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An Historic Home Transformation in Prospect

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!

A Cozy Urban Cottage in the Heart of Halifax

We are so excited to finally share this project in its entirety! This sweet Halifax home is one of our favourites. Working with this family over a period of a year and a half truly was a pleasure every step of the way. They appreciated and were excited about every part of the process. It brought a special warmth and mutual trust to the project that let the process evolve organically – the end result feels like an escape right in the middle of the city.

A few weeks ago our clients allowed us back in to take some photos of this beautiful home. They were so kind to take part in an e-mail interview so that we could share their story and their experience working with Sappho at Henhouse. We hope you enjoy!

What was your initial reason for getting in touch with Henhouse? 

When my husband and I first moved to the west end of Halifax, I was desperate to find furniture and décor that would tie in with our nearly 100 year old home. A friend told me about the Henhouse shop in the Hydrostone Market. I fell in love and wanted to take everything home! I was absolutely devastated when the shop closed, especially because I had planned to decorate my entire home with the treasures I would find there over the years. 

Fourteen years later, my husband and I decided that it was time to undergo a significant renovation. I knew I would need help with light fixtures, window treatments and paint colours for our kitchen and bathrooms. When I found out that Sappho had continued Henhouse as an interior design business, there was no question in my mind as to who I wanted to hire. I never even researched other designers. I knew that Sappho’s style was exactly what I wanted in our home.

How did things progress from your initial plans to where you ended up (with a whole home makeover!)

I truly believed that all we were going to do was renovate our kitchen and two bathrooms. Well, come to find out…that was just the tip of the iceberg! It became apparent during the demolition phase of the upstairs bathroom that we had old electrical and plumbing infrastructure that had to be replaced. We quickly found ourselves with a whole home makeover on our hands and significant work to be undertaken in the basement – a space we had not planned on tackling at all.

My husband and I have a daughter on the autism spectrum who presents with significant delays in development. We had always thought that one day we might raise the house and convert the basement into a legal apartment for someone to help us with in-home support for our daughter. ‘One day’ all of a sudden became ‘now’!   

Sappho came on board to help us design a beautiful living space on the main floor and the upstairs where the bedrooms are located. Once the house was lifted, and the foundation was demolished, Sappho then helped us with the finishing touches for the basement apartment and the exterior design features of our home. She literally helped us transform 90% of our home over a period of about a year and a half. We only have a main floor guest room that has yet to be redesigned. No doubt, when we are ready to tackle this final room, we will be calling Sappho! 

What would you say were the benefits of hiring Henhouse vs. trying to tackle it on your own?

There is no way that I would be nearly as happy with the results had I tried to tackle the design process on my own.

Before Sappho and I began working together, I had tried to choose light fixtures on my own. When Sappho asked me if she could see what I had chosen, she told me (very diplomatically) that every fixture looked the same. She was right! She put together a plan for light fixtures that offered more variety, but still all worked together. I was so impressed with her vision that I ended up hiring her to redesign our entire home.

Sappho also has a true gift for figuring out which patterns and textures work together in a space. Whether it’s throw cushions, draperies, wallpaper or bedding – she can piece everything together so that the space is layered perfectly. This is something I could have never done well on my own. 

Do you have any advice or insights to share with folks who are considering hiring a professional designer? 

Yes – hire one! I know we would have made many mistakes had we chosen to undertake the design and décor process on our own. I truly believe that going without a designer can cost more in the long run.

Sappho knows what is worth investing in and what’s not. Knowing when something is fleeting or if it will last the test of time can save you money. She also has access to suppliers that you may never even realize existed, and can often pass along cost savings to you.

Were there any aspects of the process or the results that went beyond your expectations? 

All of it! I really had no idea what to expect. I knew that I really loved Sappho’s style from what I experienced in her shop and from what I saw on her website and in magazine articles. What I didn’t know was how exciting and rewarding it would be to work with a designer of Sappho’s caliber.

Sappho helped me to see how my home could be even more of what I wanted. She really knows how to incorporate and pull together all the details. She sourced so many unique décor items and encouraged us to refinish family heirlooms to bring history and warmth to our home.

She even provided us with an education in art! We now have works hanging in our home from many talented local artists. Even though the renovation and design plan are complete, thanks to Sappho, we continue to have date nights visiting art galleries around Halifax and in the Annapolis Valley.

Do you have a new favourite space or something else about your home now that you are especially happy about? 

This is such a tough question. No kidding, I come home each and every day and think, “I can’t believe I live here!” The entire house is just so comfortable and inviting. It’s cozy, yet it has such amazing style. I feel like I live in my dream cottage in the middle of Halifax.

The kitchen/family room is definitely the ‘hub’ of our home. Our daughter loves spending time in the family room while her father and I putter around in the kitchen. I must say, however, there is something about the living room that I find so special and peaceful. All week, I look forward to the weekend to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a book. Sometimes I don’t even get into the book as I am distracted by the wonderful living space – I still just love looking at all the design details in the living room and the adjoining dining room.

