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Smart planning transforms a house made for two into a home for a growing family.
First published in 2011.When Karen and Paul Blakeley moved to Calgary in 2006, the real estate market was so hot that virtually every MLS listing they bookmarked in the evening was gone by morning. “Everything was moving so fast we just couldn’t act quickly enough to get a place that suited our family,” says Karen.It’s a wonder such a place existed at all. The Blakeleys arrived in Alberta from the U.K. (via a brief stint in Kuala Lumpur) along with their four (now five) kids, a nanny, two cats, two dogs and a boatload of large-scale antiques and treasures from all over Asia. To make their housing order even taller, the couple was originally set on living close to downtown.Fast-forward to 2009 when Calgary designer Paul Lavoie pointed them to a house for sale in inner-city Mount Royal. The Blakeleys’ first reaction to the listing was that the modern home was about as appropriate to their needs as a yurt. “I heard about the house and thought, ‘No way, it’s not me,’” says Karen, whose last house was a, dark, 200-year-old stone mansion in Scotland. In contrast, the Richard Lindseth-built/Douglas Cridland-designed home in Mount Royal was a masterpiece of modern architecture custom-built for two. Yup, that’s six fewer people and four fewer animals than would eventually move in.How do you transform a house designed for a couple into a living space suited to a super-size family? Well, if you’re Lavoie, you start by knocking out the dining room walls. Lavoie punched open the walls around the dining table to better connect the living spaces.“This house is so spectacular,” he says. “Richard Lindseth and Douglas Cridland provided a beautiful canvas to work with; they did a fantastic job.” Lavoie’s goal was to maintain the strong architectural lines of the home while connecting various rooms so the Blakeleys could, for instance, see their five-year-old playing in the living room while they sat in the dining room. Down came the walls that had lent the dining room—the first room you see when you walk in to the house—its formal, closed-in ambiance. “The dining room is the centre of this home,” says Lavoie. “But it was very much separate from the rest of the house. We just made it work as a family room.” To boot, the change maximized the effect of the abundant light flooding in from floor-to-ceiling windows that span the entire back of the house; now, natural light brightens the room from three sides rather than one. Lavoie selected bold oranges, reds and yellows to play off the family’s collection of Asian antiques. Much of the main floor features over-height ceilings, so even an intimate space like the study feels airy.Despite the home’s large size (10,000 square feet with six bedrooms and eight bathrooms), Karen believes the house scared off other large, potentially interested families because of the unusual layout of the room that matters most to a busy, kid-centred lifestyle: the kitchen. Smaller than you’d expect in a house this size, the kitchen was built for cooking but not for eating—a large island dominates the room and makes it impossible to squeeze in a small table or nook, never mind one large enough to seat a group the size of a softball team.Lavoie and his team came up with a solution that left the sophisticated kitchen design intact but added a layer of connectivity that makes it work for a family, knocking out the backside of the tandem garage to give the Blakeleys another eating area. The kitchen now opens up to a cozy adjoining room where dogs and kids can hang out, play video games and snack while meals are being prepared. “We just put a new spin on this place that had once worked really well for a couple,” says Lavoie.As for the Blakeleys, however romantic the prospect, they say they’d never go back to a brooding windswept mansion on the moors. “Despite our reservations about living in a modern home,” says Karen, “we fell in love with the place as soon as we walked in.” Turns out they got to eat their cake, too: while the couple took Lavoie’s advice and scaled back on the number of antiques on display in their home, Karen says their prized pieces, including a 19th-century carved princess bed in the front room, look all the more stunning in the more minimal, light-filled setting. “We love the simplicity of it, ” she adds, “but the wow factor is still there.”In spades, we’d say. A dramatic punch of orange welcomes visitors in the entrance. An antique Asian day bed with contemporary cushions. Rich silk lines the wall of the master bedroom. The glass ‘walls’ of the dining room pivot closed for private dining.
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