When Jackie Dixon walks into a house she doesn’t necessarily see how it looks. She sees how it could look. And that can be completely different from what’s before her eyes.
Two years ago Dixon, an interior designer, and her husband Randy Koob, a mechanical engineer, bought a three-bedroom bungalow in St. John’s. The mid-century house was situated amongst the mature trees of an established urban neighbourhood close to the university and just outside the downtown core.
It had undergone a few renovations over the years to meet the needs of the original owners’ expanding family, but nothing like what was about to happen under its new owners.
Jackie and Randy raised the house one metre, gutted the interior, which meant removing most of the interior walls, and added three new staircases, a two-storey extension, and a garage. They also updated the light fixtures and appliances. Dixon redecorated the few untouched rooms left in the original configuration.
The amount of work that went into the transformation was about the same as starting from scratch. But Jackie wanted it that way. “I like the challenge of rebuilding,” she says. “I’ve done new construction and it’s not as rewarding. This property was worth keeping. It’s a great neighbourhood and I’d already done another house the same way.”
The couple was also keen to maintain the house’s original footprint. “The bylaws have changed and if we had torn it down, we would have had to move the house nine feet [three metres] back,” Randy says. “It took three weeks just to make sure we could build an extension.”
By keeping the original foundation, they could grandfather in under the building regulations of the time. Even so, the couple figure the house has been altered by about 95 per cent, and that means they needed to use new construction standards, which kick in at 70 per cent.
The job took 21 months from purchase to move in. Though the house blends into the neighbourhood, walking in the front door it’s immediately apparent that everything inside is different.
When the walls were taken down, the installed seven eight-metre steel beams to bear the weight of the upper storey and roof, opening up the main floor. The kitchen sits at the far end of the bright open space and the living area boasts sleek-lined furnishings in sophisticated shades of steel and taupe.
A chandelier sits over a counter, rather than the dining room table, dividing the large space while lending as much light as possible. The main floor isn’t entirely open. There are a couple of bedrooms off the back as well as a large, airy sunroom, a favourite spot of the couple’s two dogs, Pebbles and Presley.
A small den, which used to be the master bedroom, now separated from the main space by pocket doors, is cozy and warm with a subtly patterned wood floor that perfectly reflects Jackie’s attention to detail.
“A realtor told me the house was beautifully staged, but this is our home,” laughs Jackie. “It’s not staged. We live here.”
When they raised the house, the basement became a fully finished and useful space. At two metres high, it wasn’t fully livable, so Randy raised the ceiling to three metres. “It increased the square footage by 1,600 square feet for $50,000, which is cheap for all that space,” he says.
They could easily convert the basement into a separate apartment, but currently use it for office space and entertaining. A wet bar is so well equipped it could easily serve as another kitchen and there’s a commodious dining/games playing table in the same space.
A custom wine rack covers one wall and lends an air of sophistication to the main space, which is enhanced by a fireplace similar to the one in the living room directly above. But this one sits in a wall of steel, which is being left to weather as it wills. Already an interesting patina is developing from the heat patterns.
The house’s big surprise is Randy’s favourite room (although the dogs like it, too). A new flight of stairs leads to a separate room designed as a movie theatre. From the popcorn dispenser and candy bar at the back to the posters on the walls, dimmable lighting, sloped floor, and stadium seating facing a giant screen, the room is designed to give that cinema experience. The couple often have friends over for movie nights and no one who first walks into the room isn’t impressed.
Darren Vey, an interior woodworker (who also likes the movie room best), did all the interior doors and trims and is responsible for the floor in the den. “Randy gave me a computer printout with the measurements, but any angle only exists in theory,” he says. “If you’re off by the smallest margin, it compounds as you go and as a pre-finished floor that adds another level of difficulty.”
He found the floor an enjoyable challenge and liked working with Randy and Jackie. “Both of them are very energetic and positive,” he says. “They had patience and perseverance and they’re sticklers for detail. I love Jackie’s style. I know what I like, but I’m not capable of doing what she does. I can see form, but not style and colour. She sees a finished product.”
Jackie bears him out. “As soon as we bought the house, I already had in mind everything in it,” she says. “I bought everything in St. John’s because it’s important to support local communities and local businesses.” It might have added another layer of difficulty, but purchasing locally, as well as showing it can be done, is important to her. They bought only a single, custom-made item online.
But, with the house now finished and decorated, Jackie is becoming restless. “I’m itching to do another house,” she admits. “It’s the creative process, seeing what you visualize come to fruition.”
One thing she won’t do is take the furniture with her. She has no sentimental attachment to it. “Stuff isn’t your memory. It’s here,” she says, tapping her head. But she doesn’t want to discard it either. “I’d like to give the furniture to a well-deserving working mother. Give them a special room for themselves or a child.”
Assuming, that is, that Randy and the dogs can give up the movie theatre.