By Gabrielle. Photos by Scott Adamson.

It’s been noted a few times in these tours that a homeowner’s true nature appears during a renovation. A worrier worries even more, someone who has a hard time making decisions will probably be on the phone (or maybe Pinterest!) a lot, and a procrastinator will get to that project tomorrow. Or next Wednesday.

I happen to love Jillian‘s reno-style: She had a home water birth at 11:00 am, and renovations were back on by two that afternoon. So awesome. As is this tour, especially for those of you interested in eco-friendly renovating and decorating. (Note to self: Paperstone sounds cool.) Enjoy, Friends!

Q: Please tell us who makes this house a home.

A: My husband, Jamie, is a carpenter and I am a naturopathic doctor with a blog and sideline dreams of designing and styling interior spaces full time. In the interim, we renovate and rebuild houses and flip them.

We have two children named Winnie (4) and Pippa (2), and we live in Kingston, Ontario.

Our house didn’t feel like a home when we moved in. I felt like I was at a fancy hotel. Even though it was far from done, I had never lived in anything quite so new or designer or glossy.

What has turned this house into a home is us. Our crazy little family has made a big imprint on this space: the dents in the kitchen floor, the family wall covered with pics of our favorite people and memorabilia, and the very personalized additions in every room. I want to give a lot of credit to my husband, Jamie. He has poured himself into this house. Every nail. Every floorboard. Every restored grate. That was all him. He puts love and attention into everything he does.

Q: How did the home come to be yours? 

A: We were actually about to buy another house just down the street. I was in the midst of a very difficult first trimester, I had worked a full day, and we had a tired two year old on our hands. Our real estate agent encouraged us to take a look at two houses on the street that had just come on the market before we made an offer on the other house.

This house was a bungalow. It was in bad shape. It smelled, the floors were rotten, the back yard was an overgrown rainforest. We looked around and hightailed it out of there. Unfortunately, the house we had planned to buy had lost its shine. After seeing it we decided not to make an offer and left discouraged and unsure of what to do next. We stopped to pick up a pizza for dinner and when Jamie got back to the car I said, “That bungalow was it, wasn’t it?” He said, “Yep, I think so.” We called our agent when we got home, made an offer at 9:00 pm, and it was ours the next morning!

We spent the next four months in the craziest, time-restricted renovation I can imagine. Jamie was working full time and doing the reno on the side. We took the roof off. Added a second and third floor and re-did the entire main living space. My belly was growing and growing and growing and we had  a house to pack up and leave.

The reno obviously got behind schedule, as all renos do, and we were living with Jamie’s parents when my dute date came and went. For 11 days we worked harder than I ever thought imaginable. My body was so sore, I had no idea how I was going to muster up the energy or fortitude for a labour and delivery.

At 12 days overdue my parents showed up, we cleaned the house as much as possible, moved in a couch, a mattress, and a birth pool. We went out for dinner. We sat around and chatted, and by 11:00 pm I was pretty sure I was in labour. Pippa was born the next day at 11:00 am. At one point during the labour a plumber showed up to fix an issue with the bathroom fixtures, but he quite happily decided to come back another time!

I had never planned to have a home birth with a whole slew of family present, but it was perfect. Pure magic. The renovation was back in full swing by 2:00 pm!

Q: What makes you love where you live? 

A: We love the Kingston community. In the past seven years we have built two businesses and grown a lovely circle of friends who truly are our family. We love being so close to the water and between major Canadian cities: Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. We get a small town feel with easy access to big city amenities and friends all over. It’s also a great location for getting out to the east coast of Canada, where I am from.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? In what ways did it change when you added kids to the mix?

A: I consider my aesthetic modern homey. I love clean lines and minimal clutter, but I definitely need a dose of warmth and history.

When we first had Winnie I was determined to keep our house from getting too kiddie, but, as so many mothers before me know, one day I woke up in a heap of toys. For awhile we let it go. There were toys and books everywhere. Eventually, I started to find the clutter tiresome and felt it was becoming stressful for all of us. Following the advice of Kim John Payne and his book Simplicity Parenting, I’ve worked really hard to simplify our environment for all of us. I’ve cleared out excess toys and books, kept the kids’ rooms super streamlined and full of beautiful, natural materials and open-ended toys….with a few exceptions.

