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Serendipitous Old Stuff

It’s no secret: I love small towns and villages. Love their main streets, small stores and annual events.

Blog Photo - Warkworth Credit VisitTrenthills.ca

Warkworth, a charming Northumberland County village that’s famous for its many artists and cultural events, is one of my favourites. There’s always something going on in this village 90 minutes east of Toronto  — arts shows, the Lilac Festival, the Long Lunch (below), the Maple Syrup Festival, the Perfect Pie Contest, and others.

Blog Photo - Warkworth Long Table

Blog Photo - Lilac Festival in Warkworth

Our friends who live there often spoke of “Justine”, who ran a painted-furniture business. Recently, they decided it was time for us to visit Justine’s business and meet her in person. So off we went.

Blog Photo - SOS Sign

Justine Vikse’s place isn’t just a painted-furniture store. “Serendipitous Old Stuff Lounge” is an unusual business, inspired by a place Justine “wandered into” while visiting New York state.

Blog Photo - SOS Justine MCU

“I was indeed looking to purchase a building to house my already established painted furniture/design business Serendipitous Old Stuff”, she says.  “Ironically, I drove by the business’ new home everyday, but never entertained its purchase because I always thought of it as a restaurant. I came back from that trip newly- inspired, and consulted a realtor friend to begin the process.”  

And this is Justine’s place on Old Hastings Road today. Enter through the front door and to your left is a lounge and bar:

Blog Photo - SOS Lounge Wide shot

Blog Photo - SOS Bike on top of bar

Step to your right and you’ll find a gift shop and tea store:

Blog Photo - SOS Gift and Tea section

Blog Photo - SOS Tea containers on shelves.JPG

Beyond these spaces is the room where we had a delicious lunch:

Blog Photo - SOS Dining table and chairs

Justine refers to her overall business as “the Lounge”.  She calls it a comfortable gathering place with an unconventional aesthetic. “I wanted the Lounge to be like a canvas for art. Light, airy, elegant, and it had to smell good.”

Blog Photo - SOS Seating area 2

“It’s also homey.  I get to showcase my antiques, painted furniture, and gift items in an environment where patrons/friends can feel as though they’re in a living room of sorts, and get together over a pint, or a glass of wine, and perhaps a great Charcuterie platter.”

In every space, many pieces are for sale.

Blog Photo - SOS Green cabinet

Blog Photo - SOS wall lamp

Blog Photo - SOS Black cat on counter

“When I initially started out in design and refinishing, I didn’t have a lot of money to allocate towards high-end antiques.  I had to be intensely creative.

“I realized that I could pick vintage pieces that were relegated by the homeowner for the ‘ dump’ or auction and I could acquire them fairly cheaply.

Blog Photo - SOS Cigar man

“I studied and honed the art of transformation. Poured myself into art books, read up on techniques, and through trial and error, learned what was appreciated by the discerning eye, and what was not.”

That knowledge came in handy when Justine renovated the new space. Her contractor Wayne Shaw did all the plumbing, electrical and flooring.  She did the rest.

Blog Photo - SOS Justine and Wayne

“I did all the physical artistic labour involved in actualizing the space. Extraordinarily long hours of blood, sweat and tears were extended, but as exhaustive as it was, it was a labour of love.”

Her daughters help in the business.

“The blessing of this biz for me as a woman, is being fortunate enough to have my girls all within reach, and vice versa.

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“It’s wonderful to know that they can step into the back door at any point during the day, and we can converse about what’s transpired throughout their day, and that two of them actively help me out with working here as servers.”

Justine dreamed of creating a cozy and elegant place for her patrons. With the many artistic touches and personal involvement, she believes she’s achieved her dream.

Photos by Hamlin Grange

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Home at The Grange – Part 1

Would you leave a very comfortable house in the city – a mansion, even by Toronto standards – to live in a dilapidated 1800’s farmhouse in the middle of nowhere?

