Reno Expert: A Renovator's Prerogative

Reno Expert: A Renovator’s Prerogative

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Reno Expert: A Renovator’s Prerogative

by Jim Caruk

Global design trends ultimately influence and update our taste here at home

When it comes to home designs, I’ve always preferred more traditional looks to modern ones. So much so that when I was building my own house, I opted for the Cape Cod style, sometimes also called the New England style.

One of the key features of Cape Cod design is the symmetrical look of the exterior, with equal numbers of windows on either side of the door.

This type of house often includes dormers to add living space upstairs on steeply sloped roofs. (The steep pitch is handy for shedding the heavy snow load common on the northeast coast of North America.)

The original builders used the materials that were close at hand and that typically meant wood. The roof is usually covered with cedar shakes and the exterior is clad in wood clapboard siding.


That’s what I’ve liked for years. But now I’m starting to really warm up to the real modern Scandinavian stuff, and I never thought I would. The lines are so clean: before the furniture goes in, the rooms are basically empty boxes with straight lines.

One thing to keep in mind when building in that style is that you have to have really good trades for all the finishing, particularly drywallers and painters, to do it right. Why? Because there’s nothing to hide the little imperfections. No crown moulding to cover up the joint where the walls and ceiling meet. No trim around the doors. Everything’s clean and bare, so mistakes leap right out. You have to be bang on with all your corners.



Longboard’s Long Boards

A common feature in modern exteriors is large sections of contrasting materials. But wood will crack and swell. Instead, use these durable powder-coated aluminum panels with realistic wood finishes.

Photography courtesy of Longboard Cladding
Photography courtesy of Longboard Cladding


What’s important to keep in mind is that styles and tastes vary over time. Take stucco on the ceiling. It was the default option in the 1970s and 1980s, in part because it covered up all those imperfections. Then, people couldn’t wait to get rid of it. A lot of contractors were kept busy removing or covering up stucco ceilings. Now, guess what? Stucco seems to be making a comeback. And, done right, it really is a work of art.


You look at a place like Dubai. This city, part of the United Arab Emirates, has become internationally famous for continually raising the bar on ultra-modern design. You’ve likely seen pictures of the Burj Al Arab—the sail-shaped hotel with a helipad on the roof—that occasionally doubles as a tennis court! Granted, most of us will never see the building in person, let alone stay in it, with rooms starting at about $1,500 a night. But some of the design elements from ambitious global projects like this eventually filter down to residential building here in Canada.

For example, designs that combine multiple elements such as stone, steel, and wood all together as part of a feature wall first started showing up in high-end hotels, then high-end custom homes. Slowly, they’ll trickle down to everyday homes.

A recent project we did was a condo loft. Everything was all open-concept with bare concrete walls. I really liked it. In the past, I probably wouldn’t have. Apparently people can change. Or at least change their taste in home decor.

Jim Caruk, Renovation Editor

We look forward to hearing from you and welcome your feedback. Do you have a reno or decor question for our team of experts?



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