A Calgary couple infuses a historic home with worldly style.
When Peggy and John Webb moved to Dubai in 1998, they fell in love with the local design culture: vivid jewel tones, rich fabrics, rustic textures. Something about that journey triggered a shift in both of them; on their return to Calgary, they were eager to recreate some of that intensity back home in the Prairies. “Maybe because we took the risk of going there, we became less risk resistant,” says Peggy. And while the current incarnation of their home may have been sparked by their Middle Eastern stint, the Webbs’ aesthetic has evolved over decades of living in interesting and unusual spaces—from a duplex in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood of Montreal to this historic, 1,100-square-foot coach house in the Mount Royal neighbourhood of Calgary. Built in 1911, the Tudor Revival building was essentially a garage on the estate of Louis Strong, an American businessman who bought land from the CPR as part of the development of an upscale residential district then known as American Hill. Today, many of those original stately homes have disappeared. The Webbs’ coach house is one of the remaining few. Peggy is a retired psychologist and John’s a lawyer, but both have a keen interest in design and architecture that translates into a passion for restoration. The structure was in such poor shape it had to be gutted to the studs and modernized with proper insulation, wiring and heating. They also blew out the upstairs walls and an ugly shed dormer, re-twinned the original steep-pitched north dormers and opened up the second floor as much as structurally possible to create a vaulted ceiling. “Our vision was always to restore the house more or less to the era,” says Peggy. “We’ve tried to use style and materials that were true to the 1900s.” They picked up octagonal mullion windows that matched a neighbouring turn-of-the-century house (now sadly demolished), a claw-foot tub was rescued from the backyard and a similar-era pedestal sink was found at a local salvage yard. Original oak floors were refinished and mouldings added. “This little house,” as Peggy lovingly calls it, is now a storehouse for curios that reflect the couple’s travels and history together, whether it’s a chest of drawers handed down from John’s mother or an elephant statue from an Indian enclave of Dubai. Tchotchkes like a two-dollar cross from Salt Spring Island are strung over vintage sconces from an old movie theatre in Buffalo. A glass-orb finial sits atop a newel post, reflecting the stairway gallery of artwork and photographs from Old Montreal. It’s one of many finds from the couple’s friend, local iconoclastic designer Coco Cran. “We’ve always had Coco help us express our ideas,” says Peggy. That expression includes an underlying sense of play. Despite the strong tie to tradition and the building’s origins, there’s an eclectic mix of old and new and fine and rustic that’s modern in spirit. A classic bust sits on a mantel that’s almost stark, a minimal custom-cut piece of glass. And the coach house itself is in the beating heart of Calgary; Mount Royal is within walking distance of downtown, 17th Street’s boutiques and the Mission District. It’s a vibe Peggy loves. “I always thought if I could live anywhere it’d be in a brownstone in New York City,” she says. “So, in some ways, that’s kind of the idea, to have a cozy space in the inner city.” A sense of coziness is developed throughout the whimsical design and colour palette, from the lush red of the bedroom to the opulent greys of the main living space. The rich and textural layering, jewel tones and patina stem from all those artifacts, rugs and raw-silk fabrics brought back from travels. But, while the latest palette and style permutation may be inspired by their latest trip the Middle East, the charm of the space spans more than four decades of collection. “I think what we’ve done is just put in things that we like,” says Peggy. And that’s risk-free. wl