before and after

Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright

by Annie Werbler

When Giulia Doyle of Audrey’s 74 moved to Ottawa, Canada from Switzerland over a decade ago, she didn’t expect to find a carved antique armchair from her great-grandfather’s hotel for sale in her new city. The vintage piece now takes pride of place in a home she shares with husband Bruno and their two small children, along with endless refreshed details that brought the residence from “a big sea of brown” to a contemporary home for a vibrant young family. The 1,400-square-foot sidesplit was built in 1958, and when the Doyle family purchased it almost six years ago, they sought to undo the shoddy renovation work it had seen throughout the years in order to uncover its full period potential.

In the living room, a previous owner had installed an efficient wood-burning fireplace insert, but had unfortunately also added floor tiles to the walls and hearth. The Doyles knew from an earlier real estate listing that a white brick surround was hiding underneath, and they set out to restore its condition. They chipped away the tile and then the messy, dirty grout and mortar. The dust from this process permeated every room. Hours and hours of work finally revealed the storied white brick. Giulia has been debating painting the door’s brass edge, but has recently grown to like it. The couple searched far and wide for the perfect piece of artwork to hang above their masterpiece until Giulia’s grandparents gave her the 1960s Jean Le Beut landscape painting displayed there now. The frame features brass detailing, so its age and finish tie into the other elements of the space.

Updating creature comforts in a home of this age turned out to be more challenging than the couple anticipated. They hired professionals right after closing to swap out the oil furnace for a gas model, and to install ducting throughout most of the house for forced air heat and AC. The resulting obsolete wall-inserted radiators took years for them to remove because of all the patching, painting, and baseboard replacement needed (they sadly could not find a match for its original profile). The pair have been tackling one large project every year, and have many more ideas on the list.

But for now, Giulia is happy to have created a bright and friendly house that is safe, comfortable, and not too precious for kids. There are no “no-touch” zones here, and the four residents live in the whole house. They share every meal at the dining table, and Giulia uses that same room for her photography because of its great light. The space flows directly into the home’s living room, where the combination of its 10-foot-long windows with those across the way offer enveloping north, south, and west-facing views of the scenic neighborhood. —Annie

Photography by Giulia Doyle

Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
In Giulia and Bruno Doyle's Ottawa fixer-upper, the fireplace reno was the hardest and messiest project of all. Removing the ugly floor tile was easy, but getting rid of the mortar on the original brick meant the entire house was covered in dust. They also rebuilt the hearth using large tiles that match the oak floors, and kept the insert for budgetary reasons and because it works perfectly in cold Canadian winters. Brick paint color is Benjamin Moore Ultra White.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
Integrating a serious sound system into the decor has proven a continuous challenge, and for now, the TV unit door can't actually close around its contents. Giulia found the oak arm chair at an antique store and it happened to be from the hotel her great-grandfather built. Its name is carved into the frame.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
It took Giulia years to source the perfect round coffee table for the space. She finally found this one on Kjiji (Canadian Craigslist). It's teak, from the same era as the house, and already had some imperfections, so it works perfectly with kids. It is usually covered in more stuff, but the tray helps corral all the random items that find their way here.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
A blue IKEA sofa is updated with new legs from Etsy. Giulia prefers using art ledges because they allow her to move pieces around all the time.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
View from the home's front door into the living and dining room beyond. The open shelf is an original feature which the family loves, but it's also challenging to fill it with things that look good from all sides.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
A floating IKEA sideboard in the dining room acts as barware storage, and also as a buffet when guests stop by for dinner. The silver horse was given to Giulia's great-grandfather on his 100th birthday.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
The north, south, and west-facing windows are an enjoyable architectural feature of a 1950s split-level home, and they flood the open living and dining area with daylight. The Doyles replaced all 19 of the home's broken, inefficient windows last year. A large painting behind the dining table was done by Sara Caracristi.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
Lots of brown was removed from the dining area, as were bi-fold doors to the kitchen and many feet of radiators. Giulia is still looking for the perfect curtain rod for this window, and would like to add a rug under the table once the kids are older. Benjamin Moore Thunder covers the walls on which a hundred-year-old Swiss clock is hung.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
The homeowners did a partial renovation in the home's only full bath. They removed the old radiator, repaired the plaster, painted, added a slimmer double vanity, and a new light and mirror. They'll be replacing the tub and tile in a few years. The vanity and light come from IKEA, and the painted stripes are done in Benjamin Moore Cloud White and Martha Stewart Sparkling Brook.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
Giulia and Bruno hacked an IKEA mirror by cutting it a little shallower and staining it a darker color. They also had to have a plumber replace the toilet stack after its 1958 copper pipes failed.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
A split-level house creates some challenging corners. This playroom and office space is odd because the front hall closet encroaches on it. Luckily, the IKEA Expedit storage fit here perfectly and is used to store toys, office supplies, and photography gear. The low cavity under the poster houses printer and cable boxes.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
There's enough room for two people to work in this office space made with a simple tabletop and legs. Another picture ledge is used here for easy art display. Giulia stenciled the 13-foot feature wall, which took forever. She matched the chairs to those in the dining room so they can be easily recruited for additional seating at meals.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
The couple removed the playroom's faux wood, acoustic tile ceiling, and dirty carpet. They discovered there was no insulation between the cinder block wall behind the paneling and the garage!
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
The mudroom off the garage previously contained a washer, dryer, and sink in a tight space, so the utilities were moved to the basement. Damaged walls were covered with wainscoting, and heated flooring was installed to warm chilly feet after removing shoes. Benjamin Moore Blue Echo paint adds life to the upper walls.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
After five years of using the unfinished basement as a storage dumping ground, the couple decided to finish it with vertical storage, a lounge area, and a guest bed. They did all the insulating, framing, wiring, dry-wall, and flooring themselves over several months. Storage: IKEA, baskets and pouf: The Land of Nod, rug: Home Sense, sconces: IKEA spray painted navy
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
Giulia updated this ten-year-old dresser with pulls she made from an old purse strap. The woven wallhanging was gifted to her by Danielle from The Land of Nod.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
The space next to the lounge area acts as a guest room. Benjamin Moore white cloud tints the walls.
Before & After: A Big Sea of Bright, on Design*Sponge
In the basement, Giulia finally found a spot in which to use her favorite wall paper from Hygge & West. This part of the lounge area is dedicated to play.

