Eric Pellerin and husband, Denis Aubrey, had a few dollars to invest when they relocated to Ottawa from Toronto in early 2017. “Our financial situation meant we had carte blanche on the location and type of house,” says Pellerin, who’s head of scenography at the Canadian Museum of History, just across the Ottawa River in Gatineau.
The couple, together for 16 years and married since 2012, landed in Sandy Hill, in a historic 1929-vintage home built by a prominent Jewish family who earned their fortune in construction, Pellerin says. “They built it for their family and they were in the building industry, so you can see the attention to detail,” he says. “It’s a square and solid house.” And not just that: “There’s heart and soul in it.”
A blend of Queen Anne (in form) and Arts and Crafts (in stained glass) styles, the house was modified little and well kept through the years. Pellerin had little to do but fill it with furniture, new and old – and mostly vintage, mid-century designs – to his heart’s content. “We had the project of filling it with stuff, which was fun,” he says.
In removing some woodwork in the dining room, Pellerin discovered the original shade of green that graced the first floor’s walls and the Venetian plaster finish which he believes to be original as well. “I decided to just do one room – the dining room – because that green is a bit much,” he says. He found a close match in Benjamin Moore’s Clearspring Green, from its Historic Colour Collection.
That was Plan B. Plan A had been to refinish and recover the walls with a banana leaf-patterned historic wallpaper from Designer Wallcoverings, as seen at the Beverly Hills Hotel, hearkening back to Hollywood’s heyday. But the price tag made Pellerin reconsider. A framed sample hangs on the wall, against the complementary green backdrop and playing off the teak furniture and wood door frame and details. Pellerin concedes, “I thought it was a win-win situation.”
Many unique finds, such as the dining table and chairs, are from Green Wall Vintage. Modern pottery by Christian Roy lives comfortably alongside the retro variety; the leaf vases are from Vanier Modern, also Ottawa-based. Pellerin is a collector of vintage dishes. “Throughout my 20s and 30s I was an avid eBay buyer,” he says. He estimates he’s amassed four to six full sets dating from the mid-century.
For light fixtures, he prefers to go further back, to the 1920s (the same era of the house). The milk-glass and crystal fixture that hangs above the table was a gift from his mother. It sat dingy and unused for years before he finally had it rewired and redone. “It’s a vintage heirloom that I only get to enjoy now,” he says.
And enjoy it he does – along with friends. The couple enjoys entertaining and the space is built for it. An adjacent living room, foyer and vestibule mean there’s plenty of space to gather. A small area off the dining room is of unknown programmatic provenance, but Pellerin’s stacked it with bright orange file cabinets from CB2 and calls it an office. “I’ve never been a big fan of modern open spaces,” he says. “I like to have rooms and separate moods and atmospheres. Call me old-fashioned.” You may very well, but you can also call him “designer” while you’re at it.
“Well, at heart that’s [what I am],” he says. Bien sur, the separate rooms connect visually. “So, the entire colour story of the house works throughout, one room after the other. Everything is part of a family,” he says. “That’s how we live. We like being surrounded by things that make sense to us.”