Ontario’s Prince Edward County is in the midst of a massive transformation. Its once sleepy, rural towns – Picton, Wellington and Bloomfield – are becoming ultratrendy destinations. In the past 20 years, close to three dozen vintners have opened, as have many designer hotels, motels and inns (such as the June, the Drake Devonshire and the soon-to-open Royal).
The real estate market is also booming. Median house prices surged 10 per cent between 2017 and 2018, jumping to $440,000 from $400,000 , according to real estate brokerage Chestnut Park. Many of the buyers are new to the county and are often looking for summer escapes from nearby Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal (the area’s base population is approximately 24,000. In the warmer months, more than 700,000 people visit.)
Evan Nash, however, is anything but a transplant. He was not only born and raised in the county, but is the fifth generation of his family to own the Home Hardware store in Wellington, which has been in operation since 1905. “It’s sweet,” Mr. Nash says. “Ninety-five-percent of family businesses don’t make it past the third generation. It’s nice to be the exception.”
The Victorian home that Mr. Nash bought two years ago, and which he recently listed for sale at $939,000 (“I stumbled in to another opportunity that was too good to pass up,” he says), has a strong connection to his family’s history in the area. “The guy, W.W. Fitzgerald, who built our Home Hardware store, also built this house,” Mr. Nash says. “He also built many of the other nicer houses in town.”
In many ways, though, the place also embodies the county’s revitalization. In the entry vestibule, for example, Mr. Nash used wallpaper from local designer Kate Golding. The repeating pattern features stylized, beautiful illustrations of area water towers, reinforcing the idea that Prince Edward County is now on the map.
Similarly, the white-washed, engineered wood floors in the kitchen and living area (which cost $16,000 – “they were my splurge for the house,” Mr. Nash says) are the same ones in the dining room at hipster haven, the Drake Devonshire. “My wife Meghan and I were having dinner there, talking about how we wanted white wood floors,” he says, “then we looked down.”
When Mr. Nash first acquired the property, though, the place was anything but hip. “It was all steel siding and scraggly old spruce trees,” he says. “It was so overgrown and crappy that I had never really noticed it before.”
But there were two key selling features: “I could still see, on the inside, that the house still had the original tin ceiling, the original baseboards and mouldings,” Mr. Nash says. “Then I came around the back and noticed the yard, and how park-like it was.” Mr. Nash, who has two young kids and loves to entertain, was sold.
As the overall concept of the renovation, Mr. Nash wanted to restore all the old-world charms, but add in as many contemporary comforts as possible. “Houses of that era, they were stunning,” he says. “But people back then weren’t good at building bathrooms; they weren’t good at building kitchens.”
The design, then, has two distinct characters. From the street, it’s a Road to Avonlea-worthy scene. The derelict siding has been replaced with era-specific cedar shingles. (“Every single shingle was hand-nailed,” Mr. Nash says.) The landscape has been cleaned up so the screened-in, white-trim front porch looks out to the street, not dead bushes.
Tucked out of site, though, is a starkly contemporary black box, designed in part by friend and architect Jay Pooley, who’s also a lecturer at the University of Toronto’s school of architecture.
“I wanted a modern piece,” says Mr. Nash, who did as much of his own construction work as he could, including the electrical and plumbing (he owns a Home Hardware, after all, and has previously renovated three homes and three apartments). “The idea is that when you go to the backyard, it looks like a brand new build.”
That old and new divide gets blurred in the interiors. In the original part of the house, the Victorian details have been carefully restored. Mr. Nash hired a local carpenter to recreate some of the ultrahigh baseboards in the living room. The ornately patterned tin ceilings over the dining area look as beautiful as they likely first did more than 100 years ago (though what would have likely been a heavy crystal chandelier has been replaced by six naked Edison bulbs, and a giant abstract painting by local artist Chrissy Poitras adds a distinctly non-Dickensian touch).
Upstairs in the three bedrooms, the dichotomy is more apparent. Vintage doors and door frames speak of the past. At the same time, a massive, two-person shower in the master ensuite, which is swathed in marble and has twin rainfall showerheads, is unmistakably today.
The most contemporary area, though, is the kitchen. Mr. Nash is a loyal county native, but after high school he spent a year living in Sweden. His love of Scandinavian design is clear in the clean-lined, crisp-white aesthetic – in particular the soccer-field sized island clad in a glistening, white Caesarstone that wraps the top and sides (it’s a composite stone that basically never scratches or stains). Natural accents, including wood, brass and leather, add warmth to the otherwise cool palette.
It’s the perfect place to enjoy the bounty of Prince Edward County’s many farms and fooderies. Yet shockingly, “I don’t cook,” Mr. Nash says. “I cook Kraft dinner in this kitchen. And my wife is worse.” Instead, when the couple wants a really nice meal in, as they did recently for Meghan’s birthday, they hire in a local chef to cater. “There are so many amazing new restaurants in the area,” Mr. Nash says. But sometimes, whether its DIY or not, it’s still better to say in.