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  • Great before and after! It’s always nice to see a home from a city in which I live in, and the new bright updates give me many ideas!

  • This is lovely – I love how they’ve brought back the character of the home in a modern way. I’ve had the same challenge with my 1952 midcentury modest home. I love the blue color running through the house, so fresh! And finding that chair – what amazing luck!

    • Thank you so much! The artist is a New Brunswick painter named V. Lutz. I have not been able to find out much about her. We received the painting as a wedding gift and removed the gilded frame.

  • Well done Giulia and Bruno. It is lovely and bright now. I think a 1,400 sq/ft home with a basement is the perfect size!

  • Beautiful.
    Another art question for you – the shoreline piece above your fireplace? Oh my word. I love it. Can you share a source? I NEEED it for my office.

    • Thank you Sarah,
      The piece above the fireplace is an original 1960’s painting by Canadian artist Jean Le Beut – it was given to me by my grandparents who owned it for over 50 years.

  • This is a great renovation. You are to be congratulated. I have pinned many of the photos for future reference.

  • The light and the color palette in your home are just lovely!

    also–I’ve been researching methods to DIY a double desk for my home office too. Our tentative plan is to get an IKEA butcher block to put on trestles. But I’d love to know what you used to make your desk! thanx!

  • It’s hard to imagine so much light in a basement- love it! Would you share the source for the cute light (pill capsule-shaped) light in the guest room?

  • After a particular span, you start feeling bored of the interiors of your home. And that time all you need is a beautiful renovation. This one is a good example of changing the entire space into a new look. It is a great start. Nowadays, there is a lot you can do even without the help of professionals. Thus, if you are looking for a change, you can start it in the same way.

  • What is the name of the light in the bathroom above the shadow box framed mirror? Thanks

    • Hi Kathy,
      Sorry for the late reply, I don’t get notified on comments here. Unfortunately I can’t recall the name of the light in the bathroom. It’s from IKEA, pretty standard, but I’m also not sure they still stock it. Sorry.

    • Hi Ricky,
      Sorry for the late reply, I don’t get notified on comments here. The mirror was an IKEA mirror that we hacked. We trimmed down the depth of the frame a little before assembly and stained the pine darker. Then we assembled as per instructions.

  • Hi, I just had a plumber tell me that the ikea godmorgon sinks cannot be flush against two walls because it takes room on the side to install the plumbing and if it’s flush, there is no way to hook things up…I’ve noticed that a lot of the photos show it in the middle of a wall so I thought he was right…then I saw yours…can you please explain if you did anything different or a trick to install it this way? Thanks so much, Teresa

    • Hi Teresa,
      Sorry for the late reply, I don’t get notified on comments here.
      A couple of things. Yes, it is easier to install the godmorgen in the middle of the wall, but we installed it to the right. There is a 1-2 cm gap between the right hand wall and the edge of the vanity. This is not because of the plumbing, but because the drawer needs to clear our door molding. If you don’t have a door right next to it, that is not an issue.
      Regarding the plumping: Our stack runs to the left of the vanity, where the toilet is, however to accommodate the plumbing connection behind the sink to the left (where the two drains meet and there’s more bulk), we hacked the lower drawer by removing the top 2 slats of the back drawer wall. We store toilet paper in there so it’s fine and nothing falls back. We even have the divider still in there, but that is not as stable as if you had the full back rails. It really depends on what you plan to store in there. With four very generous drawers we don’t need it for toiletries or other things that might fall back.