A version of this article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of OUR HOMES The Niagara Region, p.38. Find local businesses in our Niagara directory.
There’s a rule in writing that before starting a story the author should know how it will end. It’s also the approach Anne Lennard-Otto takes when renovating her home in Fonthill. The award-winning designer, who owns Distinctive Designs & Cabintery Inc. with her husband Manfred Otto, visualizes the end of every home project before she starts. And it’s always a happy conclusion: a beautiful space. Functional, too. A segue to the next chapter in a larger story of turning a house into a home.
It’s a story the couple have been writing for more than a year. “There’s a feeling, it’s happy,” Lennard-Otto says as she looks at the newly painted walls around her. “The happy comes from achieving small goals, one by one.” What’s been achieved so far, however, is far from small, particularly in a house with signs everywhere that previous owners may not have understood the character of the space in which they lived.
There are light fixtures in unexpected places, task lighting to replace pendant lights that were never removed. Switches that are ivory and white, others that are brass. Decorating touches by one owner clashed with those left behind by others, breaking Lennard-Otto’s cardinal decorating rule that one should never know where a renovation project starts or stops. “If somebody can figure out where it started and stopped, you compromised the whole design,” she explains.
It was December 2015 when the Ottos bought their two-storey home on a winding street in a quiet neighbourhood on the cusp of the Fonthill Kame. This wasn’t your usual two-level, cookie-cutter box that so often dots bedroom communities.
It has distinct lines, ones that forge together at a peaked roof with angles that conjure a contemporary, big city style. Windows stretch from floor to ceiling, gateways for streams of natural light, but placed just so to ensure utmost privacy. Every room has large sliding glass doors that open onto a wrap-around balcony overlooking a bucolic backyard once tended by a horticulturalist who lived in the home.
“The backyard was like a symphony last summer,” Lennard-Otto says. “Every day, I came home and there were new flowers. Simply astonishing.” But it was the large, bright foyer that really sold the couple on a place that didn’t exactly fall in line with their plans to downsize. It also promised more work than they wanted to take on when they started house shopping. “I walked in and saw the foyer, and when I saw that foyer and vaulted ceiling, I knew then our search was over,” Lennard-Otto recalls. “Its presence, its character, it pulled me in.”
Other rooms in the house have a similar effect, thanks to the attention the couple have given them. They also tapped into the skills and advice of contractor Mark Postman of Mark Postman Renovations to get the project off the ground.
The kitchen, of course, is a focal point with its urban contemporary flair conceptualized by Lennard-Otto herself. The sharp look is achieved by amaretto cabinets with clean European lines contrasted with others in Grandma’s China, a fresh Benjamin Moore spin on grey.
Embossed white porcelain on the backsplash bucks the trend of ceramic or glass tile to line kitchen walls and it adds timeless texture. A unique design of shelves floats across a window in the kitchen, creating continuity of space. Quartz countertops by Cambria add durability and functionality when making a meal, or gathering around the island to eat. Stainless steel appliances, like an AEG oven from Nickerson Appliances, are built in to fit seamlessly with their surroundings.
She had walls removed so the kitchen, which she stretched to overtake a characterless nook, would open onto a dramatic living and dining room with vaulted ceilings and a reclaimed brick, four-sided fireplace that connects every floor in the home.
The openness gives the main floor an airiness that was further enhanced when the couple removed a large overhang from the upstairs hallway that made the space feel closed-in. Walls were painted in shades of grey from the Welland Decorating Centre.
Hardwood by Aristocrat Floors of the World runs throughout the area and furthers the “very clean, very simple” look they were going for. That connection with the St. Catharines flooring business also provided Lennard-Otto with something more than planks upon which to walk. Showroom manager Rhoda Cipparone became her sounding board for her renovations.
“Other people who renovate go to professionals. Rhoda was my professional,” Lennard-Otto says. “I need someone to bounce my ideas off. She was very inspiring to work with and helped me to understand the space.”
The dining room is set apart from the formal sitting area by a custom-built table with a breadboard design that’s made out of reclaimed wood by Tice Table Co. The hefty, eight-foot rectangle has presence and room for the Ottos to entertain parties big and small.
“It was important that we could have any celebration we wanted, that I had a main area that would hold our large gatherings. That way no one felt they had to act a certain way. They just walked in and it felt like home. So whether it’s two of us or 35, it can happen.”
Upstairs in the master bedroom, a Juliet balcony overlooking the living room was removed and filled in with a barn board feature wall that includes built-in shelving and an entertainment centre.
Space was reconfigured by moving other walls to allow for a private walk-in closet and a more functional en suite with a glass shower by Bathworks. Built-in drawers were added in the sleeping area to create a practical yet eye-catching dressing space.
The couple’s to-do list hasn’t been whittled down entirely. Lennard-Otto has her sights set on the dated main bathroom next. Garden Angels has been lined up to tame the flowerbeds and yard in the spring. Lennard- Otto can’t wait to see how tending to the landscaping will give the house presence on the street, rather than hide its unique features. Lennard-Otto selected the exterior side door from Niagara Pre-Hung Doors.
Still, there have been moments when motivation has run low, but the couple pushed through, Lennard-Otto’s eye always on the prize: the ending. “It was pretty daunting for a long time,” she recalls. “Small goals and then we’ll get there.”