscanada.com | Pair of side tables: Absolutely North, 416-922-6784 | Faux bamboo side tables: Chair Table Lamp, 416-934-1021 | Sconces above bar cabinet: Residential Lighting, 416-537-3138 | Sconces above fireplace: Universal Lighting, greatlighting.com | Fireplace mantle: Legacy Vintage Building Materials & Antiques, legacyvintage.com | Plaster coat of arms: The Door Store, thedoorstore.ca | Cherry flooring and installation: North Country Wood Floors, ncwf.ca | Fireplace: The Fireplace Shop, thefireplaceshop.com | Ceiling paneling, all trim: Brenlo, brenlo.ca | Grass cloth wallpaper: Primetime Paint & Paper, 416-703-9846 | Building design: Robinson Residential Design Inc., robinsonplans.com | Paint colours: Para Paints, para.com Lower walls - Earthenware Tint 3 P2043-03 Trim - Soapy Water P5223-14D Ceiling - Comfortable Chinos P5223-34 | Sarah's House airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV. For more information, go to hgtv.ca.

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