How one family updated their 1911 heritage home to make room for three lively young boys — while keeping its grownup charms

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023

By Danielle Pope | Photos by Dasha Armstrong

When Erin and Trevor* moved back to Victoria in 2009, the couple knew exactly which house they wanted to move into. It was a 1911 character home in Oak Bay, and it was the first home they circled in a real estate book they were flipping through. In fact, it was the only home.

“We both had this moment where we said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s that one.’ But the price was so crazy — and it was the only one we wanted to see,” says Erin, who is originally from
New York.

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
The foyer takes the space of the former dining area, where hockey gear and book bags used to accumulate. Now everyone has a designated area for their things and the space easily maintains a welcoming look even on busy days. The renovated staircase makes an elegant and safe rise to the second level. 

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
The homeowners worked with Jenny Martin Design to bring the space up to a standard that would work for a family of rambunctious boys, and still offer comfort and a retreat for all.

The couple only had themselves to think about at the time, and they loved the style of the house. It was in their choice neighbourhood, it would keep them close to Trevor’s family in the region and, as one of the street’s original builds, it was filled with stories. Not long after their initial tour, they were calling the home their own. The pair had dreams of bringing kids into their family, however, and wondered how their visions would fit into a space with limited bedrooms, a “deathtrap” staircase and outdated storage.

Still, life moved forward. By 2020, the family had grown to five — with a rambunctious set of boys, then ages eight, five and one-and-a-half. With the youngest quickly growing into his own space, change was indisputably on the horizon.

“We had been talking for a couple of years about leaving, or maybe knocking the house down and starting over, but we really couldn’t bring ourselves to do either,” says Erin. “There were many issues with building new in our neighbourhood and we wanted to keep the character of our home. But we needed it to be conducive to a family of five.”

*The homeowners requested that their last name not be used.

Redefining Possibility

With few options, and a market that yielded no homes as appealing as their own, Erin and Trevor sought the advice of Jenny Martin Design to discover if a reno could bring the 2,300-square-foot home up to modern standards. The answer was yes. The house would have to be stripped down to the studs, but transformation was possible.

“At this point, the place just looked like a kids’ play zone. I remember closing the door on this home as we knew it,” says Erin. “We turned around for one last goodbye, and we looked at the high stick marks in the wall and said, ‘Yes, it’s time!’ ”

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
The oversized island was built to double as this family’s eating area, with five custom seats prepared to host meals throughout the day, leaving the formal dining table for special occasions.

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
The kitchen’s full reconfiguration factored in purpose-built storage for special items, including a coffee and tea station to support busy moments and keep the area tidy in the midst of chaos.

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
With so much life happening in and around the kitchen, the space needed to be big enough for visiting while cooking, cleaning and homework takes place. 

Jenny Martin, principal of Jenny Martin Design, says the biggest theme for the reno was to create a made-to-live-in space. They wanted it brighter and airier, with a dedicated area for the boys to play in and an “escape” for Erin to retreat from the chaos.

“The functionality of this home clearly wasn’t working,” says Martin. “As soon as everyone was home, book bags and sports equipment were dropped in the dining room off the door. There was no natural place for anything. You want to walk in and feel the beauty of a home, and you do that by creating a ton of storage to keep clutter
at bay.”

There was plenty of opportunity — if they went up. The plan was to raise the house to turn the dark, turn-of-the-century laundry-room basement into a functional kids’ level with additional bedrooms and a play zone. The former dining room on the main level would become a foyer, and a new staircase would elevate the landing area. The kitchen would be expanded with a small rectangular addition, and the upper level would transform into a primary bedroom space with ensuite.

“The house, prior, had a very active-boys feel. One of the biggest things the family wanted was a soft, coastal palette that was quiet and restrained — very Belgian countryside,” says Martin. “They also wanted a kitchen where five people could gather around an island and eat and visit, because that’s what was happening. They just needed the space to do it.” 

While the house could only be lifted a few feet, space was also won by exposing beams on the ceiling of the upper floor, creating an optical feeling of height. Tony Aindow, owner/director of Goodison Construction, worked on the reno and had support from structural moving firm Nickel Bros for the lift. The team faced a few serious challenges, including encountering bedrock that could have required blasting, but was fortunately overcome by manual removal of the boulders.

“The build was created using yesteryear building codes, as you’d expect, but there’s also all this beautiful old-growth Douglas fir,” says Aindow.
“It was nice to be able to keep as much as we could while transforming the inside to modern building codes, with thicker insulation and double-glazed windows. It’s quite the thing to keep something old and make it work for today.”

Eyes to the Future

Today, the boys are ages 11, eight and five, and even Martin marvels that the home looks as good as the day the project was completed. It’s a mark of a space that’s working as functionally as was intended.

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
Storage remains at a premium even after this reno, so the design team had to find clever ways to fit in drawers, cupboards, nooks and baskets wherever possible. Built-in closets create an illusion of space as the walls create a perception of clean lines while ensuring laundry is stowed away.

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
Baskets of every shape and size make even the most standard laundry-room detritus seem manageable.

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
An attractive bench in the entry doubles as shoe storage for all five family members.

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023
Keeping clutter out of sight with roll-away shelving in bathrooms ensures counters remain clear.

“When you’re standing in a kitchen with old fir flooring and cabinets that someone else has installed, sometimes you have to ask, ‘Where do we go from here?’ ” she says. “Often, it just takes someone revisioning it to find a way forward.”

For Erin, the transformation was remarkable. Life’s easier now, she says. The kids have independence, and shoes are put away when people arrive home. It’s those little things that make a difference.

“I didn’t want to be cleaning all the time, so we went for cabinets that wouldn’t collect dust, counters that could easily be wiped clean, and floors that wouldn’t show much wear,” Erin says. “We wanted a home that would be open for everyone and, today, I can honestly say there’s nothing I would change.”

Home Tour - Fit for Five - Sep/Oct 2023


Designer: Jenny Martin Design
Builders: Tony Aindow, Goodison Construction
House lift: Nickel Bros  
Excavators: Chad Hogan, Whole Excavation Services
Engineering: Scott Engineering, Ryzuk Geotechnical
Framer (interior): Goodison Construction
Plumbing and mechanical: Lance Priestly, Magnum Plumbing and Heating, JB Sheet Metal
Electrician: Bert Moore, Victoria Lightworks Electrical Services
Light fixtures: Pine Lighting Victoria
Doors and hardware: Home Lumber & Building Supplies 
Windows: Marvin Windows & Doors
Sliding doors: Pella Windows & Doors of Victoria
Tile: Stefanie Watchman, Island Floor Centre (supply), Kyle’s Tiles (install)
Countertops: Stone Age Marble & Granite
Flooring: Stefanie Watchman, Island Floor Centre(supply), Nick Kay, Cherry Point Hardwood Floors (install)
Landscape design: Rob Spytz