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A new home in Calgary's Elbow Park takes notes from the historic neighbourhood and adds contemporary flair.
You could hardly blame an uninitiated visitor to this Calgary home if they were surprised to find that here live two risk-averse individuals. After all, the unconventional design of this year-old home is clearly the result of dozens of bold decisions. But Emi Adachi and Scott Matson—who work in insurance and the energy industry, respectively—had a shared, deeply practical motto that ruled the plans for their dream home: “In every step of the process, we said, ‘Let’s build for the people we are, not for the people we want to be,’” says Adachi. Such pragmatic focus has resulted in a home that not only bucks trends but, ironically, serves as lofty aspirational fodder for would-be builders.
In 2009, Adachi and Matson purchased a century-old two-storey set 90 metres back from the north bank of the Elbow River. While they were charmed by the old house (they commissioned a painting of it to hang in their bedroom), they bought with major renovation in mind. As it went, plans to fix up grew to “let’s start from scratch,” and the couple tore the house down in May of 2013. Five weeks later, the Great Flood hit Calgary.
Adachi and Matson contemplated the strange sight of an enormous construction hole filled with water and dead fish on their property. Their neighbours, on the other hand, were cursed with heartbreaking, exorbitantly expensive flood damage and loss that, in many cases, destroyed entire basements and ground-level floors. If Adachi and Matson weren’t already planning to build with the intention of mitigating acts of God, they certainly were then.
As with all the big decisions they made, when it came to choosing an architect, Adachi and Matson did their research. “We wanted the outside of our home especially to be very traditional looking,” says Adachi. “We asked homeowners in neighbourhoods where we like the aesthetic—Scarboro, Elbow Park—who they’d hired. They all said, ‘Get Suzanne Devonshire Baker.’ They were right.”
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If the architect balked at receiving Adachi’s nine pages of notes, she never showed it. Adachi’s wishes, discussed with Devonshire Baker at every stage of drawing, included specific light-switch positioning, a decree that the basement should not be developed (ever) and an assurance that the electrical panel would be prudently installed on the main floor (with a backup in the garage), far from potential flood damage. (Scott, on the other hand, handed the architect only four lines: “Nice. Panelling. Traditional style. Man cave.”)
As well, Adachi insisted the kitchen be closed off from the dining and living rooms located adjacent to it—an unfashionable request in an era when open-plan rules. “I hate staring at the dirty kitchen after we cook. I just wanted it separate,” she says. She likewise forged ahead with the unusual choice of a wine cellar where a front hall closet would typically be. “The wine is a lot more important than ensuring our guests have a place to hang their coats.” (Her guests likely agree.)
Still, despite her idiosyncratic touches, Adachi thinks of herself as very traditional. “I like a Ritz-Carlton feel,” she says. “I wanted the house to be like a brownstone on New York’s Upper East Side—the kind of untouched old place a great-aunt might leave you, with the panelling and the grand stairwell—but with contemporary touches.” Enter Paul Lavoie.
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Beloved for his bold, modern tastes, the Calgary designer was not, perhaps, the obvious choice for Adachi and Matson. But, says Matson, after talking to their architect and various design-savvy friends, “all roads led to Paul.” He was, says Adachi, “so willing to listen and understand what we wanted in the most beautiful ways.”
For instance, where Adachi wanted one chandelier, Lavoie suggested two (one over the dining table, its twin a few feet down, in the living room). As well, when Adachi chose a modest-sized coffee table, Lavoie convinced her to go with a five-by-five-foot lavender ottoman. In the name of pleasing flow, he also dissuaded the couple from putting a wall between the dining and living rooms, as was planned. “Paul said, ‘Trust me.’ I’m so glad we did.” She and Lavoie also came up with a practical solution for hiding the view into the basement from the stairwell: Adachi purchased faux black-and-white marble linoleum at Home Depot and had a small patch of it laid so as to leave the onlooker assuming it leads to a luxurious finished space.
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If one area of the house perfectly captures what Lavoie calls “high-fashion meets function,” it’s the powder room: here is where Ritz-Carlton guest meets down-to-earth homeowner. The stylized ceiling is the first glimpse of a pattern that repeats itself in the cabinetry and furniture throughout the home. It’s a look based on a $40 bracelet Adachi showed Lavoie as one of her treasured items. The designer took the pattern (a vintage look that, he says, gives the house its edge) and ran with it—it even shows up in the desk legs in Matson’s man cave.
Conversely, the designer wasn’t as exuberant about Adachi’s choice of bathroom fixtures. “Paul wanted a traditional Toto toilet,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted a sleeker, modern style—something that would be easier to clean.” You can hardly blame her; after all, why take a risk when the sure thing (a straightforward one-piece model from American Standard) comes in an equally elegant form?
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