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Palm (siding) and Railings (door) Exterior Paint, Farrow & Ball.

It was a classic case of “the worst house on the best street.” The old cottage down the road from Luke Havekes’s weekend home in Canada’s Eastern Townships was a run-down eyesore full of patchy renovations and Band-Aid fixes in a sea of color-coordinated homes with manicured gardens and lush flower beds. Nobody even noticed when it came up for sale and sat on the market for months.

Rug, E-Carpet Gallery; Window Shades, Bouclair.

But after a handful of price reductions, it became too irresistible a challenge for Havekes to pass up. “It was disgusting with a capital D,” recalls the Montreal-based interior designer of the 1950s structure. But underneath the peeling roof tiles and bad linoleum, he saw investment potential. “Not all clients give you the chance to really spread your wings and do your thing,” he explains. This four-bedroom place was a blank slate and an opportunity to become a testing lab of sorts for his wildest ideas. 

Vintage Wallpaper; Picture Lights, Amazon; Ceiling Light, CB2; Club Chairs, Perez Furniture; Side Tables, Renwil; Rug, E-Carpet Gallery.

The timing was fortuitous: Havekes settled on the house just before the start of the pandemic, when he relocated to the countryside full-time during lockdown. “People were baking bread and making cheese, trying to figure out how to spend their time, and I was hunting for vintage wallpaper on eBay,” he remembers. But not all aspects of the renovation were as easy as swathing the front door in Farrow & Ball Railings and planting a few trees. First, there were layers of paint to strip off, asbestos to remove, and insulation to fix. 

His tweaks to the layout were significant: He converted the sunporch into a functional mudroom, turned the powder room into a primary en suite, and opened up the kitchen by bookmarking it with two large double openings that lead to the living areas. “People often think that in order to do an open-concept floor plan, they have to take down all the walls, but I wanted to create flow while keeping the charm and coziness,” says Havekes.

Cabinets, Camlen; Pendant Lamps, Currey and Company; Stools, Design Within Reach; Art, Hunt Slonem.

Along the way, the designer didn’t shy away from controversial choices. In the kitchen, he opted out of upper cabinets and chose a central island with shelves, not drawers (an adjacent pantry hides much of the clutter). “A lot of people don’t like the idea of open storage, but it’s so great for someone who cooks to be able to grab your serving bowls and platters without having to get in the cupboards,” says Havekes. To create continuity, he went with solid wood cupboards by a local maker, which he had painted in the same color as the front and back doors, and carried the trim paint (Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace) throughout the house. 

Vintage Wallpaper, Schumacher; Dining Chairs, Camlen; Ceiling Light, Wayfair.

Havekes’s deep dive on eBay for vintage wallpaper led him to the ’80s pink Schumacher treatment that now lives in the dining room. The catch was he had to source the panels from three different sellers. “When my installer rolled it out to apply it, he was like: Are you aware that this is from four different dye lots?” he recalls. Undefeated, he strategically placed each roll in a gradient pattern around the room, creating a slight variation in tone that’s barely noticeable but gives the space a subtle, lived-in look. 

Lamps, Renwil; Duvet Cover, Zara Home; Art, Ronda Diamond.

“Because I didn’t have to sit down with a client and get approval, there were a lot of organic, ad hoc decisions that added so much character and personality,” explains Havekes. Another vintage print found its way into the main bedroom, this one a buttery custard yellow silk that gives the space a luxurious and luminous vibe. To play off the room’s smaller proportions, Havekes covered the entire back wall with an extra-wide emerald green velvet headboard, which creates a cozy hotel feel. 

When he realized there weren’t enough rolls of the grasscloth treatment to cover the living room completely, he added picture rail molding a few inches below the ceiling to make the cutoff look purposeful (the fact that it made the room appear bigger was a bonus). The bookcases that flank the fieldstone fireplace are actually made up of painted 2-by-10s, but the wallpaper backing and picture lights give them a custom look. “They have the thickness of solid wood but with a more artisanal feel, which is nice in a country house where not everything needs to be so formal and fussy,” he notes.

Wall Light, Amazon; Floor Tile, La Tuilerie; Plumbing Fixtures, Ciot; Mirror, Renwil.

Another transformative trick of Havekes’s was to invest in period-appropriate sash windows, tweaking the openings here and there to let in more light or add symmetry to a room. In the dining area, he swapped a creaky sliding patio entrance with beautiful French doors. Because the space is a pass-through, the designer opted for a corner banquette with an extendable table instead of a standard setup with just chairs: “You can throw a dinner party here, but you can also have a leisurely brunch, sit down with your laptop during the week, and have friends over for cocktails or game night.”

A year later, neighbors stopped Havekes in the street, thanking him for restoring the curb appeal on their block, and he sold the turnkey property to longtime clients looking to escape the city. “They moved in on Thanksgiving Day with only their toothbrushes,” says the designer. That night, the warm glow from the bay window and enticing smells coming from the kitchen (one of the new homeowners is a chef) proved that the worst house was now, in fact, the best. 

The Goods

Go-to local vintage shop: Reixue in Montreal has amazing stuff!

Favorite source for plants and gardening supplies: Plantation Plants.

Where I buy decor online: I like to get my inspiration from Instagram; there are so many designers who have amazing accounts. 

Who to Know

Nicest contractor I’ve met: Wayne Rooney of Napoleon Construction.

Pristine painter: Dylan Morley.

Meticulous wallpaper installer: Andre Champagne is by far the best!