When Kim and Dan Davies acquired a rundown early 19th-century house in Ontario, Canada, in 2002, they certainly didn't envisage the marathon undertaking it would be to modernise it.
Built in 1857 as a feed and grain store, the building was converted into a house in 1924. Since then it had remained in the hands of the same owners, who did nothing to bring it in tune with the 20th century. "It was in a pretty bad state both externally and internally," says Kim, an antiques dealer and stylist, "but the bones of the building hadn't been tampered with and that's what appealed to us most."
Despite the need for new plumbing, wiring, flooring, insulation and heating, plus a large amount of external and internal renovation and never-ending cosmetic upgrades, the Davies took the plunge.
"The most important element for us was to retain the house's timeworn appeal," says Dan, a building contractor. "We created a new entrance and added extra living space to make the internal space work in a more practical manner." He also ripped out the rotten pine floors, replacing them with antique replicas, repaired worn windows and doors and insulated the house from top to bottom.
"There was no sign of a bathtub, hot water or a kitchen sink," Kim says. "To do the washing up we had to boil the water in a saucepan and get rid of the dregs in the back yard."
At first, the Davies continued to live in their nearby home, but when their sons, Cody and Jordan, left to take up their careers, the Davies realised the time had come to sell up and move into their new property. "It took us a total of four years to complete the project," says Kim. "It was such a huge undertaking that on several occasions we got quite despondent and it was a real effort to carry on. However, once the penny dropped that we really did have to get on with it, otherwise we would have nowhere to live, things started to move again."
Today all the rooms in the house have been decorated in a combination of white and cream to create a sense of continuity, and the odd splash of black creates some depth. Each room is filled with rustic antiquities and memorabilia of every type and description; the walls are covered with displays of mirrors and paintings.
Throughout the house, Kim's collections of antiques, pottery, china and other objects have been arranged on every available surface and shelf. "You would never believe it but I have actually pared down my collection to around half its original size," she says. Ironically, this downsizing led Kim to become an antiques dealer. "I have always been a bit of a magpie and as a stylist it was easier to have my own stock. Consequently over the years my collection grew out of all proportion. Since we were downsizing I started selling the odd piece here and there and one thing just led to another."
The living room is enchanting. A simple cream slip covered sofa, flanked by two antique arm chairs, sits in front of a dresser filled with antique crockery. A vintage English bus blind and an old shop sign with gold lettering hang on adjacent walls. One senses that each object has been chosen with care, and has its own special place in the overall scheme.
The dining room decor continues in a similar vein. High-backed cream slip covered chairs surround an elegant pine table which in turn offsets and old apothecary's chest. "We use this room a lot," says Kim. "It's a great place to work as well as to eat. It's cosy in winter and light and bright during the summer."
The adjacent kitchen is both elegant and practical. In a change from the rest of the house, the cabinets are black - much to the delight of Dan, who had requested that touches of black be used to break up Kim's white and cream theme. "The cabinets were supposed to have a whitewash finish but somehow the black seemed to give the room a better sense of balance so we left them as they were," Kim says. They also provide a dramatic backdrop for her collections of antique plates, bowls and jugs.
Upstairs in the master bedroom, the cream and white colour scheme continues unbroken except for a stunning damask wallpaper that Kim fell in love with. It was an inspiration to "break the mould for once in my life", she says. The bed is covered with a bold black and white patchwork quilt.
In the adjoining bathroom an unusual crackle finish dresser-turned-vanity unit steals the scene. "Dan found it long before we were due to move into the house," Kim says. "He has a great eye for finding unusual pieces."