BY DANIELLE POPE | PHOTOS BY SARAH MACNEILL
A dramatic renovation transforms this 1912 Oak Bay house from a derelict Building to a family’s dream home.
When Max and Jac-Lyn Mickelson first stared up the steps of their future dream home, the two almost walked away. As Jac-Lyn tells it, Max was not even willing to see the second floor once they realized the state of the house — though Jac-Lyn was taken by the entrance, the sweeping lawn and the neighbourhood where they’d longed to raise their family.
It was a 1912 character home in Oak Bay that showed the kind of wear a century of life brings to a property: the building dipped and swayed in places, decades of belongings littered the grounds and the house was in various stages of deterioration. It was enough to make most prospective buyers turn away at first sight, and others to shake their heads at the costs involved. So did the Mickelsons, at first.
Except, weeks later, the family sold their own home and, as pressure mounted in their housing hunt, they revisited a few properties they’d passed by — including the Oak Bay house. It was the right location, and the couple returned with a builder and designer to assess the reality.
Raubyn Rothschild, principal designer of Rothschild West Design + Planning, says the first time she laid eyes on the house, she couldn’t wait to get to work.
“When I walked in, I was extremely excited to see the potential. The whole house seemed really special,” says Rothschild. “It had so much of what they were looking for in the exterior, and I knew we could turn the inside into what they wanted. I was glad to be involved at this point, because this is the moment when a lot of people walk away.”
The Mickelsons were familiar with the renovation process; both through working on their previously owned 1950s bungalow, and through their construction business. However, a character renovation of this magnitude would involve overcoming an array of challenges, from rigorous permitting requirements and environmental upgrades to sourcing materials and adhering to codes that respected the heritage of the building. They decided to move forward.
“In some ways, I think it started as an act of desperation,” says Max. “We were without a home, and we really had no other options, so we decided to make it work. We turned out to be the ideal buyers, though, because more than anything, we wanted to bring this place back to its former glory, and we had the motivation to do it.”
The kitchen in this home had to be entirely rebuilt during the process, and now features high-end Miele appliances, partnered with marble counters in honed Bianco Statuario, custom walnut shelving in a natural finish and custom millwork to draw on a traditional style. The subway tile backsplash feature from Daltile builds flare and function in this space, and the white and navy tones offer an elegant contrast (using Benjamin Moore Cloud White and Hale Navy). The gold-toned Brizo faucet and quartz perimeter counters (in Silestone White Zeus Extreme) creates a sophisticated pairing, and the Goodman hanging light pendants in hand-rubbed antique brass align with the nearby 20th C. Library sconces in lacquered burnished brass from Restoration Hardware. Stools from Rove Concepts supply a mid-century modern twist to to this space, while the custom-created black-framed windows (from Loewen Windows) bask this section of the house in natural light.
Though the home was nearly gutted and some areas, like the kitchen, were entirely replaced, much of the original features were preserved — from the coffered ceilings and the wainscotting walls to the fir flooring (in parts) and historic doors that were redistributed throughout the house. In a complex permitting twist, part of the original structure turned out to be non-conforming, and new plans would require a portion of the home to be shrunk by a few feet, devastating the master bedroom. Rothschild surprised everyone with a redesign that transformed the area to a laundry and bathroom, then redistributed the master to its own private level.
The dining area in this renovation preserves some of the original features of the house, from the coffered ceilings to the wainscotting walls and fir flooring. The 17th C. Monastery Rectangular Table in Grey Acacia and vintage French round side and armchairs from Restoration Hardware brings simple comfort to this gathering area, while the gold-toned Pelle Gooseneck dining chandelier from West Elm adds a modern vibrancy to this traditional room.
“I thought we were facing total disaster with the project at this point, and Raubyn managed to flip it into something that not only improved the plans, but became a signature feature of our house,” says Max. “Sometimes, the best thing you can do is abandon your preconceived ideas and come up with something new.”
Some areas of the house, like the basement, were more tedious. When Matt Kinnee of Kinnee Contracting first saw this level, he was aware it would have to be dug out and rock blasted away so the Mickelsons could have a usable ceiling height on this floor. What he and others weren’t expecting, however, was the grim setting of a deranged metal shop. The area was eerie, poorly lit, and looked like something out of a movie.
The master bath plays with traditional luxury through thematic floor tile by Olympia Tile and the shower’s feature wall in 3-x 6-inch marble tiles with specialized glass shelving. The vanity’s millwork was completed in natural walnut with Emtek black-coated hardware, aligning the look with the home’s custom black-framed windows. The marble countertop, again in Bianco Statuario, ties in with the shower and kitchen motifs. Black Brizo fixtures and the brass-framed round mirror adds dimension to this room. The bowl-like Aida bath tub by Acritec elevates this room as a modern spa.
“The building had dipped, curved and settled over time, and getting in there to straighten it out was going to be a real challenge,” Kinnee says. “The basement itself was very crammed, and there was metal hanging from every open space you could imagine. I wasn’t quite expecting what we saw, but it sure was good to get in there and start ripping it apart.”
The Beauty Beneath
After less than a year of extreme renovations, the result was a welcoming 3,200-square-foot, Scandinavian-themed family home with three complete levels of usable space — from the main floor’s active living zone, to the upper level’s bedrooms and lower level’s guest suite. The house is filled with natural light, organic materials and texture. Fine details, like the specially dyed black window frames that showcase the wood grain, match the spirit of the home’s vintage feeling while bringing it up to modern standards.
The drama between new and old welcomes guests at the entry. White and navy tones build throughout the house, and the wainscotting feature along the walls and stairwell draws the eye upward into the home. The artwork stylishly positioned on the navy console is by Roberta Mickelson, Max’s late mother. In the living room, visitors are invited to enjoy the privately sourced mohair sofa and chairs. A ceramic tile gas fireplace and insert offers this space a warm atmosphere, and more work by Roberta Mickelson adorns the hearth. The gold-toned sconces tie themes together with the kitchen. The family room, at the other end of the main floor, (opposite page) is used as an entertainment space and sunroom, welcoming in the light with treatments by Island Window Coverings.
“When it comes to working with old houses, there is so much potential, but you have to build off of what has been created,” says Rothschild. “You need to know when your plans are working, and also when it’s time to rethink things. We wanted to create a home that was going to age well and use materials that have their own patina so it fit with the heritage, and everything feels like it can be used and loved.”
While some elements of the house are brand new, like the kitchen’s high-end Miele appliances and the living room’s ceramic tile gas fireplace, others were saved — almost by accident — like an old pendant lamp destined for the dump that was reenvisioned into the current entry lantern.
“The fact that we were able to preserve so much of the home was really special, and sometimes that takes more work than starting fresh,” says Jac-Lyn. “With any serious renovation, things can seem ugly and dirty and messy before they become beautiful, but if you can just see through it, there’s beauty there waiting for you to find it.”
Architect: Keay Architecture
Interior Designer: Rothschild West Design + Planning
Builder/Contractor: Kinnee Contracting
Engineer: Skyline Engineering
Millwork: Victoria Millwork & Joinery
Counters: Abstract Stone
Floors: Island Floor Centre
Appliances: Lansdowne Appliance Gallery
Light fixtures: Circa Lighting, Restoration Hardware (RH), CB2, West Elm
Window coverings: Island Window Coverings
Electrical: Amped Electrical Contracting
Mechanical Contractor: MGM Mechanical
Painting: Diamond Quality Coatings
Fireplace: Ark At Home