Birch & Beauty: the Kennebecasis House – a “Before & After” residential makeover.

OUR CLIENTS: Jeff Brewer & Laura Nicholson

Residence:  Quispamsis, New Brunswick
Start date:  November 2011  
Completion date:  November 2012
Interior Design: PUNCH INSIDE | Creative Director: Judith Mackin

Photo: Submitted by Jeff – This photo was taken while on vacation in Mexico last year.

About: Jeff and Laura have been together for five years.  They own three cats, who run the house.   They live in a beautiful home overlooking the Kennebecasis River in Quispamsis.

The couple had been wanting to make some changes to their home for quite some time.  Although they wanted some new furniture upstairs, they initially wanted to hire me to redesign their downstairs area as they wanted a place to be ‘comfortable’ and hang out with their friends and family.

Jeff had read the blog posting on this website of the residential makeover I completed for Carrie and Sean (see Carrie and Sean McGrath’s Before and After blog) and was really drawn to the clean, modern aesthetic.

And, in many ways, Jeff and Laura’s story isn’t that different from that of many of my clients.  That is, they find themselves unsatisfied with their interiors and for many of the same reasons:  large leather furnishings that dominate the room,  a surfeit of dull beige and browns, and rooms that didn’t seem to flow from one to the next.

When I first visited with Jeff and Laura I asked them why they felt the need to redesign the downstairs space and not socialize upstairs.  In other words, why the need to move all company downstairs when they have such a large living space upstairs.  They explained that because of the way the island sat in the middle of the kitchen, folks tended to congregate on the stools, and that the livingroom felt disconnected from the kitchen.  Moreover, the dining room, just off the kitchen, was NEVER used.

I assessed the space and asked them, if we could make the upstairs a warm, open and welcoming space, would you be happy to do your renos upstairs?  After much discussion, and walking them both through my vision for their space, we agreed.

Where we began:

Photo: Judith Mackin – The view from this couple’s house is really quite striking. It spans across the entire front of their house, allowing views of the Kennebecasis River. Beautiful trees, river stones and nature filling the windows.

The Before:

Photo: Judith Mackin – Walking in to the entrance it became quickly apparent that, with the various trim colours, ceiling colours and a chair rail that went through the entire upper floor of the house, there was a lot of visual interference. The entrance was dominated by a large piece of beige furniture.

Photo: Judith Mackin – The main entrance door blocked out a lot of the light.

Photo: Judith Mackin – There was an especially awkward moment when you arrived through the front door:  you literally walked into the loveseat in the livingroom.

The Living Room:


Photo: Judith Mackin – The livingroom was dominated by a lot of large leather pieces of furniture. In addition the brown leather furnishings (including dark wooden tables), the brown walls and the beige accessories made the living room feel cramped and dark. In addition to the dark furniture, there was an odd corner fireplace that was not only dated, but compounded out of heavy trim and dark tile. Happily for me — who wanted it gone — Jeff and Laura weren’t satisfied with it even on the level of function:  the flame went out too often.

Photo: Judith Mackin – The back of the couch is what is seen from the kitchen which visually (or at least subliminally) tells guests that this room is ‘separate’ from the kitchen.  Basically, there’s just far too much furnishing for this small space. In addition, see how the windows have tiny square trim throughout them, interfering with the fabulous views?

The unused Space between the living room and the kitchen:

Photo: Judith Mackin – I was quite struck by the lack of use of this corner area in their house. It just seemed to be an area that collected more dark, essentially gratuitous decoration.

The Kitchen:

Photo: Judith Mackin – The kitchen is a typical kitchen for 1980 – 2000 style homes — a tad dated for this young couple. The cabinets aren’t overly functional; they didn’t go up to the ceiling and the corner area essentially drove Laura nuts. In addition, the three large and clunky stools dominated the area.

Photo: Judith Mackin – As you can see from this view, the island was very tall at the back and Laura and Jeff found themselves always standing ‘entertaining and serving’ company from this area with everyone crowding around.  No one went to sit in the living room – and definitely not to the strangely disconnected dining room.

Photo: Judith Mackin – The countertops are purple.  ’nuff said.

Photo: Judith Mackin – The windows were covered with old fashioned fabrics and the transom-like frame over the kitchen window was dated as well.

The Dining Room:

Photo: Judith Mackin – The dining room was the actual inspirational jumping off point for me in terms of redesigning this home. Laura and Jeff said they rarely ever used the dining room. It was small, there wasn’t much room and it felt disconnected to the kitchen.

Photo: Judith Mackin – As you can see, again, lots of brown furniture, brown frames and heavy lights dominating the centre of the room.  In context, the green wall was, as an accent colour, too heavy.

Photo: Judith Mackin – The views from this room were absolutely spectacular. It killed me to know that the best views of the entire house were rarely seen or utilized by this couple.

Photo: Judith Mackin – as you can see the wall between the kitchen and the dining room was a huge impediment; no mystery as to why this room wasn’t being utilized.

The Inspiration:

I wanted to brighten this house with pops of colour, and wanted to tie the decor into the location on the Kennebecasis River. I wanted to tie in with the birch trees surrounding the property and give a nod to the river stones and nature all around them.

Additionally, I wanted to ensure the spaces between dining room, kitchen and living room would be ‘seamless’ so that family, friends — or just the couple on their own — could move freely and openly from one space to another and not feel disconnected by furnishings or walls.

The AFTER:
(Click on all pictures for full high resolution impact)

The Entrance:

Photos: Sean McGrath – We removed all chair rails and painted the entire upper floor decorator’s white by Benjamin Moore. We removed the large entrance piece of furniture and replaced it with only the bare necessities: a boot mat, a clear acrylic table and a bowl for keys. A black and white photograph will go on the back wall in time. (Toma boot tray, Timber Table by Gus Modern and Rope bowl all available through Tuck Studio.)

