Renovation & Design

This wild house

There’s no rules when it comes to this eclectic abode

Photos by Laurie Mustard / Winnipeg Free Press

Gail Fraser and Chris Robinson have gone to great lengths to transform their home.

Yep, that’s a mermaid on the ceiling, and her name is Annet.

One thing I think we can establish right off the top here is that Gail Fraser and her partner Chris Robinson are not minimalists.

What they are…is individuals with extremely creative imaginations and the skills to manifest their dreams into “bricks and mortar.”

Hence, the Winnipeg house they live in, which Gail has owned for 30 years, is their very own theme park of sorts, although she notes there’s really no theme. They’re just kind of living in a work in eternal progress. It will never be “finished.”

You might be wondering where there’s room to add anything. It’s all about priorities. If a new “must” comes along, something old has to go. Did I mention the whole house, in and out, yard and garage are all part of the “canvas?”

This beloved home is the very definition of repurposing. And recycling. Lots of recycling, as in dumpster diving to rescue material.

Both Gail and Chris, among other things, are talented artists. It’s their passion to take something that’s at the end of its life elsewhere, bring it home, combine it with other castoffs and collections, and turn it into something that adds a little more magic to their current ambience.

Of late, a friend who is renovating a very old house is giving them the lathe from beneath the plaster he’s removing, which they clean up, and use in a variety of ways, one being to cover sections of wall with it hardwood floor style. Looks great.

They’ve also recently rescued wood from an old barn that had to come down, and scrounged as much as they possibly could before the rest was burned down. They use it everywhere.

Then there’s the tile component. I don’t think it’s possible to count the number of tiles, ceramic and every other kind, that Gail has saved from going to the landfill, brought home, cut as needed and applied herself. They are everywhere, used for their original conventional purpose, but also, like everything else in this themeless park, as a feature of some sort.

You don’t step into this radically unique home and look at the art on the walls. You step into a fantasyland of sorts, which in its entirety, is an ever evolving work of art.

Both Gail and Chris have advanced tool skills, Gail constantly resizing and reshaping tiles and happily slicing up bricks with her trusty old saw. Chris has both a CNC router and a CNC plasma cutter he makes good use of, and both spend a lot of time creating in the garage workshop.

I mean, the mermaid hanging overhead as you come through the front door, did not arrive at Gail and Chris’s as a mermaid. It was a mannequin first, one of 14 Gail acquired from the Kildonan Place Bay store when it closed. There are but three of those unpeople still in residence, the rest having been traded or given away.

As we all eventually do, Gail came to the conclusion one day there needed to be a mermaid on the ceiling, so she created most of it, but came up short in the tail department. No worries, Chris got some blue Styrofoam, glued a few pieces together, then with his Dremel, sculpted and carved an amazing tail for the lovely and talented “Annet”. What else would you name a mermaid?

Gail recalled a funny story about when she initially started gathering just about anything to transform her home with. When friends and neighbours saw what she was up to, instead of throwing something out, they’d just drive by Gail’s and drop it over the fence into her yard. No question that it was appreciated, and every scrap put to good use. Nothing goes to waste in this space.

Great job you two. Carry on. I love it when no plan comes together.

Comment and column ideas welcome!


Browse Homes

Browse by Building Type