Renovation & Design

Treat your home to the wow factor

Designer's touch can transform ordinary into extraordinary

AFTER: The main-floor renovation of this 2,000-sq.-ft. St. Norbert home includes a solid tongue-and-groove maple floor throughout the kitchen and dining room, as well as a high-quality nylon carpet with a mix of chocolate and beige tones in the living room. At right, the main floor was gutted and the living, cooking and dining space incorporated into one room.

IS there a better illustration of a natural miracle than a well designed and executed home renovation? If you look at the before and after photos that accompany this article, you might even conclude the miracle was inspired by the supernatural.

In a way, there's some truth to this because a breathtaking reno requires the combined expertise of a team of professionals, each one with extraordinary skills. But no matter how talented, the group requires a leader to co-ordinate activities and ensure everything happens in the right order at the right time.

Doreen Gauthier, president of Make It Home Ltd. of Winnipeg, is such an organizer.

"Sometimes I feel like a quarterback, as I'm the one responsible for calling the plays and making sure the team operates at maximum efficiency," she said.

Now completing her fifth year as a full-time designer, Gauthier undertakes renovations from about $30,000 to $200,000, including kitchens, basements and entire interiors. Her business has grown by word of mouth, a testament to the quality of her work.

The first part of a reno is to produce a set of design drawings that satisfy the client's aesthetic insights and budget, she said, followed by a selection of materials, paint colours, cabinetry, flooring and a host of other items.

"I encourage my clients to show me magazine clippings and photos, so I get a sense of their tastes in style. I don't want to impose my preferences on them because each renovation would look exactly the same. I want my work to reflect a variety of styles."

Gauthier charges about $70 an hour for her design drawings. The drawings contain information required by a general contractor to estimate the cost of sub-trades doing work such as plumbing relocation, electrical-wire rerouting and wall removal.

"Before a load-bearing wall is taken down, we consult a structural engineer who calculates the size of beam required to replace the wall, then stamps the drawings so they pass through the city permit office quickly."

Generally speaking, older homes have more walls than modern houses, which tend to feature large, open spaces. For example, a kitchen reno in a 40-year-old Transcona home that Gauthier and her team are currently working on required the removal of a main wall that separated the living room from the cooking area.

"The idea is to visually unite the area by installing flooring in both rooms that will match new cabinets and other details in the kitchen," said Dan, the homeowner. The former dining room next to the kitchen will be made into an enclosed spare bedroom as he and his wife Gisele are expecting a second child in January, he added.

"So far, the project is on schedule and we're really pleased with Doreen's ability to keep to budget and the professionalism exhibited by her team members," he said, adding Gauthier will go shopping with the couple to suggest purchases that won't put their renovation over budget.

One of Gauthier's larger renos was the main floor of a 2,000-square-foot house in St. Norbert.

"We completely gutted the main floor so that all the living, cooking and dining space was incorporated in one cohesive room," she said.

To accomplish this, a main wall was removed and a short stairway that led to the living room was relocated to the opposite side of the room and significantly widened to further integrate the overall design.

"The new stairs replaced a '70s-style pony wall with plants along the top that was trendy at the time," Gauthier said. A half-wall with rectangular cutouts and a hardwood ledge was constructed to divide the living room from the dining area.

"Kids love to run along the ledge of the wall, and my older children find it a convenient spot to set down a beer," said the home's owner, Bob.

A few years ago, he and his wife Lise had considered moving, Bob said. But after searching the housing market, they discovered that the kind of upgraded home they wanted cost more than they were ready to pay.

"We decided it would be less expensive to renovate our existing house."

So the couple went searching for a designer who could give their home a "wow" factor.

During a visit to the Home Expressions show, the couple met a friend who suggested Gauthier was the designer who could make their vision a reality. The friend said Gauthier would take care of all the niggling details as well as provide a first-rate crew of workers dedicated to craftsmanship.

"He was right," Bob said. "It was a stress-free renovation and we got everything we wanted, including a big 'wow' from friends and guests who visited after the work was completed."

Gauthier said the reno consists of many elements, including a solid tongue-and-groove maple floor with a warm honey stain throughout the kitchen and dining room -- some of the boards exhibit lovely fiddle back and bird's eye figures.

The living-room floor is covered with a high-quality nylon carpet with a mix of chocolate and beige tones. The darker hues in the rug match a La-Z-Boy leather couch and hardwood side-table, while the lighter shades complement an upholstered La-Z-Boy Designer's Choice easy chair on the opposite side of the room, Gauthier said.

In the dining area, leather-covered chairs in bright ivory surround a solid maple table stained dark mahogany. The dining set echoes the colours of the carpet, as do the taupe walls and ceilings and cappuccino-stained solid maple cabinets by Altima Cabinet Works Ltd. in the kitchen. An island in this room has four chocolate-brown upholstered bar stools and a quartz countertop by Cambria, peppered with brown, beige and taupe hues.

"The island is where our family eats most of its meals," Bob said, adding that all the countertops in the kitchen are the same quartz, though the backsplash consists of cream tiles with an eye-catching design running through the middle of it.

Gauthier also turned an alcove next to the kitchen into a family computer area with matching cappuccino cabinets, an ivory upholstered chair and overhead pot lights.

The ceilings throughout the reno are festooned with pot lights which, with three hanging lights over the island, considerably brighten the once "rather dreary house" but can be dimmed to create a soothing atmosphere, he said.

Gauthier also included state-of-the-art appliances, an ultra-modern sink and faucet in the island and a large-screen television in the living area.

A dark brown feature wall behind the kitchen, combined with white doors, mouldings, baseboards and trims throughout the reno, complete and unite the design.

In 2010, Gauthier won the Women's Business Owners of Manitoba Award in the Home Enterprise category. She credits much of her success to the team of professionals she has assembled, who she says possess the talent to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.


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