Geoff and Karen Stewart have been told on numerous occasions that their home is reminiscent of grandma and grandpa’s house, with its abundance of woodwork, French provincial-style furnishings, including a dark floral sofa and love seat, and ornate antiques. In fact, Geoff was recently talking about his newly built home in Upper Windermere to a realtor, who told him that his style of house was not really “in style.”
True, the home does have a lot of finely crafted, classic woodwork throughout — a maple staircase, fir baseboards and trim, cherry cabinets and bookshelves, as well as transom windows. However, if you look beyond and behind those dark timber features, several eclectic and decidedly untraditional elements begin to emerge.
In fact, if you literally look behind the bookcases — and you have to know which ones to look behind — you’ll find a secret room or two, perfect for a guaranteed win at hide-and-seek. Imagine the fun.
Geoff and Karen’s nine-year-old son Layne doesn’t have to imagine. The entrance to his bedroom is through one sneaky spot along a wall of bookcases, a hidden door disguised by ledges of family photos, travel mementos and paperback fantasy novels.
“Layne was playing hide-and-seek with his friends, and he came up here and closed the door,” says Geoff. “They didn’t even know there was a room here.”
“Traditional” almost seems to be a dirty word in today’s home-building lexicon. But, Geoff, a dental hygienist and part-time tattoo artist, and Karen, a dentist, (they work at the same Leduc dental clinic) make no apology for their choice in home design and decor, nor do they shrink away from the label. Simply stated, “This is us,” says Geoff.
For the couple, building their dream home was not about what is trendy today. It was about family, friends and fun — now and 40 years from now.
“We are starting to think about having grandkids already,” says Geoff (The couple also has two grown daughters, Sierra, 20 and Ande, 24). “We want our home to be where all the grandkids want to come. It’s kind of like a big playhouse for kids — little kids and big kids.”
Big kids might find their own fun in Geoff ’s tattoo studio above the garage, where he still inks part-time. Complete with skulls and Harley-Davidson insignias routered into the baseboards, the Estate Tattoo studio is an unusual complement to the classically designed house. Geoff, also known as “Dr. Teeth,” was previously part owner of Off Whyte Tattoos. Having a home-based tattoo studio made practical sense, allowing him to continue to indulge his passion for the art.
“Nobody wants a tattoo at 7:30 in the morning, so I clean teeth in the morning, and in the afternoon, I do tattoos,” he says.
A strong focus on family and friends inspired many of the design elements in Geoff and Karen’s home, including the indoor pool, which was the original catalyst for building a new house. Restrictive covenants on their previous house in Haddow (almost directly across the river) meant that they couldn’t add on to that house. So, when Geoff and Karen happened upon the large lot in the more secluded area of Upper Windermere, and almost a stone’s throw from the North Saskatchewan River, their search for the perfect property was over. Finding a builder who was willing to see their vision through was a bit more of a challenge.
“Most of the conventional builders that we shared these ideas with said, ‘You can’t do that. That’s just in the movies,’” says Geoff. “When we told Mark [Kuzio] our ideas, he just tipped his head to the side, and you could almost see him picturing it in his head. And he said, ‘I can do that.’ Every crazy idea we had, he said he could do it.”
Kuzio, the Principal of Madison Park Homes, was excited about the project from the start. While many home builders always have an eye on the bottom line, which can stifle the creative mind, Kuzio was eager to incorporate every off-the-wall idea presented to him.
“Geoff and Karen were dream clients — their imaginations just kept going and going,” says Kuzio. “The possibilities are endless, and you just kind of figure out a way to do it.”
The pool itself wasn’t a design challenge; after all, indoor pools are more prevalent in Alberta than outdoor pools. However, Geoff and Karen wanted a way to make their pool space usable when the pool itself wasn’t in use. Geoff envisioned a hard cover for the pool that could be walked on, instead of what he calls
“the floating bubble wrap” that is typically used. That was how they came up with the idea of a moving floor.
“We went to five different engineering firms before we could find someone who could figure out how to do this,” says Geoff. “You could drive a truck on this floor.”
The pool cover essentially tips down over the pool like the lid on a cigar box. With the flick of a switch, and with multiple sets of steel cables for safety, the floor can be raised and lowered. Spray foam insulation on the bottom of the pool cover helps keep the water warm, so it costs very little to heat the pool. An afternoon swim can be followed up with a game of floor hockey or an evening dance party. Geoff and Karen have hosted soirees for upwards of 140 guests with two live bands playing simultaneously in different areas of the 8,800-square-foot house.
The couple entertains a lot, and their home is set up to encourage social interaction. They don’t have a television in the main living area, and cell phones aren’t allowed at the dinner table. In fact, Karen picked a red colour for the dining room walls because she heard the hue stimulates conversation. The den boasts a pool table, a vintage Vector pinball arcade game and a music room with enough guitars to supply several rock bands.
While Geoff and Karen’s daughters no longer live at home, each has her own bedroom, and everyone in the family each has a locker by the entrance to the garage. Monday evenings are always reserved for family dinners, and Mother’s Day barbecues are tradition. The couple hopes their home will be the gathering place for family and friends for many years to come and they joke that they aren’t going anywhere soon.
“When they dug the foundation,” says Geoff, “we told them they might as well dig two more holes in the backyard, because that’s where we’re moving next.”
Couches and coffee table by Ashley Furniture; bells by Pier 1 Imports; rug from Beyond the Rack.
Chandelier by Chintz & Company; chair from HomeSense.
Hanging chandelier from Lowe’s.
Lights from Restoration Hardware; barstools from Bowring; range hood made by Geoff Stewart.
Hanging light by Direct Buy; chairs and tables from Finesse Furniture & Interiors.
Table, cabinet and chairs Finesse Furniture & Interiors; light on table and painting from McElheran’s; hanging light from Urban Barn; rug from Beyond the Rack; chandelier from Direct Buy