The Living Room:

Photo: Sean McGrathHere is the newly designed living room featuring a new modern, clean lined couch with some contrasting accent tables. Along with the complete new layout for the furnishings, you’ll note the absence of certain items such as the corner fireplace, the trim in the windows, and the heavy curtains.

Couch: Carter Sectional by Gus* Modern, a mid-century inspired sectional with blind-tufted upholstery (includes two throw cushions).
Accent Tables: Stainless Steel Cubes by Gus* Modern
Accent Table under the steel light: Gus* Modern Lightbox
All available through Tuck Studio.


Photo: Sean McGrath – Light above; Normann Copenhagen ‘Norm 03 steel’ designed by Britt Kornum available through Tuck Studio.

Photo: Sean McGrath – Remember the previous entrance where you walked into the love seat? This whole wall has been transformed into a new feature wall, devoid of large furnishings. We designed the wall to feature a slight insert to house cut wood. Jeff liked this concept he’d seen in both Sean and Carrie’s makeover and the makeover we did for Opera Bistro’s restaurant. We then added an modern electric fireplace (from Alternatives) and removed the old door, replacing it with a minimal modern door (with passage for the kitties).

Photo: Sean McGrath – Emtek Stuttgart Door levers replaced all the dated bronze door handles to modernize the space.


Photo: Sean McGrath – The two elements that tie in pattern and design to the outside are the inclusion of the feature wall with birch wallpaper and the feature carpet (Landscapes River Rocks Grey Rug, hand made and tufted with 100% New Zealand Wool). The Whitaker Chair, ottoman, havana floor lamp and baby alpaca wool throw are by Jonathan Adler. Yellow and Grey cushions (Batavia Citrine) from Dwell Studio.

Yellow Vintage Signage Science pillow – Gus*Modern through Tuck Studio.


Photo: Sean McGrath – These two chairs (which you will see shortly in the dining area) can be brought out for added seating when company comes to complete the living room.
Essentials white leather Delano Chairs with stainless steel frame through Tuck Studio.

The New Space/ Transformation Kitchen – a bar:


Photo: Sean McGrath – This space was rendered useless in the previous layout of the house. I suggested that we incorporate a bar area that would tie into the new kitchen. We added a black feature wall to add a pop of drama and also to tie in with the fireplace feature wall.


Photo: Sean McGrath Again, you will note the absence of the chair rails and the visual interference the many layers of beige brought to the hallways leading to the bedrooms and upstairs bathroom.

Photo: Sean McGrath – Details: Left, Acrylic Wine Rack by Gus* Modern. Top right, Design House Stockholm ‘Box Light’ and lower right, ‘Last Bloom’ by Brothers Dressler and Normann Copenhagen Bottle Opener and Wine Pourers: All available through TUCK Studio.

The Kitchen:

I recommended that Laura and Jeff let me design a kitchen which made better use of their space, which meant pretty much gutting the existing kitchen, adding cabinets that went up to the ceiling and redesigning the layout of the central island. We eliminated the upper tier on the island and also tore out the tile floor and replaced it with a newer contemporary tile with radiant floor heating. The biggest design transformation came with the removal of the kitchen wall into the dining room, opening the space up completely.


Photo: Sean McGrath – The kitchen is now transformed from a ‘wood’ heavy space into an airy bright and modern eating area.

We brought our design to Christoph Malinowski of CM Woodcraft, a repeat collaborator of PUNCH INSIDE‘s. Together we worked to create a modern high gloss kitchen that offered more storage space. He also built the new bar area to match. I picked out modern white and chrome hardware for the upper white cabinets and chrome  and black hardware for the lower cabinets. The black tied in nicely to the island which I chose to anchor in a high gloss black central to the room. Then to ensure that the kitchen wasn’t too ‘stark’ with white and high gloss materials I chose a warm bamboo countertop for the island. The other corian countertops were installed by Creative Spaces and More, with a simple fleck to add a bit of pattern to the white. Additionally I chose some birch lights, designed by Isabelle Auger, to add warmth to the central island.


Photo: Sean McGrath – These two custom designed (Noisette) white birch lights by Montreal designer, Isabelle Auger are available through Tuck Studio.

Photo: Sean McGrath – To keep a clean seemless look we chose a simple 4 x 16 Gatineau Subway Tile with white gloss in a lineal pattern for the backsplash sourced through B&N Flooring.

Photo: Sean McGrath – Here is a detail of the tile floors. It is a 12 x 24 ‘Tropical Grass’ with dark grey grout installed with a split joint to keep a modern streamlined look. We ensured the new tile covered the entire kitchen all the way into the new living room space. Tile from B & N Flooring.


Photo: Sean McGrath – In this photo you can see the dramatic change we provided for Jeff and Laura by removing the dining room wall completely. By doing so we created an open concept dining and living area that offers abundant warmth and light. You can see the door in the dining area and also the one in the front entrance have been replaced with full window pane doors sourced through Ultimate Windows and Doors.

The Dining Room:

 Photo: Sean McGrath – Here you see two Essentials Delano White Leather chairs, separated by a Zebrano pawn stool, placed on top of a vibrant, fun yellow faux ‘cow-hide’ ‘florug’ through FLOR.  All furnishings available through Tuck Studio.

Note:  The White Panton chairs in the dining room were a supplementary chair for the photo shoot as we were waiting for the Gus* Modern White Graph Chairs to come in (they match the white Graph Stools at the Island.) They will look like this:

For additional pictures of sundry other details, including information on products, please refer to the attached  (With sincere thanks to Sean McGrath):

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