An Historic Home Transformation in Prospect

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We have been busy working on a special project in Prospect Village, Nova Scotia. Homeowners Hilary and Chuck contacted the Henhouse team about renovating the kitchen in their historic Prospect Village home. After an on-site visit from our designer Sappho, it was clear that the house needed much more than a kitchen update.

Over the past 170 years since it was built, this beautiful waterfront house has been used for many purposes, most recently as a Bed and Breakfast. After years of renos and reconfiguring, the house felt very chopped up, and the main floor layout didn’t work for the current homeowners. It was also in need of major systems and structural reworking including plumbing, electrical, heating and levelling.

Pebble Cove Construction was brought on board to tackle the extensive construction work that was required and the Henhouse team was hired to take on the redesign of the main floor interior and the exterior.

We interviewed the homeowners Hilary and Chuck as well as the contractors, Domas and Stefan of Pebble Cove Construction, to get the full story on this very big, very unique project!

Hillary and Chuck
Can you tell us about the history of the building?

The previous owners told us that it was built in 1849 by Nova Scotia premier James Johnson as a private home. In 1854 it was purchased by Patrick Power who was a member of Parliament. Later on, beginning in 1876 the Sisters of Charity repurposed the home into a convent with a school located in a separate building on the property. We were told that children who were orphaned as a result of the Halifax explosion were cared for here.

In the 1930’s the sisters moved to a new convent, and in the 1940’s the building was operated as a hotel and a fishing club. The house was renovated into a B&B in 1981 by Stephen O’leary, and further renovations later by Alan and Rosalee Lockyer. It has been featured in many movies over the years including Hallmark’s  “Christmas for Holly”.

Before photos of the main floor. Part of Henhouse’s design plan involved reconfiguring the entire main floor including taking down walls, removing a bedroom and full bath, and adding windows. We wanted to create a family friendly space with a connection to the outdoors.

Why did you choose to take on this project? What drew you to this house?

We were drawn by the historic charm and water views. There is something very soulful about the place. We love Prospect and had enjoyed spending vacations in a charming fisherman’s cottage there for the past 25 years.

When our son married a young woman from the village, we rented the house for our guests. The owners were using it as a B&B, but it turned out that they were looking to downsize. We ended up swapping houses with them!

Were there any particular elements of the home that you fell in love with and decided to keep or incorporate into the design plan?

We assumed that the turret was original, but our contractors discovered that it was added in the late 1800’s and that the original staircase was in a different location. We loved the staircase and Pebble Cove Construction was able to prop it up while completely rebuilding the foundation beneath it.

Working with Sappho, our goal has been to honour the history of the house. We were on board with Sappho’s plan to add transom and keep the high ceilings, as well as relocate the front porch back to its original location.

The stairwell is original to the home and was incorporated into the new design. On the left you can see how it was propped up and covered during construction.

What were the exciting things about this project and what were some of the challenges?

It was exciting to find Stefan and Dom, of Pebble Cove Construction, who were eager to take on the project. Their enthusiasm, problem solving skills and attention to detail and quality went beyond our expectations.

Likewise, discovering Sappho and working with her was a dream come true. She took our concepts and interpreted them with creativity and practicality. I absolutely love the kitchen design with its sweeping views of the water.

The challenges were the weather, which inhibited work on the exterior through the winter, as well as the inevitable “surprises” that were uncovered behind walls.

The cost of doing a project of this scale was beyond what we had originally planned, but we were committed to the end result. It’s rewarding to know that the renovations are thoughtful and high quality, and that the house will be safe and secure for generations.

Pebble Cove built custom forms then poured a new foundation for the house.

What is your vision for the house? How do you imagine your experience of living in it when it’s all done?

My vision is for large family gatherings, cooking, boating, swimming and sharing this special place with our friends who visit from the U.S. I envision our granddaughter, Juniper, running back and forth between her grandparent’s houses. In retirement, we might offer it as retreat center for artists and musicians, or offer space for meditation and yoga. Sharing it makes it all worthwhile.

Exterior construction in progress. The existing front porch was torn off and rebuilt, and new shingles will be installed over the entire exterior.

Domas and Stefan – Pebble Cove Construction
The Prospect Bay house project is a big undertaking! Why did you decide to take on this job?

It’s a very special building that holds a lot of history. It’s a community landmark, so the opportunity to be involved in the project excited us. We feel that the the most important motivator was the client’s support and understanding of the complexity of this project. The building is beyond just a standard renovation. There were many complicated structural repairs that had to happen and the homeowners were on board with it from the start. 

It was also reassuring to know that there was a strong design team involved. This allowed us to focus fully on technical issues and feel confident that the new layout, proportions, lighting, finish elements, etc. will work and make for a beautiful result. 

Progress shots of the new custom kitchen designed by Henhouse.

What were some of the major jobs that you had to do to get the house ready for rebuilding. 

The biggest job was to replace the entire floor system under the house. It was in critical condition after prolonged exposure to moisture. Additional foundation walls were poured in the basement and the new floor system was built on top. The entire building weight was then transferred onto new floor system.

The turret, front porch, and two side bays were originally built on failing rock sills, leaving the house vulnerable to frost heave. To remedy this, the porch got a foundation wall and the bays now sit on the new floor system. The building had seen many renovations over the years, some of which was failing from the exterior and some outside walls needed rebuilding.

The custom kitchen nearly complete! Transom and all new oak flooring recall the house’s history, while the bright and open floor plan offers a fresh modern feel.

What are some of the challenges or interesting things about working on such an old home? 

The most impressive thing was seeing the old craftsmanship and engineering, which we believe is what has allowed the building to endure. It was very interesting to see how old and new engineering fused together during the build.

One of the challenges was removing layers of material accumulated from years of past renovations. It took over a dozen 40 yard dumpsters to dispose of all the waste. Working so close to the water made site cleanliness and preventing debris from falling into the water a top priority.

The kitchen now opens up to a den with plenty of views of the landscape. A great place for family gatherings.

What was it like working in Prospect over the winter months? 

Working outdoors at Prospect was pretty much impossible during the winter months. With the cold weather and the extreme wind that came off that section of the Atlantic any work out doors would have made little to no progress for the amount of effort required. The indoor work was quite enjoyable actually. The house was so well insulated that it was the perfect place to work and storm watch at the same time. Winds could be going 70km an hour and you wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t for all the large windows. 

What work do you still have left to do? 

The interior is pretty much 99% complete. Most of the remaining work has to do with the exterior. We  have 6 windows on the upper floor to replace, the back deck and wrap around staircase to complete, as well as the front porch decking and railing.

Thank you so much to Hilary, Chuck, Stefan, and Domas for taking the time to share your stories with us! Be sure to stay tuned for more updates when this project is completed!