Both bedrooms are such calming and serene spaces. Although our daughter has very little language, when she saw her newly decorated bedroom for the first time, she could not stop smiling, swaying her head from side to side, and flapping her hands. It was her way of giving Sappho two major thumbs up! It made my heart so happy to see her so excited about her new ‘teenage’ bedroom.

Though I’ve been living in this space for over a year, it continues to delight each and every day. I’m truly so grateful for Sappho’s effort in making my home my ‘happy place’.

We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with these wonderful clients. It was a pleasure and it means so much to us that they love the results! Thanks also to Julian Parkinson for photographing this project.

How to Create a Cozy Boho Mood with a Minimalist Style

We are loving the pared down minimal inspired looks that are trending right now. We’re seeing a mixture of styles coming together that combine minimalism’s emphasis on simplicity and function with rustic and natural elements that have a cozy boho feel. This look feels fresh and liberating – a feeling we are so ready for as we welcome in spring!

Just in time for your spring cleaning and decorating projects, we’re sharing a few tips and some inspiration on how to create this look.

Pare it down
home decor Halifax, interior decorator Halifax, home renovations

Alyssa Rosenheck, Studio McGee, Lauren Liess

Minimalism emphasizes cutting out anything that’s extra. Step number one is to take a hard look around the space you are working with and sort out what items are no longer serving you or aren’t essential. This is completely subjective, and of course some items serve utilitarian functions while others might serve you emotionally. But anything that’s bringing you down or that isn’t working for you or the space anymore can find a new home or be stored out of sight.

home decor Halifax, Interior design Halifax, home renovation, custom kitchens

Emily Henderson, Studio McGee

Though these images might have you thinking otherwise, we all have varying degrees of clutter going on in our homes. To pull of this streamlined aesthetic good storage is key! You can hide everyday items in decorative boxes, baskets and bins, and make use of furniture items that have storage. Another option is to create an artful and tidy display – we love the neatly stacked wood, and the funky wall hooks in the images above.

Add personality with collections, art, or an unexpected element

Emily Henderson (bottom right)

While true minimalism banishes any items that aren’t serving a function, the beauty of this style mash up is that there is room to add some personality. Collections, cherished personal objects, photography, and art are all welcome and are what create a warmer feel. Because other elements of this look are so simple, a well displayed collection or an unexpected item will really stand out and add a punch of personality.

Choose a subdued palette


Working with neutrals is a fun challenge and creates a calm, minimalist foundation for the space. We recently created a master bedroom concept for a client that has a very restricted palette. For this look we mixed shades of grey and off-white through the entire space, creating a unified and simple look. The trick is to choose a neutral palette and layer varying shades throughout the space.

If you’re dying for some colour you could absolutely get away with adding a few pops to liven things up. A fun occasional chair in a bright upholstery or a funky toss cushion or throw on the bed can shine against a pared down palette.

Play with texture, pattern and scale
interior design Halifax, interior decor, home renovations

Alyssa Rosenheck, Winkie Visser, Emily Henderson

When you’re working with limited colours, you have to work with other elements to create interest. We love the use of rustic woods, leather and hide, wool, stone and other natural materials to bring in lots of texture. Pattern can be added in many ways – through artwork, rugs, toss cushions and bedding.

One of our favourite elements to play with is scale! The giant stone container in the image above makes a beautiful statement, and is right at home blending with the soft colour palette and organic feeling of the space.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our tips and are feeling inspired and refreshed! We have some exciting new Henhouse projects to share soon so stay tuned for our next post!

Home Tour – An Historic Halifax Gem with Personal Touches

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.

custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer
Nancy

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.

custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

Coffee table and toss cushions from 31 Westgate. Gerry and Sappho worked together to create a new mantle for the fireplace.

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.

custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

New custom built-ins provide space to store and showcase Gerry and Nancy’s heirloom collections.

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!

Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

Wallpaper from Cole & Son, Sappho and Gerry worked together on the custom paint treatment below the chair rail. Decorative bone boxes from 31 Westgate.

Sappho

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.

Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

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.

custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

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.

custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

Toss cushions, coffee table and side table from 31 Westgate.

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.

custom kitchen, custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

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.

custom kitchen, custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

Gerry built the custom island countertop and hood vent using wood from the original kitchen.

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. 

custom kitchen, custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

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!

custom kitchen, custom built ins, Halifax interior design, home decor, renovations, interior decorating, interior designer

Nancy’s hand stitched valentines are counted thread work stitched on natural fabrics with cotton threads.

Thank you so much Nancy and Gerry it was a great pleasure working with you! Thanks again to our photographer Julian Parkinson, and to 31 Westgate.

© 2009–2019 Henhouse

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