The 5 week facelift

Strategic updating rejuvenated outdated townhouse

Lin Connery for The Calgary Herald

February 12, 2005

Marlene Graham’s two-storey townhouse was the perfect example of an essentially nice home in need of a cosmetic fix-up.
A retired two-term MLA who’s now a judge in Calgary, Graham has owned this condo since 1991, but she was too busy to do more than have the basement developed and freshen the paint once or twice over the past 13 years.
Thinking she might sell in the next year or two, Graham was willing to spend a little to see big improvements.
That’s where Karyn Elliott, interior designer and home stager, entered the picture. Savvy to the world of fixing up and selling, Elliott says if you’re planning to sell an older home, you’ll leave money on the table if you don’t update before you list.
Prospective buyers almost always overestimate the cost of updates, even simple ones — and given a choice, they would much prefer to buy a home that’s ready to live in.
“If you do what needs to be done, you’ll get top dollar,” says Elliott, proprietor of Albertine Design and Crazy House Home Staging ( And your home will almost certainly sell faster than the competition.
According to Elliott, every home has its own unique “prescription” for updating, and every seller has some sort of plan in mind. Some will update and sell immediately.
In this case: “Marlene’s going to live here and she’s (eventually) going to sell.” The home was upgraded to a level Graham could enjoy while still living there.
“We did it in an economical way,” says Graham, who notes this impressive whole-home project was done on time and within a relatively modest $34,000 renovation budget.
Just five weeks of focused activity was enough to completely change the presentation and atmosphere of Graham’s condo townhouse. Elliott also helped her client re-think and re-arrange her existing furnishings and accessories.
“Somehow Karyn was able to make everything work. She’s got a knack for pulling things together,” says Graham.
The only new pieces are two comfortable chairs that will add an inviting second seating area in front of the wood-burning fireplace.
New in 1981, this townhouse was typical of thousands of homes built at that time, says Elliott. The features that made them hot commodities back then are the very ones she’s stripping out now to give them a more modern look.
Elliott removed a total of four sunshine ceilings from Graham’s home –one each from the kitchen, two from bathrooms.
They were replaced by versatile recessed lighting, on dimmers and adjustable where it made sense.
A long, spacious living room was cut in half by a step-down halfway.
It may have looked like a good idea in 1981, but the two-level room limited furniture placement and flexible use of the space. Elliott had the sunken area built up to the same level as the rest of the room.
In this project, the wood kitchen and bathroom cabinets were of a timeless design and in excellent condition, so they required no major work beyond new countertops and faucets.
To give the main floor the desired open, modern look, the wall between the kitchen and living room was removed, opening up the formerly enclosed kitchen. “Taking that wall out made a big difference,” says Elliott.
The kitchen’s old ceramic tile was pried up and all the flooring on the main level was replaced with quality laminate in a warm, traditional stain.
Pulling back to just one type of flooring gives the space a continuous, easy flow.
“All of the flooring is new,” says Elliott, who also replaced all of the upstairs carpet with a versatile taupe-and-cream berber.
Her best tips when it comes to carpet replacement? Choose a neutral shade and buy the best underlay you can afford. Even if the carpet isn’t the finest money can buy, a deep resilient underlay will make it feel like top quality underfoot.
Every light fixture was replaced. A trip to a well-stocked lighting store produced some terrific bargains. The important-looking fixture in the dining room was an amazing $40 sale find, says Elliott.
All wallpaper was eliminated. The vinyl wallpaper in the entry was particularly difficult to remove, so the walls sustained some damage and there was a lot of glue residue.
The answer was Behr Sandwash, a lightly textured paint that suggests a stone finish. When the top coat was randomly dabbed on, the effect was so pleasing, the Sandwash was continued up into the stairwell, where a skylight emphasizes the soft, natural-looking texture.
Upstairs, the master ensuite bath was also freed from its wrapper of foil wallpaper. Banjo countertops and carpet were also pulled from bathrooms, and sheet mirrors were replaced by attractive framed mirrors. All of the baths were outfitted with new brushed-nickel towel bars and paper holders, and treated to high-end Kohler sinks and Grohe faucets.
And the entire home was repainted in neutral, restful, timeless colours.
This condo townhouse also had one major attraction that wasn’t being played for all it was worth — an unbelievable location backing directly onto Fish Creek Provincial Park.
While the windows facing the park were already oversized, the formal draperies partially obstructed the view, even when fully open. Drapes were replaced by barely-there horizontal blinds that can, essentially, disappear.
Elliott also brought more natural light — and a better view of the park’s greenery — into the kitchen by carving a large pass-through into a wall between the dining room and the kitchen.
Now that work is complete, Graham is extremely pleased with the results.
“I might like it so well, I don’t sell,” she says. “It feels like a new place.”

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