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McIntyre Bills helps a family rebuild the home of their dreams after the citys epic flood.
When the big flood hit Calgary back in 2013, designer James McIntyre was at his clients’ Elbow Park house the next day—to find their living room furniture floating in two feet of river mud.
The environmental disaster that shut down the city for weeks had taken out the basement and part of their main floor, destroying furniture, mementos and treasures. But instead of giving up on the Craftsman they’d called home for more than a decade, the family of four tasked McIntyre and his firm, McIntyre Bills, to remake their house anew. “We kind of joke with the client that, you know, third time’s the charm,” says the designer. He first worked with the couple back in the late ’90s when they moved into the home, and then,“We did a redesign right before it was flooded,” explains McIntyre.
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But the interruption wasn’t without a silver lining. This time, because they were doing a head-to-toe renovation, the team worked with Richard Lindseth Architecture to re-imagine the whole structure of the home (as well as designer Shaun Ford to design the Poliform kitchen, the fireplace millwork and the master ensuite). Together they took out one of two staircases that constricted the floor plan and turned three rooms into one large open-concept space: an expansive and bright white living room on one end and a generous family room on the other.
The new design would be beautiful, but not at the sacrifice of livability. “It’s always a challenge to get style with comfort,” explains McIntyre. “And some contemporary houses have this minimal kind of thing going on, but they don’t really have that sit-down, kick-your-shoes off kind of feeling to them. What I like about this house is that it comes off as an easy-living family house that’s focused on comfort, but it still feels stylish.”
For example, what was once the living room is now a study, though you wouldn’t know it at first glance—there’s no work desk, shelves or storage cabinets, drawers for stationery or the usual writing bits and bobs. “Everyone is just so mobile with their laptops and their iPads,” explains McIntyre. “The new home office is no longer a static desk and chair in the corner of the house.”
Instead, he designed the room around one stylish table with a pop-up charging station at its centre for tech accessories. In place of ergonomics-in-mind office chairs sits a mismatched audience of Platner chairs, a chartreuse pouf and a four-legged wooden antique seat (all sans rolling wheels and adjustable levers). With its gorgeous marble fireplace and elegant artwork, including an iconic Edward Burtynsky photograph and decorative figurines (some salvaged from the flood), this room also doubles perfectly as a secondary dining area for the couple’s large gatherings.
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Modernizing the home in terms of style and function was equally prioritized alongside creating its brighter feel. In the kitchen, McIntyre created drama with contrast instead of colour or pattern, pairing a palette of white and cream with dark espresso accents on the oak cabinets and island. Retro-styled Jonathan Adler chairs line the island and modern Tom Dixon pendants hang above, and yet the space doesn’t lose sight of its purpose as a functional nucleus for the family. The curvilinear banquette seat in the breakfast nook is more sofa-style, creating an inviting gathering spot for the whole family.
The designer’s balance of luxury and comfort that says, as he puts it, “come in and drink your sauvignon blanc,” is perhaps most pronounced upstairs, in the fit-for-a-queen master bath. As you enter this room, with its vaulted ceiling and big windows, you get the sense that, just like the office wasn’t an office, this bathroom doesn’t feel like a bathroom.
Expansive chocolate marble floors are paired with white marble counters, ivory walls and warm lamp-like sconces and chandeliers—McIntyre says he’s tired of monochromatic white bathrooms—while creamy drapery breaks the rules. “You don’t really do drapery in a bathroom,” says the designer, “but we used an indoor/outdoor fabric, so it won’t mildew.”
Despite the hardship that instigated a massive renovation, today the home is the bright and open family refuge the couple always wanted. “What I really admire about these owners is that you can be shut down by stuff like that, but they weren’t,” says McIntyre. “The prevailing feeling you get from these people is that they weren’t daunted by the flood; they just kind of picked up, dusted off and went back to ‘let’s make our house beautiful.’ I like that they turned a really bad thing into what you’re looking at now.”
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