When I arrive at the door of Kathryn Findlyson and Mark Anderson’s home on High Street in New Glasgow I am greeted by Mark and their three-year-old daughter Charlotte. She does a little twirl and picks up the hem of her pretty spring dress. A few steps behind, two year old Mary mirrors her glamorous older sister and makes sure that I take note of a certain famous female mouse on her frock. Bouncing enthusiastically in his “exersaucer” obviously excited by the fashion show is eight-month-old brother Andrew. It is a lively scene already but within minutes the porch door swings open and older siblings Kate, Sandy and Adam kick off their boots and drop their backpacks. But there is still one more to arrive before the Anderson troop will be all present and accounted for. Beth, who is ten and the eldest of this group of seven, will soon fly through the door after being pulled out of her band practice early for our photo shoot at their newly renovated century home in an historic neighbourhood on the hill over the East River.

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The dining room scales down in size from the kitchen, but not in elegance, where Kathryn played up the timelessness of the architecture. Ceiling mouldings add an additional interest and a china cupboard that looks like it was always there was built in for additional display space and to provide a little more privacy.

I guess you could say that Kathryn and Mark’s family grew exponentially much the same way that plans for home renovations do. They started out with a few little projects but then the list kept growing. The end result is quite spectacular and the house is pretty nice too. While the kids have been ten years in the making the renovation project had a little shorter gestation period; however, it likely didn’t feel that way at the time.

It was almost two years ago when Kathryn and Mark decided to take the leap and go for the big transformation of the main floor of their 4000 square foot home. They purchased the house in 2012. At that time there were only three kids in tow and one on the way. The house had pretty much everything they were looking for from the perspective of space. There were five bedrooms and a big back yard. The other important element was the proximity to Kathryn’s work. She is a Veterinarian and owns her own clinic just off the East River Road in New Glasgow. Mark is involved on the administrative side of the business and has been the primary parent at home with the kids. While Mark grew up on a farm on Greenhill and still maintains that connection, Kathryn jokes that she could never live in the country and she needs “to live where there are sidewalks.”

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The ample floor plan provides space for everyone to find a place to retreat. Adam and Sandy have managed to keep their race track intact and away from the curious fingers of their younger siblings.

While they had taken a quick stab at a refresh of the kitchen not long after they moved in and then built two more bedrooms in the attic as the kids started to multiply, they had left the house very much the way it was when they purchased it six years ago. Not being daunted by the challenges of simultaneously growing a business and a family, Kathryn was ready to make the house the home that she and Mark had the vision for from the beginning.

Now with six children and one on the way the kitchen became the priority for additional space. The existing kitchen was gutted and a larger eating area and mudroom for all of those boots, sports gear and backpacks was added on. An old “servants” entrance was modified and was built in as a butler’s pantry using the cabinets that were pulled out of the kitchen.

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The chandelier over the baby grand piano is one of five expressive features that were installed during the reno.

A makeshift island in the middle of the kitchen space with a rigged up sink and stove meant meal prep was not hindered beyond mild inconvenience during the reno. The bigger challenge was keeping toddlers and curious youngsters out of the sawdust and building materials.

“I think what made it all so much easier was having really great contractors,” says Kathryn. “We hired Bill and Michael Meyer from Bridgeville and they were absolutely meticulous with everything and they were so great with the kids.”

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Three year old Charlotte sneaks a peek at the dining room table set for an Easter celebration.

As the renovation progressed Kathryn and Mark welcomed baby number seven. Andrew was born last May when the project was well underway. “The builders just became part of the family,” says Kathryn. Mary, whose first two developmental years were in the midst of the project, clearly enunciated the name of one of the carpenters when she spoke her first words.

Part of ease in the renovation was Kathryn knowing what she wanted from the beginning. She said Mark was involved in the decisions for things behind the walls but she had full reign on the design and décor.

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Trayed ceilings and built-ins transformed the former sunroom that was not being utilized.

“I had photos pulled from magazines and I just handed them to Bill and said this is what I want it too look like and he was able to make it work,” says Kathryn sitting in the library room that only a few months ago was a sunporch.

As the kitchen reno progressed the redesign of other spaces on the main floor evolved. Kathryn and Mark were careful to maintain the character of the period and enhanced some of the more special architectural elements of the interior. The home now has a refreshed modern feel that captures the elegance that was intended when the home was first built over one hundred years ago.

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A semi-abstract painting of a retriever is a focal point in the library room. Kathryn found the painting on a family road trip to Maine. Ten-year-old Beth does her best to grab the attention of her younger sisters for a little story time.

The balance between the two worlds is most profound in Kathryn’s choice for lighting. She says that she was close to being obsessed to find the light fixtures that would make a statement in each of the new finished spaces. There are now five spectacular chandeliers that project a personality in each room.

Over the kitchen island a sun burst of gleaming spirals of metal and glass goes madly off in all directions as if it is the epicentre of their family universe. Through the open French doors to the dining room, a classic crystal chandelier catches the natural light and sends a speckle of tiny prisms onto the walls and over the silver tea service by the windows. A smaller version of the dining room chandelier is suspended over the baby grand piano that gets tickled by little sticky fingers. Two modern variations of the other crystal fixtures bring additional interest and continuity to the living and library rooms.

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Beth and Kate arrange a bouquet of tulips to add a pop of spring colour to the neutral tones of the kitchen.

Despite the grandeur of the classic design the home softens with the embellishments of childhood playfulness and the incorporation of colourful contemporary art that demonstrates the family’s love for animals. Throughout the house equine, canine and feline are equally represented in the artwork and décor. The library room is more affectionately referred to as the American Girl room complete with a horse stable that would likely keep any child’s imagination humming. Books, puzzles and games go from floor to ceiling and there is the occasional allowance of a digital tablet for the older kids if their chores and homework are complete.

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It might not always be heaven but Kathryn and Mark prove that you can have a houseful of kids and still be a modern family.

The original layout of the home with the new addition and the repurposing of the sunroom creates an enviable amount of space. There is an openness that is sought after with modern living that makes it easy for the welcoming of guests to an already full house but there are enough little spaces that teenagers and parents can retreat to when personal time beckons.

There are still a few areas of the house and property that Kathryn and Mark would love to tackle. A small TV room off the front entrance will eventually get a refresh to catch up to the rest of the main floor and a new garage is on the some day list. But for now Kathryn and Mark feel like it’s time to catch their breath, enjoy this stage of their life and savour the little moments with their seven children… without the sawdust.

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VIAPhotos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
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Crystal Murray
Crystal likes to think about her forays in journalism like interval training. " I have had a wonderful freedom to be home when I needed to be and work when the spirit moved me. In the spaces between I have learned things about myself, my family and my community that I hope will find a rightful place in the new and refreshed pages of At Home on the North Shore. "