MY DIGS: From Home Wreckers to house tour
It isn’t quite the claim to fame that most home owners dream of. On three different occasions, the house on Keefer Street was profiled on the Home Wreckers television show. And not for good reasons. It was the boogey man of “worst case scenarios” — what will happen if you don’t fix a problem.
The house, built in 1892, had been owned by the same person for almost 70 years. She was in her mid-90s when her family finally convinced her it was time to move. Then the house sat vacant. Every few weeks, a family member would check on the garbage can that they kept under a hole in the roof. Neighbours would hear the whoosh of rain water fall from a second-storey window as the can was emptied.
On April 21, 2010, Brian Roche, his wife-of-one-week Cheryl Knopp and his seven-year-old daughter Ava walked into the house. Ava took in the general air of decrepitness and said, “We’re not sleeping her tonight, are we?”
It’s that very decrepitness that made the house so appealing to Brian and Cheryl. Not only did the state of disrepair help them stick to their budget, but because no one had tried to fix anything — add new kitchen counters here, put in new plumbing there — they were able to use it as a blank canvas.
“We’re picky control freaks so if we couldn’t do it the way we wanted, we wouldn’t do it,” says Cheryl.
She’s a fashion designer; he owns Panther Constructors, which is building The Flats on a same-sized lot a few blocks away in Chinatown. They got married the week they closed the deal on the house. They returned from their honeymoon on a Thursday, moved everything from his home in Langley into her condo in Coal Harbour the next day and then, a month later, moved all their stuff into her work/live studio space a few blocks away from their new home. They squeezed their life into that space during the 13 months it took to get all the permits and seven months it took to demolish a small addition on the back of the house, raise the original house to add a basement and then build a larger, very modern addition on the back.
On December 10, 2011, they moved into their new old home. Six days later, they folded back the 10-foot-high windows that are all that separates the kitchen from the back deck, erected a tent on the deck and hosted 52 people for Brian’s Christmas party. It was home.
It’s a home with two distinct personalities. The old part is charming with its small, cozy rooms, wood door frames and antique (or antique-like) fixtures. The new part on the main floor is all straight, uncluttered lines, modern fixtures, white plain walls. (The absence of “stuff” is remarkable, and not just because they tidied up knowing a reporter was coming. The only incongruous knick knacks are Brian’s Toronto Maple Leaf salt and pepper shakers and Cheryl’s small “travelling pig” in the bedroom.)
Upstairs the new addition is an eclectic mix of welcoming wood, modern fixtures and the funkiest bathroom doors. The only splash of colour is the purple that Ava chose for her bedroom.
Everything looks like it was made to be there. Each of the hundreds of choices they made seems like it was the most natural one.
For two self-admitted control freaks, Brian’s and Cheryl complement each other. They agreed with each other’s decisions, were patient about the hours spent trolling the internet or trudging from one interior design store to another as they searched for each and every component of the house. Late one Sunday afternoon, they were just finishing off a marathon search for a particular wood grain marble that Cheryl envisioned for the kitchen. The pressure was on because the workers were about to start on the kitchen and Cheryl hadn’t been able to find exactly — and she means exactly — what she wanted. “Just one more place,” she told Brian. The marble was there, and it was on sale.
Ah, the budget. Cheryl smiles. “Brian had said X, I said Y and we spent X.”
They knew when to splurge — such as the $5,000 ladder on wheels that gives them access to the top kitchen cupboards — and when to be frugal, such as the cupboard doors they bought at Home Depot for Ava’s bedroom, adding trim to make it fit in with the old part of the house. It’s a game to guess what they bought at Ikea and what they bought at specialty design stores.
For all these changes, the house will never again be asked to star in Home Wreckers, but it was featured in last year’s Vancouver Heritage Foundation house tour.
And, for everything they love about the house, Brian and Cathy can envision selling it and starting from scratch all over again. For every decision they made, there are three other options they still want to try....
The bottom line:
What they paid: low $600,000
What they invested: $600,000
What it was recently appraised at: $1.4 million