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Stokholm Building Co

A great renovation pays you back in more ways than one

Anyone planning a renovation wants to know about ROI – how much of the cost you will recoup when you eventually sell the cottage. But Damien Stokholm says the right renovation can also provide a very different kind of return, one that’s measured in something much, much more important than dollars.

“Realtors will tell you that you get the most ROI from renovating a bathroom or a kitchen, and they’re right. But adding bedrooms to your cottage can be one of the most impactful renovations you will ever undertake,” says the owner of Stokholm Building Co.

His company has renovated dozens of Muskoka cottages over nearly 25 years, from modest bungalows on small lakes to multi-million-dollar Lake Joe estates. “The funny thing about cottages is that it doesn’t matter how expensive it is, they nearly all have the same basic purpose: to be a place where families gather,” he says.

“And the more bedrooms you have, the more family and friends you can welcome.”

That’s why many people have far more bedrooms at their cottage than they have at their home. “If you’ve got the space, then the cottage really can be an intergenerational space. Grandparents and grandchildren, cousins and aunts and uncles, all spending time together, building memories. That’s what cottaging is all about.”

Seamless approach
Of course, there’s a lot more to a great renovation than just building a new wing. “On every renovation we do, I want it to be impossible to tell where the old cottage ends and the new one begins,” says Damien. “It should be seamless.”

Getting that right means paying close attention to small details. That can mean having millwork (baseboards, window casings and so on) custom made to exactly match what currently exists. Or sourcing brand new plumbing fixtures that mimic those from the 1920s, while offering modern functionality.

To achieve some of those details, Damien draws on his construction experience, as well as his formal training. “I came into contracting through a bit of a back door – I have a degree in furniture making,” he explains.

Not only did that training give him exacting finish carpentry skills, it also gave him a great understanding of how wood moves.

“No matter whether you’re working with 100-year-old reclaimed timbers, or a modern composite material like MDF, it will expand and contract with seasonal moisture changes,” he says. “You need to account for that in your design and construction, or you’re going to see cracks, or gaps or warps. It might look great when you leave the jobsite, but in a couple of years, problems will start to appear.”

Picturing the results
Not all renovations involve matching the little details on a hundred-year-old cottage, of course. “There were a lot of cottages built in the ‘70s and ‘80s that are starting to look very dated, or that just don’t suit the way we live now,” says Damien. “Sometimes the best solution is to add some living space, and then completely update the interior while we’re there. You can dramatically transform the look and feel of a place remarkably easily.”

In that kind of renovation, one of the biggest challenges for many owners is picturing what the end result will look like. “There aren’t very many people who have a clear vision of what they want, and are able to articulate it,” he says.

“Clients will show you photos and say, ‘I like this,’ but that doesn’t always give us enough to go on,” he says. He’ll discuss the photos with the client, trying to understand why these photos caught their attention. “What elements should we be looking to reproduce? Is it a certain functionality? The texture of the floor, or the shape of the windows? Or perhaps it’s really about the emotional response the picture evokes. The devil’s in the details.”

An accomplished drawer, Damien will often sketch out solutions and ideas and share them with his clients, refining and redrawing in two dimensions and three until they have a shared vision of the final project. “That approach lets us be extremely fluid and flexible. It really treats the process as a partnership: I’m helping them refine their vision, and then directing my crew so we can bring that vision to life.”

Sometimes the plans even change midway through the project. “The client is watching the renovation grow around them, and they say ‘wait, I’ve got an idea.’ When you’re doing renovations, you need to be flexible.”

No matter what kind of renovation is involved, the goal is the same. “We want to give the owner a place they will love and will continue to love for years. And we want it to look amazing long after we’ve gone.”

TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN

www.StokholmBuilding.com

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