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Growing family, growing home

How a home extension helped this Halifax family maximize their small space

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Photo by Aaron MacKenzie Fraser

When the Jamiesons, a young family just beginning their careers, found their Hydrostone home on Merkel Street nearly a decade ago, it met their needs so closely that they bought it the day they found it on the market.

The home, which dates back to the early 20th century, post-Halifax Explosion, was on the small side. But for two professionals (Rob is a Dalhousie engineering professor, and Terra a sector analyst with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), it sufficed.

Until Milo showed up. That’s their son, and their first child, who is three years old today. Once the pitter-patter of little feet entered the picture, a lot of the small failings of their home started looking bigger and bigger.

  • When the Jamiesons, a young family just beginning their careers, found their Hydrostone home on Merkel Street nearly a decade ago, it met their needs so closely that they bought it the day they found it on the market.
  • The Jamieson family: Rob, Terra, Milo and Freya.
  • The kitchen renovation opened up the work area. “We now have a beautiful, but much more functional space with efficient storage,” says Terra. “That really tied together modern and traditional.”
  • Terrra says her décor features a mix from local vendors such as Attica Furnishings, Finer Things Antiques, Urban Cottage, The Independent Mercantile, Inkwell Modern Handmade Boutique, Renovators Resource, the former Hen House store, with a little Ikea thrown in for good measure.
  • The children's rooms are colourful spaces that encourage creativity.
  • This child's bedroom is a soothing green that creates a calming environment for sleep.
  • The wood theme from the kitchen carries over into the bathroom to create a cohesive space.
  • Terra recently won a design advice session from Hen House. She added a crafting/office area to the bedroom to keep her projects organized.
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“The house wasn’t insulated, and while it was a nice little house, we didn’t have a lot of room in our kitchen, we had maybe two drawers in the whole kitchen, not a lot of cabinet space,” says Terra. “Our closets were really small. We had to tilt our hangers to close the door. We didn’t have any storage in our bathroom…it just wasn’t a good use of space.”

The Jamiesons wrestled with the idea of finding a new home, but there was nothing on the market to their liking that wouldn’t require a ton of work after closing. At least, not any that also shared the same creature comforts that the Hydrostone community offered.

“It’s living in the North End. We know our neighbours, our neighbours are wonderful,” says Terra. “[Might as well] stay here and do it exactly the way we wanted to.”

Lucky for the Jamiesons, there was an architect in the family. Rob’s younger brother Chad specializes in modern design, and was quickly brought onto the renovation project to revitalize the old town house.

“I’m not sure I was brought into it, so much as I was assigned it,” Chad jokes.
The name of the game in reviving the Merkel Street home was to maximize space and storage, making the home as efficient and as child-friendly as possible. And the clock was ticking. As soon as they signed onto the project, the Jamiesons learned that baby number two, daughter Freya, was en route.

“A family was on its way, a bigger family, and they needed room,” says Chad. “And to be able to be in the kitchen and see the kids.”

“The existing kitchen was in one back corner of the house, and the living room was in the opposite front corner of the house,” says Brian Mitchell, who was part of the project team with MRB Contracting, who were hired to implement Chad’s designs. “So it was pretty segregated there.”

What once must have been a cramped little cooking nook is opened up to the rest of the house, by taking out the back wall and connecting it to a new addition to the back of the home, trading out ample porch space for a children’s play area, complete with a small side bathroom for when the time for potty training comes.

“This house is way more child-proof now,” says Terra. “Now the kids are actually able to be a little more free-range on the main floor, because I can see them. We’ve removed a lot of dangerous obstacles. The kitchen is pretty easy to childproof, because I can…put things out of their reach.”

“I’ve done a lot of kitchens, and the thing about kitchens is to make them…have so much storage that you don’t know what to do with it,” says Chad. “Pack it in as much as you can.”

He replaced an entire wall of this kitchen with floor-to-ceiling flush cabinets. “A lot of kitchens are inefficient, the way that the storage happens. You’ll have lower cabinets, cabinets you have to bend over to get into down below, and then they’ll have upper cabinets, and they’re kind of too high.”

Taking that storage space out from below the countertops allowed that storage real estate to be put to use for the kids’ playthings.

“This allowed us to basically just open up from the other side,” says Chad. “The traditional upper and lower is not in this house.”

While the main event was the kitchen and adjacent play area, the renovation also added extra space to the upper floor—about half as much as the downstairs section. That let the Jamiesons open up their master bath for more storage and even the laundry machines, and add a pocket of office/crafting space to their master bedroom.

“This is a game-changer… we can do laundry on the same floor that we make laundry,” says Terra. “Every part of our house has a utility to it. There’s not a lot of wasted space.”

Some of the challenges of the project included not going over the 35% maximum allotment of building on the property. After the renovation, the Jamieson’s home is sitting at 34.9%, which means this is the only addition the home can accommodate. Plus, during the five months of extensive structural work, the Jamiesons lived out of a hotel room.

But by all other accounts, this project couldn’t have gone more smoothly. Terra chalks that up to investing the extra 20 to 30% of her renovation budget in an architect and building team.

The forward planning that Chad’s designs provided, and the project manager’s meticulous tracking of every step of development (down to the exact number of nails used) helped to bring the project to fruition ahead of schedule and under budget.

Terra concedes that hiring a project manager added a substantial amount to the up-front cost of the renovation. “But if you’re doing a big, multi-faceted renovation like this was, having a project manager in place is worth every dollar,” she says.

We asked architect Chad Jamieson what you should consider before deciding on a home addition:

Be realistic about the length of your project
Kitchen and bathroom renovations can take a minimum of 3-4 months, an addition 6-8 months. Specially made materials like kitchen cabinets, plumbing fixtures, and windows are a few things that can take weeks to fabricate or order.

Make alternate living arrangements
“Doing dishes in the bathtub is fun for zero days,” says Chad, who suggests moving out if your addition involves the kitchen or bathroom. Consider this expense as part of your overall budget.

“In Nova Scotia we build all year round but productivity is just not as high in the winter months,” says Chad. “If exterior work is involved, unexpected delays and costs are common.”

Obtain permits early
It’s not uncommon for building permits to take months before approval. Carefully review your local by-law requirements at the very beginning of the project as this can often restrict or dictate the size and shape of an addition.

Get expert advice
A real estate agent, banker, or appraiser can help you set an appropriate budget and scope for your addition. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re building to improve your quality of life. That might be more important than immediate resale value, especially if you plan to stay in your home long-term.

Don’t rush
“Careful and detailed planning can minimize the risk of cost overruns,” says Chad. “Being realistic about construction timelines is critical to managing stress.”

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