I, as you know, have lived in interesting places. But when former model and media manager Wendy Boothman told me what she did 31 years ago, even I was surprised. 

~~~

In 1986, the Boothman family decided to move to the country. They found a large log house in perfect move-in condition. Wendy’s husband and children loved it.

Blog Photo - Doors Open The Grange Wendy and Nick2 by Hamlin

But Wendy wasn’t sold. Without telling her family, she kept looking. She asked the realtor to show her a place in Kendal, a hamlet northeast of Toronto. They toured the property.

It was a hot August day and the poor realtor was in his suit and tie. I had no idea what 140 acres meant, so we ended up walking and walking.”

They also toured the house. Wendy said she loved the place.

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The shocked realtor replied: “Wendy, it’s so dilapidated! Look at the holes in the floors! You have 5 children and a housekeeper. You can’t live here!”

Husband Nick saw it next. An international fashion photographer and audio-visual director with a Toronto studio,  he was stunned.

“Woman!” he said. “You’ve finally flipped. I refuse to set foot in that house!”

Blog Photo - Doors Open The Grange Barn Inside and Hay Hamlin

Wendy showed him the huge wooden barn with cathedral ceilings. Then she drove him up to the highest point of the property and showed him the view.  He was impressed… somewhat.

“We’ll renovate the house to what we want,” she reassured him. “We’ll design the garden to what we want. But most importantly, the children will be part of the designing. They’ll decide on the pool, their rooms, and so on.”

Sounded nice. In theory.

“If you think the children are going to want to leave a Toronto mansion to camp out  here while we do all the work required, you have another think coming,” Nick protested.

This was a daunting challenge.

~~~

Then Nick relented. “If you can sell the kids on this move,” he told her, “we’ll do it.”

One Sunday in August, Wendy and Nick took the kids on a long drive, turned off a country road and drove up to a hill with an impressive view of the area.

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The children asked:

“What are we doing here?”

“We’re having a picnic in the country!” Wendy replied, smiling. “We’re moving to the country, so we may as well get used to it.”

After the picnic, the seven of them trooped through the fields and peered into the forest, excited.

Walking down the other side of the hill, the children spied a house and asked if they could look inside — not knowing their mother had a key.

They saw the tiny rooms, the old kitchen, the holes in the floors… the whole catastrophe. 

But when Wendy took them into the barn, they were awestruck.  

Blog Photo - doors Open The Grange Barn Ceiling Hamlin

Wendy seized the moment.

“We can move into the log house… or we can get this place and design it together. Your friends can come on weekends. We’ll have horses – you can ride. Can you imagine if we had a pool on the side of a hill and gardens?”

