The listing: 14576 Old Simcoe Rd., Port Perry, Ont.
Asking Price: $1.2-million
Taxes: $7,309.91 (2019)
Lot Size: 108.63-by-257.46 feet
Agents: Emily McDonald (Right at Home Realty Inc.)
The back story
Jeanmarie and Chris Hulaj didn’t see themselves as retired. Instead, their new job was renovating their Victorian home – a process that hasn’t truly stopped as they are constantly tinkering with small upgrades.
Purchased five years ago, the house at 14576 Old Simcoe Rd. originally caught the couple’s eyes with its grand details. Despite the ceilings being dropped multiple times, they said they could tell then how high the original ceiling heights were: 11 feet in the lower level and 10 feet in the upper level. Meanwhile, the second floor boasts pine flooring over 140 years old. There is also a curved wall staircase.
“It was a beautiful Victorian house,” said Ms. Hulaj, a retired fashion designer and art teacher.
But it also had plenty of problems, as they would find out after attempting some initial redesign work.
“We were doing a lot of demolition and kept finding out more and more problems with the old house,” said Mr. Hulaj, who used to work in technology, including a stint at The Globe and Mail.
When the interior drywall and those dropped ceilings were removed, it was found that some of the exterior framing was already disintegrating, and there was no real insulation. The house’s galvanized piping and aged wiring also presented a problem with getting insurance. At the same time, the entire upstairs needed new framing because it “was open like a barn with no interior walls at all,” Ms. Hulaj recalled.
As a result, the couple had to replace all the wiring, plumbing, heating, venting and framing, before putting back the drywall and repainting the entire interior of the house.
“We were advised by different people just to sort of patch it up and sell it off as quickly as we could,” Mr. Hulaj said. “We just in good conscience couldn’t do a poor job of that. And we were planning to live here.”
They also couldn’t bear the thought of demolishing the house to build a new one.
“We couldn’t see the math in that one,” Ms. Hulaj said. “Like, why knock down such a beautiful house that has so much potential?”
Instead, they pressed on with their intensive renovation plan. It ultimately took four years, with breaks in between.
The house today
Inside the original Victorian shell, the now-revamped house offers plenty of space for living and entertaining.
There are four bedrooms on the second level, all with their own ensuite bathrooms. On the main floor, the fifth bathroom is attached to a sauna. There is also a spacious formal dining room that can entertain 15 people. Attached to it is a parlour, “a really sweet spot” where the couple likes to spend their evenings playing board games.
But with the couple both being enthusiastic cooks, even dearer to their hearts is the kitchen.
In the 17-by-14-foot room with a hardwood floor, a large granite-top island takes centre stage. The custom cabinetry with solid cherry doors surrounding the space were built by Mr. Hulaj himself.
“We cook in our kitchen almost every night,” Ms. Hulaj said. “We cook a lot of different foods and things that are really time-consuming, so you need a lot of space.”
Besides the main living spaces, there is a loft at the very top of the house and a big workshop space at the back of the detached garage.
The large lot spans 108-by-257 feet and includes an in-ground pool.
“It’s actually quite nice to go and sit around the pool,” Ms. Hulaj said.
“We try to knock off work about three o’clock – the work we’re still doing on the house and everything – and then we’ll just go on the zero-gravity chairs and we’re on vacation.”
But the couple said all the space was too much for just the two of them, so they decided to profit from their love of cooking and open a bed and breakfast.
They started Century House 1879 B & B last summer by placing their bedrooms on Airbnb. With more than 100 bookings since, Ms. Hulaj said they have received mainly compliments about the house from guests – a sentiment reflected in their Airbnb reviews.
“People love the house. They love the character of the house and the one thing a lot of people say about my house is it has a really inviting feel and a very calming feel,” she said.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple have had to close down their bed and breakfast. And even though the province has started to reopen, they said physical-distancing measures would have disrupted the social atmosphere they like to foster between guests.
“We’d have to keep our guests separated, where we used to encourage them to socialize,” she said. “It would be running it in different way than we would normally run it and we didn’t feel comfortable with that.”
And with no immediate end in sight for the pandemic to restart the bed and breakfast, the couple said it’s time for them to move on and let others experience all that the house has to offer.
“We have two children, so it’s almost like when your children are growing up and you get to the point where you’ve done everything you can for them and it’s time for them to have other experiences,” Ms. Hulaj said. “And in this case, it’s time for someone else to experience this beautiful house.”
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