Sitting in a historical enclave of Ottawa, Canada, is a beautifully renovated 1920s red brick house that’s home to a blended family of five children and three dogs embarking on a new chapter in their lives.
The renovation project began as Henrietta Southam, Founder and Principal of Henrietta Southam Design, and her partner Peter sought to create a shared space for their expanding family. “Five years after dating, knowing all the constraints and complications of blending a family and finding only joy in the chaos, Peter and I set off to look at buying a property together,” Henrietta shared. “After a few discussions with his young son, it began to dawn on me that his children did not want to leave the home they had been born in. It was their old home or bust.”
Rather than merging incomes and purchasing additional space, Henrietta had to seek a solution for accommodating her expanding family in an existing structure. This entailed substantial renovations, including the construction of a four-story extension and reconfiguration of the current layout. Her own design firm took on the task of crafting a welcoming environment for each family member. “As delicately as possible, I completely re-built the house from the inside out to make it a personal space and start afresh in our new unfolding story. To expand the home to welcome all children, make it a beacon of peace and a haven of calm.” Among the children are Henrietta's daughter Charlotte, Peter's son Caspar, his daughter Anika who visits during university breaks and Henrietta's two boys who return from Los Angeles for holidays.
Reflecting on the challenging journey, Henrietta shared her experience, saying, "In order to afford the build, we sold my little saltbox Victorian in Spring down the street and moved into Peter's barebones cottage on a lake. As summer turned into autumn, and the descending chill meant everyone, including our two dogs, were sharing one King-size bed and duvet for warmth. When it got too cold, we were taken in by good friends for a week to a month at a time." Henrietta continued, "We moved into our new home as soon as the bannister was installed on the stairs, just before the last Christmas before the pandemic. There was no furniture yet, as I wanted to start fresh and give Peter and me our own style."
To accommodate her new family's unique dynamics, the home is filled with an array of tailor-made elements. The layout was strategically reconfigured to foster closer bonds and encourage interaction among the children in shared spaces. Simultaneously, a private suite was crafted for the parents of the house for a balance of togetherness and privacy. An open staircase was redesigned and moved to the heart of the home, leading to a glass roof that floods the home with light. Uncommon elements, such as an eye-catching railing and a kitchen island crafted from sequoia slab, elevate the home's aesthetic appeal. Deliberately placed arches, curved walls and thoughtfully chosen materials soften the home's once rigid lines.
Henrietta wanted her step children to feel immediately at home again, so she thoughtfully carried over their German mother’s love of wood and pelts whilst bringing her own penchant for tribal materials and patterns into play. Burnt clay became her personal leading colour and is picked up in the smallest details throughout: the colour of a Fancy Pigeon’s Formal Portrait, the velvet of an Uzbek cushion, the copper sedimentation in the slab of the leathered marble.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of this home is the recreation of Henrietta Southam Design's "Bliving Room", which intriguingly combines a bathroom and living room. Henrietta placed a freestanding bathtub in the master bedroom, and further elevating its presence by incorporating antique verdigris columns from a French Provençale church which complement the green tones of a 17th-century Flemish tapestry heirloom. A television is cleverly hidden beneath a painting of Siena. The swivel chairs are adorned with Bakuba mud-cloth motifs, adding an organic element to the custom stone hearth and sinks.
Henrietta takes pride in the unique pieces she created for this project, using her personal collection from nature and collaborating with skilled tradespeople. The coffee table in the living room stands out with its legs made from driftwood she personally collected from the lake. She created a stone mantle for the “Bliving room” with stones typically used by landscapers for garden steps and retaining walls. The stair railing is a result of enclosing brass balls sourced from Texas. As an homage to her French upbringing, Henrietta adorned the library shelves with luxurious velvet wrapping.
Reflecting on her departure from her usual style, Henrietta explains, "This style was a complete departure for me and a challenging one, as it required my inner colourist to embrace neutrals while avoiding the risk of becoming bland. I was also careful not to veer into a cartoon-ish depiction of organic elements. My own inflicted brief demanded comfort over rusticity, organic components without being overly pastoral, a touch of elegance without being overly formal, simplicity without feeling cold. Throughout the process, I let go of traditional conventions and delved into what I consider to be the most intimate and personal expression of my space ever created."
Henrietta Southam Design has been shortlisted in the International Design and Architecture Awards 2022 in the Best Global Design Category for this project.