They returned home to Toronto, and started drawing up plans together.

~~~

They moved into the house on Halloween that October.  Wendy, who knew nothing about school buses, sent the 2 younger kids to the wrong school the first day.

That winter was full of challenges. For one thing, the house was freezing cold. 

Both parents still worked nearly 2 hours away in downtown Toronto — Nick at his studio, Wendy at her media management and design office.  Every morning, he drove the 3 older children to school in Toronto. Wendy picked them up every afternoon.

A year later, she decided to move her business to her home, creating one of the first “virtual teams” in Canada.

That eased a few challenges on the home-front. But renovating the house and landscaping the grounds would become a huge, 4-year project.

Photos by Hamlin Grange

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Joyful Times at Ebor House – Pt. 4 in the Ebor House series

You don’t really own an old house: you take care of it for the next generation.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Room over kitchen

That’s what Ron has done. And as we walked through the rooms of his home, I felt his deep connection to it.

Blog Photo - Ebor House curved staircase

Blog Photo - Ebor House Daughter's Bedroom

“I ‘get’ the house,” he said. “And I also feel a connection with the family who lived here.”

“What’s the spirit of this home like?” I asked.

Blog Photo - Ebor House ron sits on table

“The house is very nurturing. Not just for me, but also my friends who visit. It’s a very nurturing home.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Ron pats Bebo

“But there were also tragedies”, I said. “Doesn’t that affect the house’s vibe?”

Ron replied: “Most old houses have seen tragedy. But this was also a very happy home. Over the years there were births, christenings, weddings, dinner parties, children playing, picnics on the lawns…  And I feel that joy here.”

**

Acres of land surrounded the Farncomb family home. Fruit, berries and vegetables grew in their garden in the early to mid-1900’s.

I imagine summer days at Ebor House. Children sent to pick cherries and having fun doing it….

Blog Photo - Bond Head Kids cherry-picking at Newcstle

Adults picking raspberries a bit more intently….

Blog Photo - Bond Head people Raspberry picking

A family member trying to teach the pet dog new tricks.

check credit for this photo
B & W Photos from the Jack Gordon and Cecil Carveth collections, Newcastle Village and District Historical Society

And I imagine wedding parties.

A newspaper story about a wedding at Ebor House in the 1890’s said:

Blog Photo - Ebor House Front 2

After the service, which was performed by the rector, the Rev. Canon Farncomb, the wedding party were entertained at a dejeuner given by the bride’s sister, Mrs. Alfred Farncomb, wife of Newcastle’s popular physician.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Living room reverse

“… The bride was a picture in her traveling costume of broadcloth, the chapeau stitched and trimmed with grey wings and tie to match. The wedding presents were costly and numerous. A great deal of silver came from friends in England.

“Among the gifts was a massive loving cup, lined with gold, upon which was engraved the family crest, it being an heirloom for many generations: a solid silver teapot, tables, dessert and tea spoons, a silver soup tureen from Dr. and Mrs. Tom Farncomb (Trenton) , a handsome china dinner set from Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Farncomb (Newcastle).”

Blog Photo - Ebor House dining Room4

And another story about another Farncomb wedding:

Blog Photo - Ebor House and Church Entrance

“….There were vases of pink and white carnations and antirrhinum on the altar and the coloured rays of the afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass windows of nave and chancel made the scene one of entrancing loveliness. ….

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…The bride, given in marriage by her uncle… wore a princess dress of white satin brocaded with lilies of the valley in velvet. She wore a long net veil and carried a bouquet of white lilies and carnations. She wore a gold locket, a gift of the groom….

A reception was held at Ebor House, ancestral home of the bride’s maternal forbears.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance lookign to lawn 3

Faith and family were important to the Farncombs. Church was a family-affair. Frederick and Jane’s son John was the rector at St. George’s,  Alfred taught Sunday school, and Alfred’s wife Hannah was the church organist.

But no family is immune to tragedy. Despite all the success and influence, all the joyful family events, all the involvement with their church,  the Farncombs also experienced heartbreaking sorrow.

**

Next: An event that tested even the strongest faith.

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A Man in Love With a House – Pt. 2 in the Ebor House Series

The moment Ron Coffin saw Ebor House,  he was smitten.

Blog Photo - Ebor House

“It was for sale for a couple of years and a friend said I should see it. I saw it and said, ‘My God!’ I fell absolutely in love with it.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Entrance

Never mind the weed-choked acreage surrounding the grand old house and barn.

Blog Photo - Ebor House overgrown lawn

And the nearly derelict rooms inside.

Blog Photo - Ebor House derelict Room 1

The cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and spaces crammed with old contents.

The stuffy, old-house smell.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Derelict Room 3

Ron was a man in love.

**

That was 8 years ago.

Today it’s a remarkably beautiful place.

I first saw Ebor House recently, and was so impressed, I asked Ron to share his house’s story. Days later, we sat in his refurbished kitchen, sipping our coffee as Ron reflected on his decision to restore the property.

“What possessed you — to take on such a daunting task?” I asked.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Kitchen and side door

“In life there are things you have to do. Some people have to climb Everest. I had to do this.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Ron Smiling

Ron, a single parent, has four children and a dog. He also ran his own business. But he had “a huge interest in Canada’s architectural heritage and how it fits into its time” and he loved both the house and its location in historic Bond Head in Newcastle, Ontario.

“It’s like being in another world here. You even have to go through a series of entrances to get to this home. The first entrance is a bridge that you have to go under when you leave the highway. Then there are the gates to the property. Then there are 2 entry doors before you can come into the house.”

Blog Photo - Ebor House Gates

Ron had a vision of the house at its best.

He decided to do some of the restoration work by himself.

“I made the common mistake of plastering the walls and painting, then realized the roof was leaking”, he said. “The house also needed all new plumbing, heating and wiring. So I had to rip out some of that work and start again.”

Luckily, the seller still had the architectural drawings from 1867,  the year Canada became a nation. (Construction started in 1868 and Ebor House was completed in 18 months.)  Those drawings convinced Ron that he was on the right track.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Dining Room full

Some chandeliers and furniture  – such as this Jacques & Hay sideboard on the right – were in the house in 1869. Ron bought other furnishings – including lighting, paintings, mirrors, and other furniture — after meticulous research.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Green Room with portait and walls and furniture

Sometimes he felt like a detective trying to solve a mystery.

Blog Photo - Ebor House Living Room

The house and grounds provided clues.

The pantry doors were found in the barn. Old pennies were found under the lawn.  The pennies, found together,  likely fell from someone’s pocket during a picnic, Ron thinks.

Blog Photo - Ebor House back lawn

Blog Photo - Ebor House Canadian penny 1858

The more Ron learned, the better he understood how people lived in the late 1800’s and early 20th century.

Blog Photo - Ebor House entrance inside

“One thing I learned was how the double front doors were used. On days when the family was receiving guests, they’d open the outer door, while the inside door was closed. That would signal that visitors were welcome.”

He also became deeply interested in the Farncombs, who built the house and lived here for more than 130 years. Theirs was a remarkable story of great success and happiness, as well as heartbreaking tragedy.

**Watch for Part 3: The Farncombs.