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Eclectic DIY renovation

See how one Dieppe homeowner created a vibrant and colourful interior using thrift-store finds and fun retro pieces

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The Légers enjoying playtime with their kids. Photo: Martin Cormier

Sophie Léger remembers the first time she stepped inside her new home, a bank repo house on a quiet residential street in Dieppe, New Brunswick. A thick layer of grime covered the walls and the kitchen countertops, and there was dirt strewn across the floors of the split-level, three-bedroom bungalow. “It was yucky and dirty,” she shudders, recalling the first visit in 2010. “Everything was taken out, even the light fixtures and the plugs for the central vacuum.”

Trying to imagine what it looked like beyond the mess, Sophie and her husband, Laurent, saw a house with good bones and the potential to become a warm and cheerful space to raise their family, which now includes two daughters, Charlie, three, and Olive, one.  “It was just so dirty, but we could see that we could start over and bring it back to where it should be,” says Sophie, a federal government employee who also runs Lace & Twine, an event styling company.

  • In the kitchen, white subway tiles make an elegant backdrop for this floating shelf displaying Sophie’s latest finds. She installed the tiles herself, using an adhesive product called SimpleMat. Photo: Martin Cormier
  • Mixing old with new: mismatched vintage chairs from thrift shops surround the dining room table from Wicker Emporium. The chalkboard paint surface on the accent wall is command centre for the family, with notes on appointments, everyday reminders and grocery lists. Photo: Martin Cormier
  • Transforming the wardrobe into a nook for the change table increased the square footage of the small space. Sophie sourced the colourful paper garland on Etsy. Photo: Martin Cormier
  • Photo: Martin Cormier
  • Photo: Martin Cormier
  • Photo: Martin Cormier
  • In the upstairs bathroom, an antique dresser plays a new role as the vanity, with a sleek modern basin. Sophie loves the shape and look of antlers, and displays them throughout her home. Photo: Martin Cormier
  • Photo: Martin Cormier
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She knew the home needed an extensive overhaul. “The walls were painted really dark colours, which made the rooms feel smaller and depressing,” she says. “The hardwood floors were different in every room, so there was no flow.”

Making the kitchen more airy with a better sightline of the dining room was the first priority. The Légers removed the corner cabinet between the kitchen and the dining room, replacing it with an open shelf to create interest and storage. They upgraded the remaining cabinets with new white shaker-style doors and added new hardware, light fixtures, sink and faucets. They replaced the countertop with thick wooden butcherblock countertops from Ikea.

The white wainscoting Sophie and Laurent initially installed as the new backsplash failed under normal kitchen use. “The wainscoting wasn’t a good idea as the wood was hard to wipe down, so we replaced it with white subway tiles,” says Sophie, adding that she used a double-sided adhesive mat. “It was easier than mortar and it didn’t create a mess.”

They also repainted the kitchen cabinets a kid-friendly charcoal colour and added new brass handles. By doing most of the work themselves, and with help from family members, they transformed the kitchen for just $2,000.

Sophie loves a bargain and she constantly scours local antique and thrift shops, Kijiji, eBay and other bargain-hunting sites for unique retro pieces. “I love everything that is vintage and I really love the look of the 1970s,” she says. “I like to mix and match antiques with modern items.”

The dining room reflects her love of everything vintage with mis-matched chairs from local antique shops and the Salvation Army. She bought the table, on the other hand, new. “I loved the table, but just couldn’t pay the full price,” Sophie says. “Then I noticed it had a flaw with a crack on the top and I got it at 50 per cent off.”

She is particularly proud of her “$20 yardsale lucky find”—the antique oval mirror in the living room. She says a piece like this would sell for over $100 in an antique shop. Her other favourite items in the living room are two brown 1970s falcon chairs designed by Norwegian designer Sigurd Ressell. Sophie found them at Moncton’s Recyl’Art & Antique boutique. “I love their lines and the mix of leather and wood. They are so unique and I haven’t seen them anywhere else,” she says.

“And they’re very comfortable,” adds Sophie’s childhood friend, Stephanie Johnston. A frequent guest in the house, Stephanie marvels at her friend’s keen eye for design. “I like that this house is Sophie’s creation made with everything she loves,” she says. “Its eclectic, but it flows. I like to come here and drink a coffee next to the fireplace.” The fireplace in the living room is snuggled inside a large entertainment unit that Sophie and Laurent built themselves, using about $300 worth of pine boards, beadboard sheets and paint.

Making the home comfortable and safe for their young kids was a priority. When their eldest daughter started to climb on the furniture, the couple’s Kijiji-bought Ikea sectional couch quickly became a safety hazard, as its back was flush with the stair railing. “We replaced the railing with a higher half-wall stained a light gray,” Sophie says. “Basically, it’s a safety feature, but I wanted to incorporate it to the décor.”

Sophie admits that her daughters can quickly wreak havoc in her carefully designed rooms, especially the spreading tides of toys. “The house doesn’t usually looks this nice,” she laughs. A basket in the living room corrals the toys after playtime, but everyone agrees the large cowhide spread on the living room floor makes a great surface for childhood adventures.

Sophie tackled the ever-present toy-storage dilemma in the playroom downstairs with six repurposed gym lockers she painted bright green. ”It’s the best playroom ever,’’ says Stephanie. Little Charlie can cook a meal in the charming play kitchen, lovingly built from scratch by Sophie and her father. The reading teepee, a homemade Christmas gift for Charlie two years ago, is also a favourite spot for Willis, the family dog, who loves chewing the tepee ties. After serving tea to her auntie Stephanie, Charlie showcases her “new to her” costume trunk—a birthday gift from her mother who refinished the old wooden trunk in pale pink.

Another key aspect of the project was revamping the upstairs bathroom. Here, the Légers removed a half-wall to increase the square footage, and installed pale cream porcelain tiles, wainscoting and a new bathtub. However, the pièce de resistance in this space is the repurposed antique dresser that, with help from Sophie’s dad, is now the new vanity. Its distressed original walnut colour contrasts with the sleek modern basin sink. The top drawer now holds the plumbing, but with ingenuity, the two bottom drawers now provide storage.

In the girls’ small bedroom, Sophie managed to fit in two beds by removing the wardrobe doors to create a nook where she placed a repurposed dresser that she uses as the baby’s change table. Elegant wallpaper with grey dots and colourful garlands of delicate paper flowers help accentuate and frame this utilitarian, but pretty, space. “I wanted this room to be kid-friendly, but not necessarily with Winnie the Pooh or princesses, so I used punches of colour and nice girlie things,” says Sophie, pointing out the room’s delicate bird mobile (an Etsy find), assorted rugs and picture frames.

For Sophie, the home reflects her love of mid-century modern pieces while providing a relaxed and functional space for the whole family. “I love how our house reflects us and our style,” she says. “We’re really laid-back and I feel it shows in the look of the house. All of our furniture is old and beat up, so it doesn’t matter if the kids scratch it. It’s a very liveable space with two little kids and one bad dog.”

East Coast Living