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Renovating a second home in Newfoundland without road access

by SuperiorInvest

When Cailey Heaps wants to get away from it all, one place comes to mind: the island of Newfoundland in Canada.

Although she spends most of the year in Toronto, where she runs the Heaps Estrin real estate agency and raises her three children (Mimi, 17, and twins Declan and Pippa, 13), the rugged, saltwater-dotted East Coast . Newfoundland has long held a special appeal.

“It's this very romantic, peaceful part of the world where time seems to go by at a different pace,” said Ms. Heaps, 47. “I can go there for three days and feel like I've taken a two-week vacation.” .”

Cailey Heaps purchased a pair of 1910s salt houses on the rugged coast of Newfoundland, Canada, and renovated them with the help of Reflect Architecture.Credit…Trevor Wallace Trevor Wallace Trevor Wallace

In 2021, she was considering purchasing a cottage within walking distance of Toronto, but the siren call of Newfoundland was calling her. Diving into the listings, she was surprised to find one with a couple of the most iconic Newfoundland salt houses she had ever seen.

The two white houses, built in 1912 and 1914, were on a property in Salvage, a small coastal town with a population of 108, along with three red sheds, a small cemetery and an outhouse at the end of a pier with a hole directly above the water. The parcel was across the harbor from the city centre, at Burden's Point, but it was highly visible and had been on the market for years. It had even been the subject of news stories focusing on concerns that houses could be torn down.

Stuck in Toronto, Ms. Heaps asked her friend and Newfoundland real estate agent, Chris O'Dea, what he thought about it. “Chris said, 'Cailey, this is a great project. It's not what you imagine. It is a huge company. There is no road access. It's boat and foot access only,'” Ms. Heaps said. “But I thought, 'Oh, how bad can it be?'”

He decided to buy it without seeing it in person after a local contractor told him the buildings could probably be restored for about 250,000 Canadian dollars ($184,000). It closed in March 2022 for C$235,000 ($173,000). He then asked Reflect Architecture, a Toronto-based studio led by Trevor Wallace, to breathe new life into the structures.

“We went there to check them out,” Wallace said. “And, as with all things old, there were many surprises.”

Upstairs, the ceilings were about two meters high, so he couldn't even stand up. Much of the clapboard siding was so soft you could put a finger through it. The sheds seemed ready to fall.

“Everything was very precarious,” he said. “They had just suffered a hundred years of beatings in Newfoundland.”

Returning to Toronto, Mr. Wallace began drawing up plans to update the two houses and make them comfortable for a new generation, while retaining as much character as possible. The plan was to use the larger, 1,060-square-foot house, which had no electricity or plumbing, as Ms. Heaps' main living space and master suite. The 915-square-foot house, which had some modern touches such as electricity and a flushing toilet, would be converted into a bedroom for her children and a media room.

The architects strove to preserve the buildings' exterior appearance, adding new white clapboard siding that mimics the original siding and standing-seam metal roofs. They kept the original window openings but, inspired by Canadian painter Christopher Pratt, added new energy-efficient window units with deep jambs to create more striking shadows on sunny days. They added a new window to Ms. Heaps' bedroom that faces the water and is not visible from the city, and designed wrap-around terraces.

Inside, the ceilings above were pushed into the attics for more space and layers of wallpaper were removed to reveal the original wood paneling. And new rough wood was installed in areas where the original panels turned out to be oddly shaped leftover wood.

To give the homes a simple, elegant look while keeping costs down, they got creative with paint. Most interiors are painted white, but several saturated colors (muddy gray, forest green, royal blue, peachy pink) define the stairs and bedrooms. The streamlined kitchen has birch plywood cabinets and butcher block countertops.

Outside, they restored one of the sheds to serve as the future artist's studio and dismantled the other two, along with the latrine. Since there is still no road, all construction materials had to be brought in and taken out by boat.

Even with such basic material choices and compromises, construction cost more than Ms. Heaps expected. By the time the work was completed in May 2023, it had ballooned to around C$1 million ($735,000), four times the initial estimate. But it's money well spent for Heaps, who is recouping some of her investment by renting out the property on Airbnb when she's not using it.

“It's the most unique setting I've ever seen in my life,” he said. “You go out the back door, go up the hill and come to an overlook where all you see is ocean, trees and whales. It's a magic place”.

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