6476 Blenheim St., Vancouver
Asking Price: $12-million
Taxes: $20,629.40 (2020)
Lot Size: one-half acre
Agents: Jamie MacDougall, Engel & Volkers
The house at 6476 Blenheim St. was one of the original farmhouses in the bucolic west Vancouver neighbourhood known as Southlands. Today the neighbourhood has a mix of residential and agricultural land, with riding clubs and trails for equestrians.
The circa-1912 farmhouse had changed very little over the years when Ron and Helen Gerrard purchased the property about 11 years ago.
“We loved that farmhouse look,” says Mr. Gerrard, who trained as a carpenter before building his own commercial construction business.
He was keen to tackle the challenge of renovating the historic home, which is protected under local conservation rules.
The appearance of the exterior must remain true to the original, Mr. Gerrard explains, but regulations allow for substantial changes to the interior.
The couple spent one year renovating the residence, with lots of hurdles to overcome along the way.
When Mr. Gerrard and the builders began tearing walls and floors apart, they discovered that flimsy floor joists had caused the bedroom level to sag. Renovations done by previous owners had also removed some structural elements.
“We took off the whole of the upper floor,” he says. “How could we maintain it when it’s collapsing?”
Similarly, when they examined the basement, they saw that the main floor was sagging.
Mr. Gerrard brought in an engineer and replaced the old joists with sturdy support beams. A large steel I-beam now props up the main floor. Plaster and lathe was torn from the walls and the main floor was reconfigured with an open plan.
“The whole of the interior was demolished,” he says. “We redid it top to bottom.”
The house today
The home has been reconfigured with 5,449 square feet of living space. An additional guest suite above the garage adds another 500 square feet.
Today, the main floor has a kitchen and breakfast area, a living and dining room, and a home office. A former bedroom has been turned into the family room.
“When we did the demolition, we could put the walls wherever we wanted.”
Throughout the house, Mr. Gerrard replaced old windows with new windows with stained glass. He added tongue-and-groove boards and wood trim in keeping with the home’s heritage.
“It gave us the rustic look we wanted.”
Drywall wasn’t available at the turn of the last century, he points out, so the kitchen has walls of reclaimed brick with a rustic finish in the mortar.
“We thought that would add some character to the house and give it that farmhouse feel.”
That soapstone countertops are from a quarry on Vancouver Island, and a Heartland range is also in keeping with the era.
Upstairs, there’s a primary bedroom with ensuite bathroom, two additional bedrooms and a family bathroom.
The steep pitch of the roof made the upstairs bedrooms feel enclosed, so Mr. Gerrard added dormers.
The basement didn’t have much use when the Gerrards bought the house, so they created two additional bedrooms, a craft room and a large wine cellar and tasting room.
Mr. Gerrard, who often hosts fellow members of his wine club for blind tastings, says the cellar can hold more than 3,000 bottles.
“It’s the pride and joy, that room.”
On the peak of the roof, Mr. Gerrard installed a skylight and added ornamental trim so that it resembles a widow’s walk.
The skylight illuminates the staircase that runs between the three levels.
“It shines all the way down to the basement,” Mr. Gerrard says.
Mr. Gerrard also modernized all of the systems in the house.
When it came to updating the hot water heating system, he added weather-sensing technology. There were existing cast iron radiators but not enough for the new interior, so Mr. Gerrard had them replicated by a company in Quebec.
Mr. Gerrard wanted to use Douglas fir for the floors, so he located a sawmill which had stored the remains of an 800-year-old tree that came down on Vancouver Island in the devastating windstorm that hit the south coast of British Columbia in 2006.
“I tracked it down and got them to mill it into one-[inch]-by-six-[inch] boards. We put it into a kiln and dried it out.”
The newel posts and handrails of the new staircase also came from the ancient fir.
Mr. Gerrard visited antiques shops to find the fireplace surrounds and tiles, as well as the light fixtures.
In keeping with the age of the home, Mr. Gerrard chose chalk-based Farrow and Ball paint in heritage colours for the walls and a waxed finish for the wood floors. The door handles and hinges are oiled brass.
Mr. Gerrard is not in favour of renovations where the interior of a home does not match the age of the exterior.
“That’s a travesty that you go inside and it’s a modern house.”
He hopes the next owners of the old farmhouse will hold the period charm in high regard.
“It needs a discerning buyer that can appreciate the attention to detail.”
The Southlands area has prestigious golf courses nearby and the Fraser River is a short walk away. Many of the larger properties in the area have horses and stables, he adds.
The best feature
After one year of restoring the house, the Gerrards spent another year working on the grounds.
A covered veranda wraps around the exterior of the house, and there are plenty of other places to sit and relax amidst the trees, lush perennial gardens, pergolas, fountains and statues.
Mr. Gerrard located a large quantity of reclaimed vintage bricks and had workers scrape off the mortar so they could be used in the patio, footpaths and garage.
There’s also an outdoor kitchen, fire pit and pizza oven.
A replica of a barn serves as a storage shed, and there’s a potting shed and greenhouse.
The plants and flower beds are the domain of Ms. Gerrard.
“We have flowers that bloom all through the seasons,” Mr. Gerrard says.
The couple needed to replace trees, so they had mature specimens lifted in by crane.
There’s a willow, two white oaks and other varieties on the property. Boxwood encloses the gardens.
“It makes it very private.”
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