Growing up on Hamilton mountain, Olwyne Mitton of Lulabelle’s Floral Studio and her husband Greg always heard stories about Hamilton's lower city. It wasn't safe, people said. It existed on the other side of Hamilton’s not-so-invisible cultural and economical divide. Above the steep slope of the Niagara Escarpment is where people lived in safety and security. The lower city was dark and urban.
Neither of them listened. A little over 20 years ago – long before it was cool – the couple bought a house a block away from the lower city’s storied green space, Gage Park. Now, the Mittons have the last laugh.
With their Delta West area home, built in 1923, the Mittons have created their own individualized sanctuary, and it’s one that’s quadrupled in value since they bought it 20 years ago. They turned a sunroom into a year-round sitting area that overlooks their garden. They created a basement entertainment area with a large TV and a bathroom with heated floors.
The garage doesn’t hold a car anymore. It houses Olwyne’s home floral business, Lulabelle’s Floral Studio (named after one of their two cats). There, Olwyne gives floral workshops and meets with brides about how to add beauty to their big days. Behind the garage is a lounge area where the couple relax on comfortable chairs from Stoney Creek Furniture, surrounded by fragrant flowers and drink wine as they listen to the wafting sounds of music festivals in the park nearby.
When friends visit now, she says, “they can’t believe there’s an area like this.” Olwyne studied landscape design at Kemptville College, and worked at a pair of Hamilton furniture stores. At Greg’s encouragement, she applied for and received a government grant, and about two years ago, opened Lulabelle’s to work for herself. The house made it possible, they say. They moved the contents of the garage into their large garden shed, and turned the garage into a workspace. The pair painted it white, and used their knack for upcycling everyday items. An old filing cabinet, for example, holds floral supplies, as does an old dresser. Small chalkboards bear inspirational messages.
The house itself has been a 20 year work in progress. When it came to renovations, the kitchen was a pressing matter. They installed cabinets with wider shelves, and as with other rooms, refinished the old hardwood floors. Now, a long table serves as an island, and sprigs and pine cones dot the décor. The range hood that clears the air while cooking came from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.
They reinforced the back sunroom and turned it into a year-round sitting area where they can overlook manicured gardens filled with greenery from Harper’s Garden Centre. Upstairs, they turned four small bedrooms into three larger ones. They built a second bathroom downstairs with a large glass shower and heated floors.
“Olwyne just sees colour, so she uses her tastes for what the colours should be, even the colour of the dining room chairs,” says Greg, who’s a biomedical technologist. “She sees it, puts it there and it works.”
The gamble of living in the lower city has paid off financially, too. As the Toronto housing market becomes increasingly unaffordable, people there are relocating to Hamilton. Numbers from the Realtors Association of Hamilton and Burlington show that in 2017, the median price of a house in Hamilton’s lower city cracked $300,000. The median price of a home sold there was $337,250 in 2017, up 22 per cent from 2016. “We were ahead of the curve,” Greg says.