The Grand General Award for 2020 went to Keith and Michelle Donald for their 1923 home at 5670 Marine Avenue.
“This year’s Grand General Award goes to the Donald’s for their wonderful work to ensure the architectural character of their home reflects the unique heritage and historical values of Townsite,” said John Keller, director of operations at Townsite Heritage Society.
In the short time they’ve owned the property, the Donald’s have restored a lot of the interior decorating back to the original time period and have done an incredible amount of work on the yard.
“Keith and I came up to Powell River in 2015 on a whim, actually,” said Michelle. “We had only just purchased a house in Gibsons after leaving the Lower Mainland and we had no intention of buying anything here.
“I had actually never been to Powell River before but a friend of mine had moved up here. On one nice Sunday afternoon in July we thought, ‘Lets just go up and take a look at Powell River.’ We got here and we both went, ‘Ohhh this is nice.’”
Keith, an architect, and Michelle, an interior designer, had formerly done an extensive renovation on their previous home of a similar vintage in White Rock before briefly relocating to Gibsons.
Love at first sight
“Without even looking at the house, just looking at the pictures online, and seeing it in person driving by it, we had basically bought the house in our heads before we actually ever bought it; we did come back and look at it a week later and found that we really wanted to do this,” said Michelle. “There wasn’t even a thought that we would look at another house. It was a love at first sight kind of a thing and it really is a beautiful house; it’s the nicest house we’ve ever owned.”
The previous owners had been meticulous about maintaining the home and even left behind a file that contained original photos of the home around the time it was built.
“The house was in beautiful condition when we got it,” said Michelle. “All the house needed was a fresh set of eyes to come into it. From a heritage point of view the house had a lot going for it.”
Many Townsite homes have had porches closed in and pantries removed for extra space, however, both were left untouched at the Donald’s home.
“We took out a lot of carpet,” said Michelle. “I think I’ve repainted every surface in the house, literally from ceilings to the bathtub. I’m tired of painting,” she added jokingly.
Removing the carpet revealed original fir floors throughout. The floors were redone and every room in the house has received a makeover.
Michelle said they chose to use William Morris wallpaper sparingly in the home.
“He was a very influential person in the arts and crafts movement and did a lot of art and design work; it’s a nod to those earlier days and tying it with a colour scheme that’s more up to date and reflective of the heritage,” said Michelle. “We’ve gone back to a colour scheme inside the house that is actually very peaceful but reflects the outdoors. The walls are a deep blue/green colour and I look out and see the ocean in front of me and the trees and the mountains in the distance. It has a feeling of being fluid and it all rests easy on the eyes.”
The yard is almost unrecognizable from a few years ago as grass continues to disappear to make room for more flowers.
“We both have an eye for design and my husband was really interested in creating outdoor rooms in the garden,” said Michelle. “He spent a lot of time actually building fences and arbours to create outdoor spaces and lead the eye around the garden. We took up a lot of lawn and built a lot of structures in the time we’ve been here.”
Not counting the many shrubs, Keith and Michelle have planted around 30 trees, 20 roses (mostly climbing) and an abundance of lavender and perennials. Their garden won the Best Kitchen Garden award in 2019. The space is meant to resemble an English cottage garden and attracts countless bees and pollinators.
Focus is all about beauty
When asked if the yard is low maintenance Michelle laughed and quickly said: “No, absolutely not. No it’s not low maintenance, there is nothing low maintenance about it to be honest with you. I’d like to lie and say it is.
Keith and I, our focus whenever we are doing something, is all about beauty and so sometimes what happens is we do something that we think is really beautiful and afterwards we realize there’s a lot of work to keep this up. It’s okay, it’s worth it.”
Keith and Michelle have recently sold the property and will be heading to Victoria at the end of March.
“I think this will be the last house we will own,” said Michelle. “This is kind of like a highlight. I think this is the best house we’ve ever owned and we’ve done the best job on this house than we have on anything else we’ve done. It’s a really high note to leave home ownership on.”
Keith and Michelle travel to Italy every year and aren’t opposed to tackling a project overseas.
“We’ve always changed things. That’s just part of being in the trade that we were in, and we are both fairly artistic and creative people,” explained Michelle. “Even in the future, even if it’s the smallest little apartment we’ll probably go at it with the same sort of attitude to make it our own. We both think that’s important, to make something feel like it belongs to you.
“We don’t know where we’re going to land and quite honestly we’re really just excited about what possibilities lay ahead for us.”