It was supposed to be a simple basement makeover, but it turned into a dramatic re-imagining of Chris and Jodi Nadeau’s main living space.
The young couple and their two kids live in a suburban three-bedroom bungalow on a quiet cul-de-sac overlooking the Kennebecasis River in Quispamsis, New Brunswick. Chris is a former pro-hockey player and now runs an online marking company from home with Jodi.
The basement houses Chris’s office as well as a play area for 10-year-old Cade and six-year-old Cali. But with dark walls and a cramped layout, it had become a neglected area of the house. The couple thought a makeover would help brighten up the space and make it more appealing for the kids, especially as they got older. “We wanted to start using more of the house,” Chris says. “We live in a bungalow with a walk-out basement and we really felt we weren’t using our downstairs space enough.”
Unsure where to begin, they met with Judith Mackin, creative director of Punch Inside, her interior design business, and owner of Tuck Studio, a décor boutique in Saint John specializing in Canadian and Scandinavian design.
Mackin has known Chris and Jodi for years, and was excited to hear about their project.
“I always think of the REM song ‘Shiny Happy People’ when I think of them,” she laughs.
“They are constantly smiling and are quite possibly the most positive people I know.”
But Mackin was in for a shock when she walked through their front door. “I couldn’t believe how dark their home was,” she says. “Everything in their space was brown—the walls, the floor and the larger pieces of dark furniture. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so dark in here.’ Nothing in the space represented their upbeat, colourful personalities.”
Rather than focusing on the basement, she proposed revamping the upstairs living space—the living room, dining and kitchen areas—the spaces where the family spends most of their time. “Judith suggested that since our kids are still at an age when they want to hang out with us, why not make the upstairs more liveable for us now?” Chris says.
That sparked Mackin’s plan to revitalize the space. “I wanted to make it a fun and engaging environment for all of them,” she says. The couple loved the idea, though Chris worried that enlisting outside help might result in a space that wouldn’t be comfortable. “I was fearful of Judith coming in and making it look really good, but then having a space that wouldn’t work for our family. But that didn’t happen.”
In the living room, the large furniture was overwhelming the space. “Everything was just big—big furniture, a big entertainment unit,” Jodi says. They decided to move those large pieces downstairs. “They are functional pieces,” Mackin says. “And the kids will love it when they are older and want to hang out down there.”
The layout also needed tweaking. Having the furniture in a square formation around the TV made it tricky to move from room to room. “We felt like we were walking through an obstacle course—there was no flow,” Chris says.
Mackin connected all three spaces by painting the walls, trim and ceilings a crisp white. “When trim is a different colour than the walls, it can make the space look busy,” she says. The lighter colour opened up the space. “It’s nice and bright and highlights the view of the river,” Jodi says. “Even the floors look lighter now and we didn’t do anything to them.” Chris likes how the living room links to the kitchen area. “It doesn’t feel like two separate areas now,” he says.
Jodi and Chris picked out a large grey Gus Modern sectional for the new living room. The whole family pitched in to dress it up, with everyone choosing their own colourful pillow (even the family’s Siamese cat, Keyser, has his own cushion). “Cali really enjoys the couch and knows that her pillow is there,” Jodi says. “It was exciting for her to be part of the process—we had so much fun doing that.”
That personal involvement was key to the project’s success, Mackin says. “It’s about looking at their space and seeing things they had a say in that reflect their own personalities.”
Keyser seems to approve of the new look, especially the yellow GT rocker. “He has not left the rocker since we brought it home,” Chris says with a laugh. The vibrant Flor carpet, with colours hand-picked by the family, provides another hit of colour. Paintings by Chris’s brother carry the vibrancy into the hallway. “He saw the new carpet and chose colours that would go with it,” Chris says.
The Nadeaus moved the TV off the main wall, making the fireplace the dramatic focal point of the space. They decided to redesign their traditional mantel, stripping out its blocky moulding and installing a streamlined lacquered pine surround to sit flush against the wall. Mackin came up with its sleek design and got Christoph Malinowski, owner of CM Woodcraft in Saint John, to build it. Chris loves the new look. “It’s minimalist but it looks so cool when you first walk in. It’s so eye catching,” he says.
Malinowski also built a new bamboo countertop for the kitchen island, breaking up the brown monotone of the counters in the rest of the kitchen. “It’s amazing how beautiful and sturdy the bamboo is,” says Jodi. “I always cut in the same spot all the time.”
They kept the brown countertops and cabinetry in the kitchen but painted the island white and replaced the banal, light-brown backsplash on the cheap with peel-and-stick stainless steel-styled tiles from Kent. “I was skeptical at first when Jodi and Chris suggested it but they went right over the old stuff and we did it for less than $300,” says Mackin.
They swapped out the large dining room table and six chairs for an Ikea table and clear chairs that seat just four. “Design is about how you as a family live, not for that five per cent of the time when you have company,” Mackin says. Malinowski also built benches along the windows of the eating nook for extra seating when guests visit; they feature a chic band of lacquered pine, linking back to the fireplace.
Taking out the bulky dining set made room for a sleek new desk for Jodi. “Before the makeover, I was hunched over in a corner with my laptop on the counter,” she says. Mackin designed and Malinowski built her a new lacquered pine desk, matching the fireplace, just off the kitchen. “I’m still in the middle of everything,” Jodi says. “I can cook supper and still be responding to emails.” Her new desk chair is a bright lime green, matching a painted line of wood under the bamboo island in the kitchen.
They also updated the lighting, replacing the large brown chandelier over the table with smaller lights in different areas to give more ambient light. They also installed dimmer lights in the entryway. “It’s great to be able to dim them when we want to,” Chris says. “Props to my dad, who is an electrician, for helping us with that.”
A bright aqua wall now greets visitors at the entryway, adding yet another playful colour pop. “I wanted to bring out colour the minute your walk in the space,” Mackin says. The lime green light here also links back to Jodi’s desk chair and to the bamboo island.
Rather than invest in a lot of artwork, the walls and shelves in the house feature whimsical decorative objects, many sourced from Mackin’s Saint John studio. The colourful plywood bird hangers in the dining nook by Icelandic designer Ingibjörg Hanna Bjarnadóttir are a hit with the family. “I wanted to make sure that every piece had meaningful and purposeful design behind it and was cheerful,” Mackin says. “Every piece has a designer behind it—they are not knock-offs made in China.”
The Nadeaus find it freeing to see décor as something that can be playful and fun. “We always thought we needed big, heavy pieces on our walls. But these little pieces work so well. We are simple, minimalist types, so they are a perfect fit for us,” Chris says. “Cool décor also doesn’t have to be crazy expensive,” Jodi adds. “The mini-triangle wallstickers over the TV look great on the wall and only cost $20.”
Even plants have become living, breathing décor in the space. The family went from having two house plants to 22 with an Urbio living wall positioned over their new sectional. “It’s not a lot of care,” Chris assures. “It’s just figuring out what plants work in the planters.”
Ultimately, the Nadeaus are glad they abandoned their original plan for a basement renovation. “My project got put on hold,” Chris laughs. Mackin marvels at what the makeover achieved without requiring any structural changes. “We did it all with paint, good-quality furnishings and meaningful design objects,” she says.
Jodi says the best part has been the reaction from the kids. “They can’t believe how much our home feels like a happy place now—it’s so much brighter,” she says. “Before, even when it was beautiful outside, it was always dark in our house. Now, it’s just such a fun place to be.”