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Retro-chic Halifax home

For lovers of salvaged furniture and retro décor, an outdated bungalow in Halifax’s North End was a chance to test their creativity

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Suzanne Hickey and Steve Anderson get a thrill from turning discarded things into treasures that shine with new purpose. “We love reviving old items,” says Suzanne. “But we don’t go over the top and always keep a balance between vintage and modern.” The couple’s shared passion for reinvention has sparked many interesting collaborations, including their home-based business called Relove. They launched the online store two years ago, just six months after they met, selling furniture and lighting pieces that they find and refurbish, plus custom furniture they create from recycled materials.

  • Working as a team, Steve Anderson and Suzanne Hickey overhauled their entire house. In the kitchen, Steve tore out the upper cabinetry and built new shelves and countertops from rough-cut timber. Suzanne picked a cheerful turquoise wallpaper in a retro pattern. “The kitchen now has got an industrial-vintage vibe,” she says. Light fixture from Jack’s Boutique in Montreal. Photo: Bruce Murray
  • The new shelves make the kitchen airy and bright. Steve finished the rough-cut surfaces with a polyacrylic sealer. Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Photo: Bruce Murray
  • The dining room features Danish wishbone chairs from Structube in Dartmouth Crossing and a vintage starburst, mirroring the starburst clock that hangs over the fireplace. Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Suzanne and Steve relax in their living room. Fans of the mid-century look, their home features vintage furniture and lighting, much of it sourced from junk shops, flea markets or Kijiji ads. Suzanne made the cushions from vintage fabric. Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Steve’s daughter, Hannah, picked out the turquoise paint for her bedroom on the main floor. It matches the folk art piece over the bed by Ray Purcell, an artist from Portuguese Cove, N.S. One of the family’s first salvaged finds, the steel shelf next to the window displays a vintage radio and Beatle’s memorabilia. They found the lamp at a flea market in Maine. Steve built the side tables. Pendant light from Ikea. Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Billy the kitty chills out on a mid-century Danish chair next to the fireplace. Steve clad the back wall with old barn board. Photo: Bruce Murray
  • The rec room on the other side of the basement features more rustic shelving Steve built from rough-hewn timber. Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Suzanne makes good use of the old sewing machine she found at Value Village for $23: she makes pillows using vintage fabrics. “The best scores come from curtains, linens and old wool blankets at yard sales and consignment shops,” she says. Photo: Bruce Murray
  • Photo: Bruce Murray
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“We really inspire each other,” Suzanne says. “And when we fell in love and discovered that we had compatible skills, we started talking about big-life changes. We took the leap together, which didn’t seem so scary.” For her, that meant leaving a career in marketing and public relations. “I had studied interior design and had a creative side that I really wanted to explore,” she says. Steve craved change, too. A graphic designer, he’d already returned to college to study carpentry. “I wasn’t excited about my work anymore,” he recalls. “I wanted to do something hands-on. As a kid, I did woodworking with my dad and I loved it. I was always doing it on the side as a hobby.”

A year ago, a dated bungalow for sale in Halifax’s North End caught their attention. It went on to become their biggest project yet. “We loved its 1950s style, but we wanted to update it and make it modern,” Suzanne says. Finding it cramped in their Dartmouth, N.S. home, where the dining room was also their studio, they knew it was time for bigger digs. “We really needed a workshop,” says Steve. Located on a sloping suburban lot near the harbour-spanning MacKay Bridge, the two-bedroom bungalow had a spacious basement and an attached garage, providing room aplenty for their projects and lots of storage, too.

But it needed a complete overhaul. “It was a huge transformation,” says Suzanne, adding that they did most of the work themselves. “We changed pretty much everything, we touched every surface in the home.” They started in the living room. They tore out the brick pizza-oven fireplace and mantel, adding a concrete hearth and painting the firebox black. “The whole house was beige when we moved in,” says Suzanne. She painted key walls on the main level a rich grey to unite the open-concept kitchen, dining and living room areas. “Grey reads like a neutral now and you can move it from room to room,” she explains.

