In 1893, the LeMessurier family built a house in the centre of St. John’s with commanding views of the harbour and narrows from the large bay windows, stacked in two columns and rising three storeys.
From 1893 until the early 1960s, the house was owned and lived in by members of the same family. It was then sold and the house was divided into three apartments, one on each floor. From the 1960s until John Buffinga and Jeff Butt purchased the home in 2009, it was used mainly as a rental property.
Although they were in the market for an older home and had walked by this one several times, they deemed it too far gone to be a restoration project. Until, that is, they saw the back of the house. It was this view – three floors and six bay windows reaching skyward – that convinced John it was a worthy project. Being gardeners, it helped that the house came with a large yard.
John has lived in old houses most of his life, and he and Jeff had completed several renovation projects. It had the potential to be an overwhelming project, but this was far from the first time John and Jeff had renovated an old house. Then again, this wasn’t really a renovation project. It was, however, a job for professionals, and so they hired experienced professionals for much of the work.
“The idea very much was not to renovate this house, but to restore it,” says John. “That was the main thing – to bring back all the nice features this house had.”
The upstairs TV room, originally intended as a bedroom, prominently features a restored coal-burning fireplace, paired with a Newfoundland outport chair, unique for its ornate detail, but lacking in comfort. An antique chest serves as a coffee table, and another Newfoundland outport antique piece serves as a holding area for DVDs.
The house, built in 1893, later had an extension added to the house, and was converted to apartments in the 1960s, The doorway to that extension was to the right of the pictured fireplace. During the restoration the extension was removed and the doorway sealed up. Care was taken to preserve the original elements of the house, with the trim, mouldings, rosettes and other details saved. The plaster rosettes around the light fixtures were carefully removed then replaced after the ceilings were redone. The original lathe and plaster interior walls were removed and replaced with drywall, but the original baseboards and mouldings were kept.
The main entrance houses the stairway and basement entrance.
The staircase, railing and newel post are all original, as are the floors. The oak newel post likely had an acorn on the top at one time, but it disappeared before the current owners bought the house. Baseboard heaters were installed throughout the house, replacing poorly installed radiators with exposed pipes.
The five fireplaces in the home were all restored to their original condition.
On one side of the house, the fireplaces are in the corner of the room, one on each level, and share a common chimney. On the other side of the house, the fireplaces on the main floor and upper floor are in the middle of the room. The lower level, where the original kitchen was, once had a stove, but it has since been removed.
The stained-glass window is one of three added on this wall. The house originally had no windows on this wall. The current homeowners wanted to add natural light to the space, but also wanted to make the windows appear original.
Pocket doors divide the living room and dining room.
They are completely original, including the hardware, but required restoration. The plates on the wall are Dutch, and the furniture piece is a Newfoundland antique.
In 1893, the kitchen was in the basement and was meant for serving staff use. It wasn’t until the 1920s, says John, that kitchens in St. John’s homes began moving to the main floor. With that in mind, and not wanting a kitchen in the basement, they decided to install a new kitchen with a 1920s feel.
The kitchen and master bedroom ensuite are the only rooms that forego original architecture in favour of modern conveniences. An effort was made to match the trim and floor to the rest of the house.
The house came with three clawfoot bathtubs, one for each apartment.
Only one was kept and was used for the upstairs bathroom, which, in a departure from restoration, was clad in marble. The doorknob is new, but stays true to the sort that would originally have been used.
This small room, originally a bedroom, was converted into a library, with the installation of built-in shelves around the door. The attic access was moved to this room as well, and access is by a library ladder the homeowners sourced online. The library also houses a desk, providing a home office space as well as a comfortable reading area. To give the small room a more spacious feel, the original ceiling was removed and the underside of the roof became the new ceiling.