PHOTOS BY STEVE SMITH, VISIONFIRE STUDIOS
John and Darlene Reeves leave their mark on a family home four generations in the making
History mixed with colour. Antiques paired with modern conveniences.
An old house made into a new home. These are a few of the things you will find in the fourth-generation family homestead, now in the loving care of John and Darlene Reeves. Nestled in near the end of quiet county road in Thorburn, Pictou County, John and Darlene share a little bit of the story of a home steeped in family history and filled with personality, colour and light.
Built a few years after Confederation on a two-hundred-acre land grant that belonged to John’s great grandfather, the white farm house with classic crisp black trim has stood the test of time. Like many homes that pass through the hands of several generations, change happens. A house built before the need for light switches and televisions has a few growing pains as it adapts to modern amenities. However, the Reeves home still reveals hints of a home that was built when life was both simple and hard at the same time. When John and Darlene decided it was time to retire from their professional careers in Quebec, and felt the pull back to a home that was once John’s grandparents, they knew that they wanted to breathe a little freshness back into a house filled with so many happy memories.
Four years ago, when the couple started to wrap up careers in Quebec, they decided that it was time to move back to Pictou County and return to the home near Thorburn, where John spent his youth. Knowing that the house would be more than ready for some renovations they started to plan before making the move east.
“It hadn’t been renovated since the ’60s and we rented it out for a few years before we returned back home,” says John.
Their goal was to ‘keep the spirit of the house’ but knew there were some big changes that needed to happen to make the house functional and easier to maintain in retirement.
“The electrical wiring, plumbing, insulation, siding, and new roof were all needed,” he adds.
Communicating on a daily basis with local contractor Ken Weber, John and Darlene were able to have most of the reno complete before moving from Quebec.
“Fortunately, we had some great trades people who did a great job communicating,” says John, who adds that family members would also pop in to take photos of the progress.
Wanting to honour the generations who made the house a home before them, John and Darlene vowed to keep the same bright cheery farmhouse feeling that just needed a little lift with a few modern conveniences.
The interior walls were taken back to the studs, and the house was brought up to today’s standards via telephone calls and emails. Little did they know they were polishing their remote communication skills that came in handy during the pandemic.
During the renovation, they shuffled the space around to make better use of the layout. The footprint of the home wasn’t changed at all, but they moved the kitchen to the former living room and added a laundry room and a bathroom to the main level, saving themselves many trips up and down the stairs. They also combined two upstairs bedrooms into a master suite, complete with a master bath and a walk-in closet.
“The master bedroom turned out really bright and cheery,” says Darlene.
“Each morning we wake up to lots of natural light, and with all of the windows we can see the hills and mountains in the distance. You can really enjoy the change of season from this room, and watch the birds, plants, and trees change over time, which is especially lovely in the springtime,” she adds.
The Reeves wanted to make sure that the house still had the charm and personality it did prior to the renovation. The exterior of the house was kept quite classic during the process. The white siding is typical of old farmhouses and they finished the look with crisp black trim. The personality of the house greets you as soon as you walk up the step to the front door painted with a pop of welcoming bright blue. The cheer that greets you on the step follows you over the threshold.
John and Darlene wanted to fill their home with lots of colour, similar to what John’s grandmother had enjoyed decades before. Soft shades of turquoise give a boost of colour and tranquillity to the light-filled rooms, providing a beautiful backdrop to family heirlooms from both sides of the family. Antiques, hooked rugs, old pictures all speak to the past, but certainly stand out as the perfect way to fill this family home. Even the old drying rack, found in the basement, was given a new lease on life, hanging in the sunny laundry room with a crisp coat of paint.
A big country kitchen with white cabinets and a built-in pantry to keep the style fresh and organized was a must for Darlene and John who both love to cook. Entertaining family and friends will continue to be an important aspect of this chapter of life. They look forward to the days when they can welcome extend family and friends back into their home.
“One of my strongest memories as a boy was the delicious Sunday lunches after church,” says John reminiscing about his childhood days on the Reeves homestead. There was always a crowd around and you never knew who might have been invited back to our place. My Mom usually went all out in her cooking and desserts and it was fun to be all together with family and friends.”
Besides the memories, the one real throwback to another time is the antique Elmira wood stove. It’s not in the centre of the kitchen but just off to the side and provides the heartbeat of the entire home. The stove was rescued in the reno. It had been removed from the kitchen at some point and installed in a bedroom on the second floor for a makeshift apartment for a family member.
“John’s Aunt Bessie lived upstairs after she retired from teaching many years ago,” says Darlene. “She wanted the wood stove for extra heat and her own cooking.”
It was not going to be an easy job moving the heavy cast iron stove downstairs. However, someone had moved it up, and the carpenters working on the reno were able to repatriate the stove to its original location.
“We really enjoy the extra heat on a cold day,” says Darlene, adding that John often tests his cooking skills on the old oven.
Rejuvenating the property around the house was also important to the couple who have always enjoyed being outdoors. Outbuildings were shored up to make them safe, functional, and pretty. They developed the land carving trails through the woods that they use in all seasons. From late spring until fall, Darlene says that John can while away the hours in his extensive garden sharing what he grows with family and friends. John remembers the time he spent wandering through the forest grove and grandparent’s gardens, and it brings him joy to be working with the land the way they used to.
After years of city life, the move to an old farmhouse at the end of a sleepy country road took a little adjustment for Darlene. She was living John’s memories not hers, but she says that it didn’t take long for the house to feel like her home too, and she loved the process of adding her own special touches.
A photograph of the old Reeves house taken decades ago hangs on a wall in John and Darlene’s living room. Someone took a pen to the corner of the picture and wrote, “A happy happy home.”
For John and Darlene, they are more than happy to be part of this legacy.