Complete renovation is the cat’s meow in Victorian-era home | Toronto Star

NOW: Barb Piatkowski, left, and Maxine Featherstonhaugh with their feline family in their renovated living room that is now open to a beautiful three-storey stairway.
THEN: A choppy living room layout helped create clutter amidst the outdated orange-and-teal colour scheme.
NOW The three-storey view of their stairway is one of the couple's favourite parts of their renovation.
THEN: The couple's old oak stairway, with painted railing and spindles.
NOW: Maxine Featherstonhaugh in her basement massage room that was updated in the lower-level reno the couple did last year.
THEN: The 250-sq.-ft. space, home to the couple during their six month-reno, was last year updated as part of a $125,000 basement upgrade.
By Jackie BurnsSpecial to the Star
Sat., Dec. 9, 2017

Maxine Featherstonhaugh and her wife Barbara Piatkowski thank their lucky stars for the life-changing renovation of their 1890s home.

In the months leading up to the total gut job of the Parkdale-area, three-storey house in 2012, Featherstonhaugh had begun studying astrology. She used her new-found knowledge to increase their chances for a smooth, speedy refurbishment of the 2,000-square-foot home they’ve now lived in for 20 years.

“When you start projects, you need to start it between the new moon and the full moon because then things tend to go more smoothly,” says Featherstonhaugh, 48, who runs a home-based massage therapy business.

She insisted their contractor start on a specific date, and when that plan was about to get pushed by one day, she improvised.

“They came over and we swung a sledgehammer though a wall just to start it!” laughs Piatkowski, 51, who works for the Rider Training Institute.

Their original plan back in 2011 was to do a simple bathroom update after seeing an episode of the TV series “Hoarders,” and realizing their bathroom resembled the one were watching with mould and peeling paint.

On a friend’s recommendation, they booked an appointment with Fraser Homes Inc. “Within a day, they gave us a six-page estimate for our bathroom, right down to the last light switch. It was crazy detailed,” says Piatkowski.

The pair was so pleased with their revitalized bathroom, they started asking for quotes on other home improvements.

NOW: "My inner 12-year-old is very satisfied with this room," says Barb Piatkowski of her home office's Pez collection gallery.

“It just spiralled!” says Piatkowski.

In 2012, the couple and their five Siamese cats moved into a 250-square-foot space in their basement as demolition work began upstairs.

They used a hot plate to cook and a chalkboard to cross off the days of the six-month “jail” sentence — during which there was an unexpected benefit.

“That six months that we lived in the basement was the only six months we went without an argument!” says Featherstonhaugh, who met her wife in 1996 while the pair was teaching a motorcycle course together.

“There was nowhere to go!” explains Piatkowski of their reluctance to squabble. “Plus, people (working) upstairs would hear us!”

When they finally moved back upstairs, they were overwhelmed by the result of the $250,000 transformation. “For six months, we didn’t think we deserved to be in this house!” says Piatkowski.

Gone was their dated kitchen, completely rebuilt on the opposite side of the house to allow for a more seamless flow of the main floor, and new sliding glass doors providing easy access to the barbecue on the deck. It features an island with black granite countertop and seating, grey marble-and-white porcelain backsplashes, custom walnut cabinets and modern appliances, and came with a $39,000 price tag.

A custom space was designed for their collectible, wall-mounted Bell pay phone, a housewarming gift.

NOW: Maxine Featherstonhaugh, left, and Barb Piatkowski in their loft-level home gym.

They splurged on a new-age fireplace in the living area, framed by a grey marble wall and custom walnut cabinetry to match the kitchen cabinets, to the tune of $20,000.

The old home’s choppy space, with orange-and-teal paint, was transformed into a bright, open-concept expanse. Crisp white walls, modern pot lights and statement light fixtures are warmed by American black walnut flooring.

The solid red oak staircase to the second and third levels, with black anodized aluminum glass and red oak hand rails, was custom-designed by Fraser Homes Inc.

Co-owner Mark Fraser does design and sales development at the company he runs with his brother Rod, who handles the project management and construction aspects of the business.

Fraser says the inspiration for the three-level, statement staircase came from his trip to Barcelona’s famed La Sagrada Familia church and its spiral stairs in the towers.

“I like the idea of being able to start at the top floor and never have to take your hand off until you make it to the bottom, and just kind of feel connected,” he says.

Artworks by Toronto illustrator David Crighton, rolled up in a closet for years, were framed and hung on walls adjacent to the staircase.

Now, one of the couple’s favourite vantage points is the main-floor eye of the staircase, looking up 30 feet to the third-storey loft and taking in the beauty of the stairs, the art and the lights.

NOW: Renovations included a music room for drummer Barb Piatkowski and bass guitarist Maxine Featherstonhaugh.

On the second floor, Piatkowski’s home office doubles as a gallery for her impressive Pez dispenser collection; at least 900 pieces are neatly displayed in glass cases around the room. “My inner 12-year-old is very satisfied with this room,” she laughs.

Down the hall is the couple’s music room, with Featherstonhaugh’s bass guitar and the drum set of Piatkowski, who plays gigs around the city with local band Leona’s Sister.

Up in the third-storey loft is the couple’s gym and trophy room for Featherstonhaugh’s marathon-running passion: her 42 medals hang alongside framed number bibs from some of her favourite races. “It’s my room of glory!” she says.

Last year, they completed their home’s final renovation: the dreaded basement.

“It was pretty nasty,” says Piatkowski. “It looked like many previous owners had had their inexperienced hands on it.”

They hired Fraser Homes Inc. again to complete the three-month, $125,000 project which included all new pipes and flooring. Featherstonhaugh’s massage clinic was completely transformed and now includes a tranquil work space, an office and separate entrance and bathroom.

The couple — who met on May 19, 1996 and closed the purchase of their Edwardian-architectural-style house exactly a year later on May 19, 1997 — agree the $375,000 needed to breathe new life into their home was well worth it.

“We could have been mortgage-free and had the old house, but we’ve traded the next 20 years of our life for being able to live in this — what this does for you, feeling good about yourself, is worth that investment,” says Piatkowski.

NOW: Their bathroom renovation inspired homeonwers Barb Piatkowski and Maxine Featherstonhaugh to refurbish the rest of their late 1800s-era home.


$230,000: What they paid for the house in 1997

$1.2M-$1.3M: Estimated listing price of the house now

22: Trips to the storage unit to retrieve belongings after the reno

$228.17: Monthly cat food bill

$25,000 plus HST: Cost of the second-floor bathroom

53: Bags of debris, trash removed during bathroom reno

9: Marathons Featherstonhaugh ran in 2009

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Date Posted: 09 Dec, 2017
Written By: Jackie Burns

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