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Annapolis Valley home revival

Returning to his roots in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, Ian Archibald transformed his family's Victorian farmhouse into a stylish space reflecting its unique history

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Ian Archibald still remembers the summer day in 1981 when his parents met with the tentative seller of the home where he and his siblings would spend their childhood.

“We met with Ms. Bishop and her three nieces,” says Archibald, who was just 12 at the time. “My mom had me bring her a box of strawberries. It was more like an interview. I’ll never forget how deeply she felt about the house.” At 85, Jean Bishop was the last surviving child of Spurgeon and Arabella Bishop, the couple who built the stately Victorian farmhouse in 1893.

Nicknamed Bishop Brook, the property bordered a brook with pasture, cranberry bog, and forest framing the large property in Auburn, a rural community in Nova Scotia’s bucolic Annapolis Valley.

  • Nicknamed Bishop Brook, this stately property borders a brook and features a pasture and forest. The founding homeowners, the Bishops, farmed cranberries in the nearby bog.
  • Delorey repurposed the wide-plank flooring in the addition from the original parlour and dining room. “You’d never be able to do that with flooring today.”
  • A bronze grand tour bust of Apollo rests on the original fireplace in the parlour. “If you have classic pieces and have to dispose of them, you’ll get your money back on them,” says Archibald.
  • The formal dining room has a replica medallion and painted wood mouldings that match the original plasterwork. Sourced from a movie set in Vancouver, the dining table seats 14. A huge 18th-century mirror on the back wall elongates the space. The sideboard is English, early 1900s. The French chandelier was re-wired by McLellan Antiques in Halifax.
  • The kitchen is filled with modern touches such as subway tile, a large granite island, and stainless steel appliances.
  • The family room on the main floor is where Ian, Glen, and Kloe, their Portuguese water dog, spend most of their time. With new windows and spray-foam insulation, it’s a cozy spot to unwind. Leather sofa Ralph Lauren, carpet Restoration Hardware, linen club chairs Union Lighting and Furnishings; cocktail table is vintage William Switzer.
  • A 1950s Danish painting is flanked by two vintage photos of the home; the one on the left shows Ms. Bishop as a child on the property; the one on the right shows the home in the 1980s, when the Archibald family lived there. Table and the picture frames from Community Consignment Berwick; Georgian chairs from Archibald’s collection.
  • “We maintained the architecture of the formal parts of the house,” Archibald says. “The staircase, the mouldings, the fireplaces…they still feel like the original house.”
  • They kept the original staircase in the front corridor, with its elaborate beehive carving. The original matching light fixtures in the hallway upstairs date to the 1920s
  • Upstairs, the house went from having five bedrooms down to three, plus two new bathrooms. The guest room at the front had been Archibald’s parents’ room growing up. Like all the bedrooms, it had a popcorn ceiling that workers removed during the project.
  • Workers tore out the adjoining back hallway and staircase to make the ensuite bathroom. The sleek space boasts two sinks, a custom shower, and an ornate marble radiator cover that Archibald found on Kijiji.
  • The expansive property offers Archibald, Antonuk, and Kloe (the Portuguese water dog) plenty of space to play. “My dream is to have a vineyard on the property,” Antonuk says. “We have no desire to make wine, but we’d love to grow grapes here. The sandy soil is perfect for organic growing.”
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The Bishops were cranberry farmers. Jean worked on the farm and taught school in nearby Aylesford for many years. She lived in the house her whole life, and selling it was a big decision. She needed to know she’d leave it in good hands.

Archibald’s parents, Marilyn and Harold, made some basic structural upgrades after buying the property, adding three new chimneys and enhancing the grounds. Over the years, the Archibalds kept in touch with the Bishops.

“We always held the Bishops in high esteem,” Archibald says. “We’d invite them back to visit and they appreciated the work we did and the respect we had for the house.”

Marilyn continued living in the house after Harold’s death in 1994, but by 2013, Bishop Brook was on the cusp of yet another change. With her children grown, she thought about finding herself a new single-level home.

The timing seemed right for her youngest son and his partner Glen Antonuk to become Bishop Brook’s new owners. They lived and worked in Toronto for the past five years— Archibald as a consultant and Antonuk as an executive with Sleep Country Canada. Prior to that, they lived in Vancouver, where Archibald ran the couple’s antiques and staging company.

The thought of returning home to his roots and renovating the house he grew up in excited Archibald. “We’d bought and sold about 12 houses before and we love reno projects,” he says. “My mom was so happy that one of us kids would take it over.”

Watch our video and hear directly from Ian and Glen about their vision for this property.

It would become an ambitious two-year overhaul of the entire house with plans to fix the foundation, install new windows, revamp the first- and second-storey layouts, and build a new kitchen, garage, and an addition.

They hired builders Phil Barnett of Phil Barnett Construction in Wolfville, N.S., and Allen Delorey of ADN Siding in Berwick, N.S. Barnett and Delorey connected the couple with local tradespeople. “Allen is even more particular than we are,” Antonuk says. “When you do a reno like we did, the local tradespeople become part of your family.” Delorey says the home could handle a complete transformation. “It had good bones. There hadn’t been any neglect over the years.”

