In Perfect Balance
A smart update gives a contemporary Canadian home a more personal look and feel, while staying true to its owners’ streamlined style
After a major renovation and addition, this sprawling home in Bearspaw, a rural area of Alberta, still didn’t feel right to its owners. So they called on Calgary-based interior designer Stephanie Charest to step in and make the interiors feel more like them. “I wouldn’t call what we did a renovation,” says Charest. “It was really more like a refresh—fixing some problems, giving the interiors a more personalized and cohesive design, and then adding all the finishing touches that pull it all together.”
In the kitchen, for example, Charest solved the problem of the existing walnut cabinets—which had a “really orange-y finish”—with a coat of black paint. Then, she replaced all the countertops, creating a dramatic focal point on the back wall with a seamless sweep of Cambria’s SKARA BRAE™, its plunging taupe-green veins and black and white tributaries standing out against a bone-white background. The rest of the materials—gray island countertops, white porcelain floor tiles, and the black cabinets—recede, allowing the Skara Brae™ pride of place, functioning like fine art in the elegant space. Finally, Charest chose brass finishes on the hardware, fixtures, and lighting, adding warmth against the cool black-and-white backdrop, and a hint of glamour.
In the kitchen, as throughout the house, Charest let her clients’ lifestyle guide her design choices. The couple has four grown children and a large extended family that often gathers at their home, so the kitchen and adjacent living spaces had to be geared to easy, mess-free food prep and easy entertaining. And, they preferred a clean, contemporary look without a lot of excess ornamentation. “That’s why Cambria was such a natural choice for the kitchen,” says Charest. “The owners cook a lot and use spices and sauces that can easily stain, so it was very important that we choose a countertop material that they wouldn’t have to worry about all the time. When we saw the Skara Brae™, we knew we’d found the perfect mix of dramatic style and easy maintenance.”
Graphic architectural elements—the vertical geometry of the wood-slat screen and the herringbone fireplace wall tile—add pattern and texture in the great room.
That bold materiality continues throughout the adjoining living and dining areas, inviting spaces that reflect the owners’ preference for a pared-down, minimalist style. Instead of introducing bold color and patterned fabrics to the decorating, Charest again built layers of interest with a creative approach to the surfaces. On the fireplace wall, she combined two types of tile, a rolled-steel look for the hearth topped by a graphic herringbone pattern surrounding the firebox and extending all the way to the ceiling. In front of the staircase, she created a privacy screen of wood-veneer slats, a practical element that became a modern design feature. “The screen shields the staircase, but still allows light to filter in from the windows,” Charest says. It also draws the eye up to the catwalk above, emphasizing the open volume of the space. The walnut tones of the slats play well with the scraped oak floors, installed during the home’s original renovation. “The client originally wanted to replace the floors, or refinish them, but they have a nice gray tone that ended up working really well with our design, so we kept them in place.”
Charest repeated those warm gray tones in the sofa she chose for the living space—a comfy sectional, ideal for large family gatherings—and incorporated just enough color to make the room feel richly personal. Sapphire-blue velvet covers the round ottoman-cum-cocktail table, and a collection of jewel-toned pillows lines the sectional. A creamy area rug helps define the living area within the open great room, adding softness and brightness underfoot. “We really didn’t add much in the way of ‘decorating,’ because we did want to honor the clients’ very clean, contemporary style. But, in the end, it’s those last touches of color and texture that make a room feel finished and pulled together,” says Charest. “It’s a mistake to go too plain.”
Just as the kitchen gets its drama from Skara Brae™ and the living space from its herringbone tile wall, the dining area has its own showstopping material moment—but this time it’s on the ceiling. Charest replaced the existing walnut ceiling panels, which were bowing badly and in danger of falling down, with new wood panels in a three dimensional basketweave pattern. “We knew we wanted to get rid of that orange walnut, but still keep some warmth and texture on the ceiling. When we found these panels we knew they’d be just the thing to add some impact, and it’s great when a client trusts us with a bold decision like this.”
Dramatic lighting fixtures also played an important role in the design. In the dining room, a faceted geometric fixture floats like an airborne sculpture, helping set the space apart from the adjacent kitchen and living areas. And in the kitchen, sleek rectilinear pendants illuminate the island with a restrained, elegant glow.
The result of Charest’s update is a design that feels cohesive and intentional—in perfect keeping with the contemporary architectural style of the home, with the wide-open landscape that surrounds it and, most importantly, with its owners’ preferences. It shows Charest’s deft and creative hand with materials, and her instinct for using just enough color to enliven a neutral palette. The final effect is one of balance: Intimacy within a sprawling layout; warm tones in harmony with cool ones; and comfort softening sharp edges. But, to the owners, all that matters is that their refreshed home finally feels like them.