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Most designers worth their salt spend as much time listening as they do pursuing fabric swatches: the key to a great design lies in what their client is asking for, either explicitly or implicitly.

And when it comes to renovations, Alanna Dunn and Reena Sotropa of Calgary’s Reena Sotropa In House Design Group know that this intense listening process needs to extend to the architecture, too. For their recent remodel of a late-1970s two-storey Bearspaw home—a chaotic black-and-white-and-red-all-over eyesore—the message was coming through loud and clear. “There are certain things this house was telling us,” says Sotropa. For one: the programming of the space was off-kilter, with a 16-foot red sectional crammed into the home’s original dining room. Two: the alligator-skin fireplace and zebra-print ottoman were going to have to go.

To see the space before the renovation, click here or  jump to the bottom of the story!

“The previous owners really committed to the theme,” says Dunn diplomatically of the animal-print overload they faced. To each their own, of course, but for the family of four moving in, it just wasn’t a look that worked. The layout and finishes would need a refresh… though that’s not to say they asked the RSIHD team to keep things simple. Quite the opposite, in fact. “The homeowner has playful taste,” says Sotropa.

And so, while the ’gator panelling was ushered out of sight, the new look also happens to skew bold: now, it’s a home filled with lively patterned wallpaper in most rooms, and a through-line of punchy coral and greens. But Dunn and Sotropa balance out the wild moments with calm ones, grounding spaces with crisp white walls and clean lines.

Beyond aesthetics, Dunn and Sotropa also went deep into making sure the flow of the main floor suited the homeowners’ lifestyle. A former dining area became a piano room; the TV den transformed into a new dining room that flows right into the living room and entry. For a family that does a lot of entertaining (the homeowners are both in the restaurant industry), a large, welcoming dining table—this one from Restoration Hardware—was a must.

The Restoration Hardware table expands further to accommodate the homeowners’ extended family. Pictured here with 12 green chairs from Wayfair, it’s actually at its smallest setting.
The homeowner found a mint-condition Thomasville hutch on Kijiji, and the design team had it lacquered green to match the chairs in the dining room. “I’d been looking at these on 1stDibs for thousands of dollars for years. When she snagged this for a couple hundred, I almost fainted!” laughs Sotropa.

Some fancy footwork turned the awkward, L-shaped living room into two more distinct spaces, which helped the whole home flow. The “short” end of the L got one of the home’s more dramatic makeovers: enclosed by walls of tiny windows, all framed in dark casing, it was “kind of chaotic looking,” says Dunn. “The windows look into a three-season room so it was just a lot of visual clutter.” The team painted the frames white and covered them in sheer, linen-like drapes to quiet everything down. The homeowner’s existing Restoration Hardware sofa fit here perfectly, alongside a Vogel armchair; an art easel became a stand for the television, a clever solution for a room without any obvious spot to mount a screen.

READ MORE: A Chic, Contemporary Makeover Gives a Dreary Condo New Life (Before and After)

Over in the “long” part of the L, two grey sofas from CF Interiors sit comfortably around coffee tables designed by Dunn and Sotropa and manufactured by Calgary maker Sumer Singh. The nesting pieces—one topped with Caesarstone, the other from restaurant-quality butcher block—act as oversized charcuterie boards. The original alligator-skin fireplace was redone with a more subdued white limestone plaster.

In the primary bedroom, a textural Arte wallpaper behind a CB2 bedframe punches things up. “It just kind of sparkles with the light and creates a pattern,” says Sotropa. The fireplace here gets a limestone plaster treatment, too. The design team built out a window seat; narrow windows on either side of the bench let in additional light. The black ottoman is from CB2; Forehand nightstands are topped by Visual Comfort wall sconces.

Though the primary bedroom isn’t neutral per se, “the intention was for it to be quieter than the rest of the house,” says Dunn.

What once was a home theatre is now a dreamy walk-in closet, complete with Manuel Canovas wallpaper. (The pattern? Colourful handbags and clutches, of course.) That gorgeous green returns here, via custom millwork with World Away handles. This dressing room is so large it even includes what Dunn calls “a landing pad”: a mini workspace where the homeowner can sit with a laptop and quickly answer emails in the morning. (Some of the drawers are reserved for office materials.)

The narrow hallway gets a little bit of colour and personality, too, with a display of heirloom kimonos from the homeowners’ family. Elsewhere, beautiful vintage Japanese fans are mounted on a tight wire. “It’s kind of a common occurrence in design,” notes Dunn. “People don’t consider something they’ve got just lying around as display worthy, but then you look at it with fresh eyes.”

READ MORE: Converting a 1973 Whistler Ski Cabin into a Family Home (Before and After)

It’s something one might say about this house itself: a hidden gem that just needed a new perspective (and some attentive listening) to truly shine. Barely a wall came down, and yet this home has been totally transformed—a testament to the power of colours and finishes. Says Sotropa: “You can take a home that is so, so not your style and transform it into something that tells a story about who you and your family are.”

More photos of this bold and beautiful renovation:

A pair of custom coral ottomans from Vogel plays off the palette and tucks neatly underneath a console from Wayfair. The light fixture here is from Arteriors. Thibaut wallpaper offers a cheery first impression as guests step into the entryway. “It’s a cool introduction to the house,” says designer Reena Sotropa
In the kids’ playroom, a closet built in to the eaves was converted into an incredibly detailed playhouse, complete with window boxes. Kravet wallpaper only adds to the whimsy here.
Each girl picked a theme for her room: mermaids and “dress-up,” respectively. In one, a damask-style under-the-sea print sets the tone; the other leans into florals.
Both girls’ rooms have custom millwork beds, with a platform for a queen mattress, built-in nightstands and a mounted reading light.




Originally published February 2022