Every good creative team has those moments. You’re all trying to solve a challenge, and somebody says, “this may sound crazy, but what if….?”
Sometimes the ideas are swiftly rejected. But sometimes they’re exactly the kind of box-busting solution that drives a difficult problem to its knees.
Dwayne Butler and his team at Master Edge Homes know those moments well. They specialize in renovations, a field of construction where every solution seems to open up three new problems and where creative brilliance is merely the price of admission.
Dwayne – an experienced contractor who had decades of experience in new home construction before deciding to focus on renovations – and Anne, his wife, have assembled a team of designers, project managers, and tradespeople who delight in nothing more than making impossible renovation desires come to life, on time and on budget.
Ask about some of their biggest challenges and you’ll hear a flow of “there was this time when” stories. Like the time when they were asked to renovate a two-storey riverfront cottage with no basement and seven-foot nine-inch ceilings on the main floor.
Part of the project involved replacing the electric baseboards with a forced air heating system. But the cottage was built on a concrete slab, so there was no basement to hold the ductwork. And the low ceilings ruled out running it overhead.
“We were puzzling it out and I said, ‘you know, we could lift the whole second floor into the air….’” Dwayne recalls with a laugh. It sounded excessive, but once the idea was fleshed out, it turned out to be a reasonable solution. So, the second floor was lifted, and remained suspended for six weeks while the crew built new walls for the main floor, nearly ten feet tall. Once the walls were in place, the second floor was lowered back down, and ductwork could be installed and hidden behind false beams and bulkheads.
Of course, none of this happens without extensive conversations with the homeowner, conversations that also involve many members of the team.
Before any drawings are created or contracts are signed, and there’s only the most bare-bones preliminary budget, Dwayne and three or more members of the design team visit the home – and meet the homeowner.
Candice Brown, Nathan Proctor, and Natalie Kwan often meet the client together, each of them bringing different specialties and areas of expertise to the project. Nathan, for example, is certified in net zero design; Nathalie has certification in adaptive living and works to ensure that every member of the family will be able to use the space when it’s completed; Candice has had 15 successful years of operating her own interior design company.
Candice spends the most time with their clients, asking a long list of questions and getting to know them. “It’s not just about the house,” she explains. “I want to know who they are. What do they do to relax? Do they cook, or do they train for triathlons? Do they have family, or a large circle of friends? Sometimes people will say ‘you know, I’ve never been asked that before,’ but it’s all about ensuring that the renovation will suit them.”
Nathan and Natalie, meanwhile, are measuring the entire house and getting to know its structural details as well as its potential quirks. They, too, are paying attention to the details. “You see a stepstool in the kitchen, and you know that someone who uses that kitchen needs help to reach higher shelves,” says Nathan. “So maybe you don’t want to put too many tall cabinets in there.”
Back at the office, they can then brainstorm and design, coming up with a design, budget, and timeline, presenting them to the homeowner, hearing their comments, then refining them further.
“We can go back to the client and say, for example, ‘this is going to cost between $600,000 and $700,000. Are you comfortable with that?’” says Dwayne. “If not, let’s talk about what we need to change.”
Candice will take the homeowner to various supplier showrooms – usually in the GTA, for the convenience of the clients – and start picking out everything from flooring to countertops to window coverings. Every decision brings them closer to a firm budget until at last they are able to present the final numbers and a detailed contract and obtain the permits.
“The whole process is designed so that there are no surprises,” says Anne. “The homeowner knows exactly what’s happening, when it’s going to happen, and how much it will cost.”
Eventually the design team steps back, the construction team steps forward, and the renovation begins.
Most projects don’t involve lifting an entire floor off the house. But when they do, everyone involved – from the homeowner to the carpenters to the crane operator – knows that it’s being done for a solid, well-thought-out reason. And the end result will be a renovated home that is all the owners wanted and so much more.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS SCOTT TURNBULL, CJ SCHADE PHOTOGRAPHY & VALERIE WILCOX