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Restoring a 100-year-old home is a labour of love for designer Kerri-Lee Watson—and the results offer the perfect stage for a classic Christmas design.
Photos by Janis Nicolay
“If these walls could talk!” laughs designer Kerri-Lee Watson. Her historic home in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighbourhood has had 10 owners and many incarnations in its 100-plus-year history, among them a fraternity, a rooming house and a retirement home known as the Twin Cedars Lodge. “There were many renovations that had not been kind to this poor house,” she says.
Watson was already in the process of building a new, modern home on the city’s west side; that project was hung up in the permitting process at City Hall when she spotted this one. “I was looking for another project,” she says, “and this was right around the corner from us. I saw it crumbling and felt sorry for it.”
What was meant to be a quick job—a, “let’s do this in the meantime”—soon became an all-out renovation.
Watson started by stripping away anything that wasn’t original to the 1912 home: fire escapes, a musty closed-in back porch, a commercial stove vent, skylights and inappropriate millwork. The home would be the first one to go through the City of Vancouver planning department’s new First Shaughnessy guidelines, published in 2015. (Those guidelines are meant to protect any pre-1940s homes in the area—they can’t be torn down and must be renovated.) “There were lots of eyes on this restoration,” Watson says.
She had the original floor plan, and tried to return the space to its original design as much as she could. “There was scarring on the floor, so you could tell where walls had been moved and not safely!” she says. Of course, some modern alterations were necessary—like a seismic upgrade. The home was structurally reinforced with steel, lifted off its foundation, and excavated, and a new basement was poured.
Any crown moulding and baseboards were carefully documented and recreated where they couldn’t be salvaged, and Watson’s team managed to save the original leaded glass windows and living room pocket doors. It was a labour of love to bring the home back to its original grandeur.
Needless to say, with its historic design and classic beauty, it was the perfect fit for inclusion in last year’s Kids Help Phone Homes for the Holidays tour. Watson went all in decorating it for the season. “I thought it had to be maximalism instead of minimalism,” she says, and then laughs. “I’m still vacuuming up glitter!”
She opted for a less-traditional colour pairing of orange and chartreuse. “I wanted to use a colour palette that was unconventional, but also complementary to the existing decor,” she says. The colour choice came from the chinoiserie wallpaper in the dining room. Long-time friend Mary Kelava of Orchard Lane Floral Design came on board for the florals. “That rose Christmas tree in the dining room, that’s Mary’s vision,” says Watson. “I just said I wanted a showstopper to fill the antique silver punch bowl I had.”
On the dining table, Watson brought out her grandmother’s china, which was originally from Ireland, along with Turkish tea glasses she had on hand. She paired the dinnerware with gold chargers she found at Walmart; the amber-coloured wine glasses were spotted at Pier 1; and the silverware was a gift from a friend. “It’s definitely high-low,” she says.
She also recruited friend Lucie Radcliffe—a “mad scientist baker,” says Watson, whose blog Lucie Bakes has attracted the likes of Tiffany and Co.—to design custom cookies for a holiday launch. Watson gave her the architectural drawings for the home, and Radcliffe recreated the house in gingerbread, right down to the stained-glass windows crafted from Jolly Ranchers. “The window placements, the bargeboards, everything is accurate,” she says.
In another ode to her family and the transformation they create over the holidays, Watson converted her home office into a wrapping station for the tour—something she regularly does. “In my family, wrapping is a take-no-prisoners competitive sport!” she laughs. “I have everything on hand to make it easy to whip together a beautiful presentation.”
Given how beautifully she’s revitalized this once-neglected vintage beauty, that’s no surprise.
This home was in the 2019 Kids Help Phone Homes for the Holidays Tour, kidshelpphone.ca
Originally published November 2019
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