Renovation With Design in Mind

Article by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Derek Ford.

Rarely do house hunters discover their dream property in a straight-forward way. Out for a walk, discussing their desire to downsize and reduce their footprint, Patti Gray and her husband happened upon an open house. “It was everything we didn’t want: it was big, dark and had a lot of small rooms covered in pink… and we bought it,” laughs Gray. They knew there was a vision in it somewhere but they needed someone to assemble their ideas and create a functional home to reflect their style.

Gray was looking for someone with “fresh ideas that could think outside the box.” Walking into Bespoke Design Ltd. was a notable experience for Gray; she could speak directly to owner/designer, Ben Brannen, and immediately get a sense for his design aesthetic. Brannen’s approach was to look at the space as a blank slate, with no inhibitions. “He had a whole new vision, it was fresh and new, and that was very exciting for me,” says Gray. Brannen adds that, “it really was a dream project to come into because it was in the demolition phase and I could see through all areas of the home, right to the bones.”

Initially Gray wanted to break the design into parts, requesting the Bespoke team start with the kitchen. She knew she wanted an open-concept kitchen centred around a generous island for entertaining family and friends. Brannen and his colleagues encouraged taking out a wall and ‘viola’, the result is a bright open space where everyone around the table can enjoy the view.

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As the kitchen neared completion, Brannen suggested they start to rethink and repurpose the remaining rooms. “That was great for me because I hadn’t got to that point yet and he was full of ideas,” says Gray. Trust, and a little bit of candor, was now the basis of their collective power to move forward and reinvent the rest of the house.

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Gray emphasizes that she was free to personalize choices at every stage. “We were able to be brutally honest with each other right down to choosing the perfect couch,” laughs Gray. Brannen adds that, “designers carry the initial interview with them through the entire process. The discussion about the final goal should always remain in the back of our minds so that every choice you’re making in the design process feeds that final outcome. Of course, we can change a little bit but ultimately people don’t usually sway too far from their original plans.”

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The Bespoke team respected Gray’s budget and embraced the challenge of reinvention. As a nod to sustainability, Brannen recalls visiting Gray’s previous home to look at each piece as functional objects that could be reinvented and reused in their new home. “What was once a dining room cabinet is now in our family room and our dark ebony dining room suite has been painted and refreshed as a contemporary white dining suite,” muses Gray. Art from their previous home was repositioned and took on new life in their renovated space.

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Unveiling the original cement floors that had been covered by hardwood or carpets was another cost-effective benefit. “Cement floors should have cracks and markings to reflect character. That’s the beauty of them. They reflect the light, are easy to care for, and are as beautiful as old Italian terrazzo flooring,” says Brannen.

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For Brannen, the essence of design runs deeper than mere cosmetic modifications. He really gets to know his clients in order to provide informed design options that reflect their personal design aesthetic. Gray was thrilled with the results. “It’s more than I ever really dreamt of. The kitchen is probably the most transformative,” says Gray. “It’s functional, bright, and has so much storage in a relatively small space.”

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Sitting down with Brannen and Gray, it’s apparent that this was more than a design project, they have formed a lasting friendship. “It’s inevitable to spend so much time with someone and not get to know their friends and family. I definitely have more projects on the horizon for him,” smiles Gray.

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