A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to revisit a beautiful historic home in Halifax that we’ve been working on over a number of years. We brought along the talented Julian Parkinson to take some photos of the completed work. We are so excited to share them with you, along with interviews from one of the homeowners, Nancy and our designer Sappho.
When you decided it was time to tackle these renovations what prompted you to hire Henhouse?
I’ve followed Sappho’s work for many years, dating back to the first Henhouse shop in the south end of Halifax. I fell in love with her hand painted furniture work that featured folk art designs. Sappho’s unique painted designs, colours and finishing techniques spoke to me.
Three grown children and two houses later, I wrote to Sappho with the idea of having the pine pieces painted and maybe doing “a couple of small projects” in the downstairs hallway!
We loved that Henhouse is a boutique full service design company. We chose Sappho because we did not want a “cookie cutter” style. Every single detail in our home is intentional and a true testament to Sappho’s passion for quality design, craftsmanship and the use of natural materials.
Can you describe some of the process working with Sappho? What were some of the steps you took from design to completion and what was that experience like?
Connecting with Sappho was like meeting up with an old friend. There was an instant connection! She was genuinely invested in the Craftsman architecture, understanding our ideas and budget, the significance of family heirlooms, artwork and my collection of textiles from India. She listened and asked all the right questions to help us to figure out the next design chapter for our historic home.
We began with a couple of projects, which then led to a couple more projects – and now the entire first floor of our home is beautifully renovated!
Working step by step, room by room, she inspired and gently challenged us with her design ideas. We learned not to move too fast, to experience each step. This helped us make more informed decisions at each step. We learned what to splurge on and what to pull back on.
Sappho looked after every detail and in the end the efficiency and overall quality was superior. She collaborates with a team of hand-chosen talented professional tradespeople, who were a pleasure to have in the house, always arrived on time and work was completed within budget.
What do you like most about the new improvements to your home? Do you have a favourite space or design element?
I love everything from the details of the curios, to the custom colour created for the fireplace mantle that Sappho designed and Gerry built. Sappho wove together our existing family heirlooms, antiques, and artwork with unique & distinctive fabrics, furniture, lighting, accessories, and carpets. She created a warm and inviting home, a home where our personal touches are evident in every room. She captured our essence.
Our home is so comfortable and beautiful, everyday I pinch myself just to be sure it’s not a dream!
What was special or unique about this project? Were there any aspects of the design or the process that stand out for you?
As soon as I walked into this house I was taken with the beautiful trim work which had been left natural. Gerry had begun the laborious process of restoring the trim and it gave the feeling of history and warmth.
Nancy had expressed to me that her biggest desire was to “brighten” the home’s interior and freshen it up. Their furnishings are great quality, but some pieces felt dated and heavy. We wanted to keep a lot of the existing furnishings, display Nancy’s and Gerry’s family heirlooms and collections, and showcase the beautiful original woodwork. My challenge was to update the main floor rooms while honouring the historical elements of the home, and maintaining the sense of history and personality.
The homeowners were very involved in the process in a hands on way. Nancy and I instantly connected over our shared obsession with Indian fabrics – she has an incredible collection from her travels to India. Gerry helped execute so many of the projects alongside me and the henhouse team including several woodworking projects and painting. Connecting with these two made this project very special.
What were the biggest changes and/or challenges you came across with this project?
Nancy and Gerry’s house has been a work in progress over many years. We started in the front hall, then moved on to the the living room and then the kitchen.
Starting in the front hall, the biggest change was the wallpaper. I carefully researched our options – I wanted to choose just the right pattern that would enliven the dark foyer, and respect the home’s roots. We chose this Cole & Son William Morris-esque paper that I just love. It’s crisp and clean with a nod to historical design.
I wanted to use grasscloth below the chair rail but I couldn’t quite convince the homeowners. In the end we decided on hand painted “grasscloth” which I executed with Gerry’s help. This solution was much more economical and added another layer of personality to this space.
Next we moved onto the living room. We painted out the whole room, brought in new curtains, and fabrics for toss cushions, and reupholstered the wing chairs and wicker chair. I redesigned the fireplace mantle, and Gerry built and installed it.
Nancy and Gerry have a wonderful collection of family heirlooms, many of which were stored away. We decided to install custom builtins to give them a place to showcase these special items.
Finally, we got to work in kitchen area, which was just completed at the end of last year. The plan was to do some basic upgrades and tweaks to the original handcrafted kitchen. However, after thoroughly inspecting the existing kitchen and reviewing our plan, I realized that unfortunately the current structures were not worth putting money into, and that it would be more effective to put in a new custom kitchen.
We moved forward with a slightly different design plan, but were able to incorporate better finishes and more efficient storage. I wanted the backsplash tile to be the focal point and we searched and searched for a tile that was affordable and that we loved. We landed on this beautiful sage colour tile that has a crackle finish, giving it a watercolour feel. It fits in so well with the home and is just gorgeous. The other major feature is the copper sink, it blends in with the house and with all of the beautiful wood details.
Gerry did a beautiful job of building the custom hood vent and the island countertop using reclaimed mahogany from the old kitchen. He created a log cabin quilting pattern in the island top, a tribute to Nancy’s love of needlework. The Island base was created by local artist and metal worker Christopher Joyce.
This is a beautiful historic home in Halifax. Do you have any advice for updating a home while still honouring its history?
I always like to get the feel of a house and let its architectural details inform my decisions. I know many people who have natural trim question wether or not to paint it. Sometimes the answer is yes, but when I’m working with a client I listen to how they feel about certain elements of the home and what their lifestyle is.
With this house, Gerry’s work on the trim made it obvious that we would keep it natural. We were able to use this feature and bring a sense of lightness through other elements. I feel the house is freshened up but also cosy and layered.
Tell us how you worked with the homeowners to incorporate personal touches to the decor.
Nancy is a talented needleworker and has created these sweet and heartfelt Valentines for Gerry over the years. I loved spending time with Nancy hanging these works in a grouping to show them off. Also going through their collections of things and regrouping them in a styled way in the built-in bookcases was a lot of fun. She just let me at it!