Q: Do you consciously decorate a room with your kids in mind? 

A: We have worked hard to create some very kid friendly spaces: a lovely polka-dotted reading nook under the stairs, a kid-sized craft space, the numbers on the stairs, low hooks and baskets in their room for clothes storage. I think of the kids always when I am decorating but I also like to keep the long-game in mind. I try to keep the basics basic (cream or white walls, wood floors, quality furniture) and then we can play with pillows and curtains and art to get the feeling the girls want. That way as they grow, the room can grow, too. Easily and inexpensively.

We try to make some grown-up spaces but our kids have free reign. We’re a team. Wherever we go, they go.

Q: Eco-decorating seems to be important to you. Please explain your philosophy and why it’s so worth the effort to you and your family. 

A: As a naturopath, I am acutely aware of how our environment affects our health. The fact that I was pregnant and moving in with a new baby was also a major factor. We worked hard to use eco-friendly products, re-use, and re-cycle for many reasons:

1. We just think it’s the right thing to do. We aren’t perfect but we really try to make responsible choices for our planet.

2. We believe that a house needs soul. It needs history and depth. We were able to give this house soul by salvaging all the old doors and grates, re-purposing older furniture, finding perfect flea-market one-offs… really gave us the balance we were looking for.

3. It can save money. Eco-friendly renovating and decorating can be exceptionally expensive, but it was so great to salvage all of the wood from the old roof and re-use it, or get an amazing one-of-a-kind floor from an inexpensive old barn tear down.

Q: Your countertops are Paperstone. Can you tell us the pros and cons of that surface? 

A: So far we have only seen the pros. It’s a recycled paper product that is exceptionally heavy and has a unique, almost stone-like, look. Because of its composition, Jamie was able to cut and install it (he could never have done that with granite), saving us thousands of dollars. You can sand it down if it gets scratched or stained, though it seems fairly resistant to both, and it feels amazing. You do have to treat it. We use a special oil and beeswax.

Q: What is your favorite room in the house to spend time with your kids?

A: Our favorite room is the sunroom at the back of the house…..or maybe our bedroom in the late afternoon and early evening. In both cases, I think it’s a matter of light. Each of the rooms are filled with cosy, comfy furniture, soft blankets, lots of pillows, and big windows. Huge views on the back yard and trees, trees, trees! We love to drink our coffee or tea in the morning, or cosy up for a summer thunderstorm in the sunroom.

Our bedroom has the softest evening light and breezes. Perfect for after-bath stories and massages.

Q: What do you hope your decor choices and the items that surround your family are teaching them about you and their someday ideas about family? 

A: I feel like our home is a simple, comfortable space. I hope our children grow to appreciate simplicity and space; space to grow and dream and just be. I hope that they leave our home with an appreciation and desire for simple everyday beauty, healthy delicious food, big gatherings full of family and friends, and lots of silly fun!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What surprised you the most about kids and about being a mother? What do you already miss? 

A: My favorite part about living with my kids has to be the cuddles and chaos and challenge to be a better person. I guess what surprised me the most is how smart they are. How funny they are. How unique and amazing (and frustrating) they are.

And I already miss the chubby feet. Oh, those tiny little toes. I was just talking to Jamie about chubby legs and feet and toes last night. What will we do when they are gone? I’m gonna cry!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…

A: I wish I had known that my children would be my biggest source of inspiration and challenge. That everyday I would have to work really hard to be the woman I want them to grow to be: daring, innovative, compassionate, creative, honest, and passion driven.


Thank you, Jillian! I smiled all the way through your tour, starting with that inspiring home birth and your let’s-get-back-to-it attitude. And your happy focus on eco-decorating got me even more excited about our new cottage project.

Friends, have any of you wholly embraced the eco-friendly movement in renovating and decorating? As Jillian mentioned, it can be crazy expensive in terms of initial investment, but I imagine the long-term benefits could outweigh that, right? What do you think?

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!