Editorial by: Jane Nicholson | Photography by: Christopher Cooper
I never intended to buy it. I went to see the Munro house one day with my friend, Leslie, who told me it had a really nice early staircase and an upstairs ballroom dating from the 1820s, complete with original mouldings. We had a great talk with Mr. Munro and he told us he was considering selling it. I was working on another project at the time (restoring the Annapolis Royal train station) and Leslie was involved in a heritage house project himself, so neither of us was in the market for another project. Then Mr. Munro got sick and it turned out that selling the place became more of an issue for him. I admitted some interest but there was another buyer so I heaved a sigh of relief and forgot about it. Some months went by and happily Mr. Munro recovered. The other buyer had fallen through and Mr. Munro was anxious to sell. And so I became the new owner.
Deciding what to do
I had a long talk about the project – specifically the bay windows – with Dr. Barry Moody, Chair of the Annapolis Heritage Society, and Harry Jost, my architect. We knew it was a Georgian house and had started its life about 1818 as a one storey home. The second storey had been added in 1828 and the third storey about 1832. Of course we found evidence of the original Georgian fenestration across the front. We later learned that the bay windows had been an 1873 renovation. (They had lousy carpenters back then too as they forgot to tie the bays into the wall supports, but that is another story!)
We decided that you can take things back only so far, and maybe we didn’t need to aspire to 1832. Frankly, I could not afford to replace all the Victorian windows with new wooden Georgian windows and so I decided to do a historical rehabilitation rather than a restoration. We removed the front porch and added a shed dormer and a veranda to the back. I painted the house a colour very close to its original shade and the Victorian trim a shade darker.
Downstairs I realigned the hall doorways, put a wall back in its original position and rebuilt a corner fireplace in the front parlour. I took down the walls in the ell to make a summer sitting room and fit a full bathroom in as well. And, of course, I re-did the kitchen.
Upstairs I created two more bathrooms. Interior colours were based on original colours as I found them. The ballroom had traces of its original blue and gold wallpaper, so I painted it light blue, and the wooden floor had been turkey red so it was painted soft red again.
The upstairs and downstairs halls retained their original yellow ochre colour I found under the wallpaper.
The back bedroom with its original old blue boards was wallpapered in a tiny print and the front right bedroom I did in my favourite green colour. Downstairs I decided on neutral and light colours that would be easy for a new owner to deal with.
The floors are all original except for the downstairs hallway, which was completely unsalvageable; the attic playroom (which gave up its boards to repair the other downstairs rooms); the bathrooms and the downstairs ell floors. That new flooring was a disappointment to me as the 10 inch boards I had ordered a year earlier and stockpiled were ripped into six and four inch boards a week before I was to take ownership of them by someone at the mill who did not remember the order. Because of time and availability constraints, I had to use pre-finished flooring to replace them. I designed the new flooring in the downstairs hall in my signature chequerboard pattern.
The house has three full bathrooms (one downstairs that is wheelchair accessible), and three full bedrooms (one the ballroom, with a fireplace), an attic playroom, attic storage, second floor laundry, a kitchen, dining room, front “winter” living room with a fireplace, an office or television room that could be a fourth bedroom, and an ell “summer” living room. The basement is high and dry. There is a garage-cum-shed on the property.
I retained all of Mrs. Munro’s plants in some location or another, so there are wiegela, rhododendron, old cherry trees, the old chestnut and apple trees, a golden chain tree and old peonies. There is a fabulous elm on the corner of the property as well. I planted new shrubs at the driveway, and a line of new trees in the back along the fence that will grow up to screen the adjoining buildings. In the spring there are close to 500 daffodils on that property, planted near the road so folks can see them driving through town.