In January 2021, Nicole and Shaun Brandt made the most of the proverbial working-from-home pivot, and moved from Edmonton to Baja, Mexico, with their three kids (who were all under 10 at the time). The weather was fabulous; the beaches spectacular; the food, the relaxed pace, et cetera—all tough to beat. After a few months, however, some of the family members (hint: it wasn’t Nicole or Shaun) started to long for familiar northerly climes.

The Brandts - Arlo, Nicole, Winnie, Shaun and Etta
Family Matters: The Brandts (from left: Arlo, Nicole, Winnie, Shaun and Etta) moved to Baja during the pandemic, but they missed Edmonton. Fortunately, they spotted this great ’70s-era home that was ready to renovate to suit their family of five. Photo by Sharon Litchfield

“The kids wanted to come home,” says Nicole, who, once the decision to return to Edmonton was made, scoured real estate listings for weeks to find a house that would suit their stylish young family—and perhaps take the sting out of leaving behind an ocean view.

In stark contrast to the couple’s previous attraction to contemporary, open-plan homes, Nicole found herself drawn to a circa-1979 five-level split with wood panelling and two staircases. “It was a weird house, but I couldn’t stop looking at it,” she says. “I got the courage to show Shaun and he loved the feel of it, too.” Even though they knew they would renovate, the Brandts were inspired by the home’s eclecticism—the curved archways and, as Nicole saw it, “quirky twists and turns and nooks and crannies” spread over multiple levels. The couple hired Edmonton designer Brianna Hughes to modernize and connect the home’s haphazard dots without erasing the vintage Brady Bunch vibes.

Living Room Before

Living room before

Living Room After

Living room after
In the Mood: Homeowner Nicole Brandt fell in love with the oversized corduroy sofa from Article that was actually the perfect size for the living room. Designer Brianna Hughes paired it with a richly painted feature wall (Espresso from Benjamin Moore) with mouldings to create texture and interest. Photo by Sharon Litchfield

Besides a kitchen extension that eliminated one set of stairs, the walls of the house were kept intact, and the house was re-designed in stages starting with the kids’ bathroom and the primary bathroom upstairs so that the family could live on that floor while the main floor was being renovated. The project came together bit by bit, informed by furniture, materials and design details the Brandts fell in love with along the way. The effect is a curated collection of rooms stylistically independent from each other yet still connected via texture and colour. Terrazzo and travertine are repeated in the bathroom and bedrooms; wainscoting in the dining room makes an appearance in the kids’ bedrooms and the loft; and a 1920s-style parquet floor in one room (the home’s abundant parquet was unsalvageable in the others) is echoed in a basket-weave cement tile in the kitchen. Hughes further weaved in consistency by creating new curving entranceways to match the arches original to the home. Overall, says Hughes, “there’s a lot of detail and colour and different eras in the house, but there’s a consistent softness to it.”

Entryway Before

Entry way before

Entryway After

Entry way after
Welcome Centre: In the entry Hughes framed a photo that Shaun took of Nicole and her two kids (she’s pregnant with Winnie) on a family trip to Italy. Photo by Sharon Litchfield

The Brandts drew a few of their favourite vintage finds compellingly into the pastiche. The kitchen’s island—Grande Vena Vecchia porcelain slab—is extended by a wood tabletop crafted in B.C. and attached to an antique base; the mix of materials pulls in warmth and personality. Likewise, upstairs, a circa-1960s scissor chair put some soul into the loft off the primary bedroom and opened Nicole’s eyes to its charm. “That room didn’t make sense to me at first,” says Nicole, who had its walls painted white. When the couple found they never used the room, Hughes suggested repainting in a cool grey-green (Benjamin Moore’s Night Train) and turning it into a record room. “The chair, the colour, the wainscoting—now I love it and I have my coffee there every morning,” says Nicole.

Entry way after
Hughes retiled the fireplace in Zellige tiles from Edmonton’s Geon Tile and added the hearth. Photo by Sharon Litchfield

Hughes couldn’t do much about the northern latitude of the Brandts’ new house, but she managed to ensure the family was collectively drawn to the warmth and fun of the living room. Early in the project, Nicole had found a super-sized contemporary sofa from Article upholstered in retro fabric that could easily envelop the whole family in full loafing mode. “Nicole loved the sofa, but it’s enormous and it’s in rust-coloured corduroy, so it took some thinking to balance the look of it,” says Hughes. Playing off its ’70s look, she left the wood panelling on the ceiling above it and painted the large wall behind the sofa with Benjamin Moore’s Espresso. The fireplace and wall sconces amplify the coziness of the living room and the couch is, as was Nicole’s intention, the heart of the home. “It’s the first time all five of us have been able to sit together,” she says. It may not be a beach but sometimes the right piece of furniture in the right house has all the power of a sunny family holiday.

More Before and After Photos

Entry way landing after
In the landing at the top of the stairs, there’s a rug from Edmonton artist Rashelle Campbell. Photo by Sharon Litchfield

Dining Room Before

Dining room before

Dining room after
In Time: In the dining room, Cesca chairs from Marcel Breuer for Knoll add to the vintage vibe of the home, paired with a cozy captain’s chair from CB2. The pendant light is from Luminaire Authentik. Photo by Sharon Litchfield
Primary bathroom
Bathing Beauty: In the primary bathroom, a red travertine counter brings a warm hit of colour to the surrounding neutral palette. Photo by Sharon Litchfield
Primary bathroom tap detail
Photo by Sharon Litchfield

Kitchen Before

Kitchen before

Kitchen After

Kitchen after
The same Zellige tiles from the fireplace appear again in the kitchen backsplash, this time in a glossy finish. Photo by Sharon Litchfield
Kitchen after
Hughes also brought in a limestone exterior cladding to one wall, but overgrouted the stones to create the feeling that they’d always been there. Photo by Sharon Litchfield
Kitchen after
Photo by Sharon Litchfield

Kids’ Bathroom Before

Kid's bathroom before
Photo by Sharon Litchfield

Kids’ Bathroom After

Kid's bathroom after
Play Time: In the kids’ bathroom, terracotta subway tile is a pretty match to the terrazzo tile on the tub surround. Photo by Sharon Litchfield
Terrazzo tile on the tub surround detail
Terrazzo tile on the tub surround detail. Photo by Sharon Litchfield

This story was originally published in the May/June 2024 print issue of Western Living magazine. Get your free subscription to the print edition here.