Steve has an abiding appreciation for old wood, and the interior features many rough-hewn boards he’s salvaged. He gets the wood from fences, old barns and even lumberyard cast-offs that would otherwise be tossed in the chipper. “We’re very resourceful,” he says. “We don’t like to waste anything, so we try to use every piece we can.” Behind the hearth, he clad the back wall in old barn board, lending a weathered texture to the room. “Some of the reclaimed wood came from my grandfather’s barn in Southern New Brunswick,” recalls Suzanne. “I love that I have a personal connection to it.”

The couple scours junk shops, flea markets and Kijiji for furniture and décor to revamp. For them, it’s a chance to give special items with a backstory a chance at a new life. “We love mid-century design and our home showcases that,” Suzanne says. “There’s nothing new in our living room except for a light shade from Ikea. Everything else is re-loved and re-styled.”

Danish 1960s industrial office lamps and a two-metre long sofa with matching chair are highlights in the space. “We got the sofa and chair at a second-hand store for $65,” says Suzanne. “You just can’t get pieces this well made anymore, not in this style. There’s a lot of life left in them. We reupholstered them in vintage fabric I bought online.” Cool little timepieces and clock radios dot the interior. “I find them fascinating,” says Steve. “They have such a different vibe than modern electronics.”

They have a soft spot for old motel signage, too. “There’s something special about it that speaks to both of us, that nostalgia,” Steve says. “It reminds you of summer vacations with your parents. It’s a warm feeling. Hotels aren’t like that anymore.” In Steve’s teenage daughter’s room, a little steel display shelf holds a vintage radio and Beatle’s memorabilia. “That shelf was one of our first upcycled pieces,” says Steve. “I was driving with my daughter on Crichton Avenue in Dartmouth, and it was on the side of the road. She yelled, ‘Stop the car!’”

The original kitchen sported pink laminate countertops, dated vinyl floors and overbearing wood cabinets. “It felt closed in with the upper cabinets,” Steve says. He removed them along with the laminate, and built new shelves and countertops from rough-cut timber. “We just love the material and the warmth of it,” Suzanne says. “It links the rooms together and mixes the old and the new.” They kept the lower cabinets but painted them a deep charcoal and added new steel hardware. They treated themselves to a new sink and faucet, and installed new vinyl flooring over the old stuff. Suzanne picked out a bright mid-century-inspired wallpaper for the space. “We’re thrifty but we love good design,” Steve laughs. “We spent about $2,000. The plumbing, electrical and appliances were all good. We didn’t have to spend tonnes of money because we had the material and we could do the work ourselves.”

They kept the wood floors. “When we bought the house, the previous owners offered to refinish them for us but we said no. We liked the wear. They probably thought we were nuts,” laughs Suzanne. In the basement, they tore out the old carpeting and wood panelling. “It was a 1970s rec room,” says Steve. It’s now workspace for Suzanne’s Relove furniture and sewing projects. They also added a divider to make a TV room.

In there, the TV sits on an old record player cabinet. One Friday night, they built the bookshelves on the sidewall using wood scraps and end cuts. “It was our date night,” Suzanne smiles. “You get creative and use what you have, playing around with design ideas.” Steve’s workspace underwent perhaps most dramatic transformation of all. “It was a dumpy smelly garage with crumbling concrete,” he says. “It was stacked full of everything from hula hoops to oil cans. It had no lighting, no insulation and no drywall.

We had it upgraded for electrical but everything else we did ourselves.” Today, he’s working on a special project for a client, building headboards out of massive antique armoire doors. “They came from her grandmother’s attic in Prince Edward Island,” Steve says. ”She grabbed them when the house went up for sale. She’d been lugging them around with her for 20 years. Obviously the wood meant a lot to her. It was dry, straight and clean. She’d taken great care of it.”

He has enough wood to build headboards for a king, queen and two twin beds. “It’s exciting to be returning them to her as something she can use.” Looking back on the entire project, Steve takes pride in the quality of the work they did on their own. “It was really important for us to be creative and be professional in the installation,” he says. “It was about how creative we could be in designing something that meets our needs, and is simple, warm and reflects our style.”

Suzanne agrees, and is already planning their next big collaboration: hosting their backyard wedding in September. “Our backyard is like a nature park in the summer,” she says. “We love this house and the work we put into it. The stars have aligned for us in so many ways.”

Janice Hudson

East Coast Living