Friday, September 4, 2009

Smashing the hell out of the sow's ear/silk purse erroneousness.

I give you, Sarah's house. Before and after.

Not the chirpy Sarah Richardson from HGTV. Not the one with the backup team of blondes, the gay sidekick Tommy, and the rich husband floating her robin's egg blue-boat.

I'm talking about Jack's cousin Sarah. Sarah Burns. The person I call on when I need a date. The gal who can take down the entire food and wine menu from Cut in one fell swoop is also the person I call on when I need design advice, the name of a good plumber, tiler, finish carpenter, lighting supplier, or sometimes, just a hug. Sarah Burns is a fucking genius deserving of her own show and a big ass bank account.

Not one to blow her own horn, there are in fact, few streets in Halifax (and North Toronto) that haven't been touched by Sarah's magic renovation wand. There's the Henry Street tear down. The Larch Street miracle. The 'no fucking way' on Preston Street. And now Roger's Drive.

A sane person would have taken a bulldozer to the Brady Bunch crackhouse of horror – but not Sarah. She saw beyond the ugliness, rotten carpet and fake ferns, to spacious rooms and the potential of a split-level living space. Sarah saw 5 bedrooms, 5 baths, an open-aired loft, polished concrete, hardwood and two fireplaces. No one – not even her normally 'go for it' realtor, Meghan Laing – could talk her out of it. Good thing.

What makes Sarah's renovations so mind blowing, isn't so much the quality finishings and truly, unique ideas in every inch of available space. Sure, she searches far and wide for the perfect lighting fixtures. She designs crown moldings, handrails and custom mud rooms. And she doesn't just walk into Home Depot and point. What really separates Sarah from the pack is she actually lives in the chaos from beginning to end with 3 small kids, dogs, cats, a nasty foster cat I would have put to sleep immediately, reptiles, hamsters, 2 horses for a night, bunnies, visiting relatives – and on this project – a husband who took a recession kick in the nuts.

And she thinks I am the crazy one.

No cameras rolling. No glory. No screaming at contractors on cue (because there is no contractor). Sarah survived a summer of torrential rain without a roof. She survived empty bank accounts and despondent carpenters. And, she survived her own meticulous blueprint changes. How she survived, I'll never know. Sarah is the poster child for grace under pressure. I have honestly never seen a crack in the woman's armour, even after a post-disaster bottle of Prosecco. While the sky was falling repeatedly, Sarah's kids always had smiles on their faces and ribbons in their hair.

And now it's time for her next project. A neglected farmhouse outside Caledon, Ontario? An industrial space in the north end? Who the hell knows. Sarah will drive by some forlorn piece of architectural shit and see roses blooming. Like she did on Rogers Drive.

Pictures don't do this home justice – you have to see it. And while tire kickers are discouraged (unless of course you're packin' fresh flowers and/or a nice bottle of Veuve Clicquot, in which case drop by) if you're in the market for an envelope-pushing design priestess on any level, this is her living resume. Listed with Meghan Laing at Domus, it hasn't been on the market long – and if history repeats itself – the discerning buyer with an eye for perfection will snap it up. They always do. This time, they'll be wowed by the luxurious, marble master bath with the Star Trek shower and soaker tub complete with wall-mounted TV. Or, the sparkling custom kitchen, open to the sunken den with fireplace. Or the entire silk purse.

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was clearly showing his blonde, Nazi roots when he said, "God is in the details". If this is true, then Sarah's is a house of worship complete with a soulful choir and funeral sandwiches following the service.

I can't wait for someone to buy it so I can watch the next episode of the real Sarah's House.

You can catch Meghan Laing at 830.1377 or email her at: To hire Sarah as a contractor, design consultant, guru or dining companion, email her at