The couple stayed in the house during the work. “We could never escape from it,” Antonuk laughs. “It would have been nice to go home to a clean apartment and breathe fresh air, not drywall dust.” Archibald liked being in the middle of the action. “There are so many questions every day, so it does pay to be on-site,” he says.

Marilyn kept a close eye on the project as it progressed. “We rebuilt the entire second floor of the kitchen wing, which had settled over the years,” Archibald says. “We had it gutted so you could see through to the attic. When it was stripped to studs, mom was like, ‘What have you done to my house?’”

But the shock soon wore off. Delorey took care to respect the home’s original details. “It had nice features on the inside like the trim and the staircase that Ian and Glen wanted to keep, which was great to see,” he says. “They gave me quite a bit of freedom to do what needed to be done to make everything look right.”

In the kitchen, they removed the old wood stove and tore out the circa-1980s knotty-pine pantry. “Someone came and took it all apart and used it for their camp,” Archibald says. They also found new homes for the storm windows, the doors, and the farmhouse sink. “I’m so glad they stayed out of the landfill,” he adds.

The new kitchen boasts traditional cabinetry, subway tile, a large butcher’s block, and sleek granite countertops. “We were worried because it was hard to visualize until we got the walls and floors in,” Antonuk says. “It turned out to be much bigger than we thought.”

At the back of the house, they added on a rustic cottage room. The long space features white clapboard on the walls and a beadboard ceiling. “It’s like this room has always been here,” Antonuk says. “It’s a great four-season space and it flows so well with the formal and the informal. At parties, people love gathering around the fireplace.”

Upstairs, five bedrooms became three, plus two new bathrooms. Two bedrooms on the far side of the house, previously the servant’s quarters, became a large master bedroom with high ceilings and exposed beams.

Workers tore out the adjoining back hallway and staircase to make the ensuite bathroom. The sleek space boasts two sinks, a custom shower, and an ornate marble radiator cover that Archibald scored from a mansion in Halifax. “I found it on Kijiji,” he says. “I carried it up the stairs myself. It weighed a ton. I said, ‘This has got to fit!’ Luckily, it worked perfectly here.”

Little reminders of the home’s past popped up many times during the renovation.

“We found a baseboard signed by a builder,” Archibald says. “It was like a time capsule and it said, ‘Beautiful day in Auburn, September 3, 1893.”’ While tearing out the ceiling, they found a crisp Berwick Register from 1943 addressed to Spurgeon Bishop, the home’s original owner.

“We had my mom over that night and when I told her about it, she wondered if it was the issue that mentioned the piano recital her aunt had put on,” Archibald says. “Sure enough, on page two, it said, ‘Little Marilyn Ross was unable to perform because of a sore thumb.’ It’s amazing to think this paper was in the house all the time my parents lived here.”

Archibald and Antonuk joke that the Bishop family influence permeates the home. “Anytime a picture is off balance we say it’s Spurgeon,” Archibald says.

The pair love showcasing original items from the house in each room. The mantel in the new cottage room features a rustic wood beam from the original garage. The firewood basket is also original to the house, as is the cranberry rake, and the large trunk displaying the model ship.

In the family room, there’s an original table from the Bishop family that predates the house. “My mom left it for us,” Archibald says. “It was Ms. Bishop’s grandparents’ table.”

For the décor, Antonuk claims he’s more modern and contemporary while Archibald is the traditionalist. That came to a head when Antonuk tried to paint the original woodwork white to match the mouldings in the parlour and dining room. “I was kiboshed by Ian,” he laughs. “Ian will always win any décor battle between us.”

Archibald has eclectic tastes. “I like to mix things together with pieces that draw in your eye,” he says. “I try to pick things that would stand the test of time; classics you can accessorize differently, but will have forever.”

His love of art is evident throughout house, where bronze busts, vintage paintings, and antique frames grace every surface. “I love architecturals, landscapes, and old masters,” he says. “I have a weakness for portraits, too. It’s like you’ve adopted them along the way, even if you have no personal connection to the people.”

Antonuk appreciates his partner’s penchant for collecting. “I’ll come home from a business trip and there will be a new painting out,” he says. “Everything he’s picked up over our 17 years together, it’s like it was always meant to be here, even before we knew it. It’s like it was fate that brought us here.”

Beyond the house, Archibald enjoys reconnecting with old friends and introducing new ones to the community. “The Valley is really evolving into a destination,” he says. “I have a pride about it that I like to share with friends and family.”

Antonuk relishes the slower pace of life. “Here you can pay attention to the important things in your life and the things around you,” he says. “There’s that sense of community.”

Mother Marilyn still holds court whenever she visits. “She’s our family matriarch,” says Archibald. “She has so many stories to tell and she feels fortunate to be able to make new family memories here. She’s very proud of it.”

  1. Classic art “down home”! I’ve always loved a warm fire, having at least three more would just make things extra cozy. LOVE the original items and the accessories draping the classic items. I’m feeling inspired by this article to start my own collection of pictures of strangers faces. I’ll spend all my while sitting by the fires with my golden plates and wondering what their journeymen lives were like.

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