Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
You might say that it was serendipity that led Andrew and Cindy Blair back to the town of Pictou. The couple had lived almost all of their 25 years of marriage on Vancouver Island, but with the freedom that comes with retirement in sight they started to explore the idea of moving back to Andrew’s ancestral home on the east coast. Cindy, a retired nurse who grew up in BC was game for a change of scenery and had been charmed by a visit to the town a number of years ago. Andrew, still working as an aerial surveyor could live anywhere close to an airport, felt the pull back to family. But an extensive property search had not yielded the results they had hoped for. The one caveat was for a property zoned for two dwellings as Cindy’s sister would be making the move with them but wanted her own space. They had all but thrown in the towel when Cindy decided to take one more look at the real estate listings when everything fell into place.
Andrew still shakes his head when he thinks that the home he and Cindy live in today is built on a piece of property that was left undeveloped for more than fifty years. As a boy he walked by the treed lot that nestled in between two stately homes in the town’s west end on his way to elementary school. By the time Andrew was ten his family had moved to Harve Boucher. He went directly into the military from high school and only returned to Pictou for visits. He met Cindy when she was working as a nurse on a military base in Manitoba and they moved to British Columbia the year they were married.
“I think that the greatest joy in this house is the way it makes people feel when they walk into it. It’s just so fun!”
The move east was an opportunity for Cindy, who has a love for design, to start with a clean slate. Andrew calls her “Cindy Lou the Design Guru.” The couple had built and sold several homes over the years, but each project was approached with re-sale in mind and designed and decorated with a universal appeal. Her attention to detail and ability to bring a cohesiveness to the entire house design meant that new buyers wanted to keep all of the house contents. Andy only slightly jokes when he said they came to Nova Scotia with only his golf clubs.
While the property search took some time the design and construction of the new home moved quickly. Andrew wanted his cousin Kevin Slaunwhite, a local contractor, to build their new home. As luck would have it, Kevin, who is usually booked several years out, had an opening. Andrew and Cindy had a good idea of their design concept and quickly completed plans with a Nova Scotia house designer.
They purchased the property in March of 2018 and April of that same year they broke ground to build their 1,500-square-foot rancher with an attached garage and 600-square-foot guest house, almost an exact representation of the main structure. Seven months later Cindy and Andrew had officially moved from Vancouver Island to Pictou and were settling into the new home with a modern twist on vintage style.
There is no question that Cindy and Andrew Blair didn’t fully invest themselves in capturing an unmistakable vintage vibe for their new home in Pictou. A step through the threshold of their front door is a step back in time. The sleek farmhouse is hardwired for modern efficiencies and dialed in to the mid-century style that could make a set designer for Mad Men envious.
“Someone told us that our oven looks like a 1950s Chev married a jukebox,” laughs Cindy as she pours tea into a vintage cup. “I think that the greatest joy in this house is the way it makes people feel when they walk into it. It’s just so fun!”
While Cindy carried the retro vibe through the entire home, it’s the kitchen that is the real showstopper with mint green vintage-inspired appliances, a checkerboard chrome set, authentic Bakelite dishes and pops of colour that were the hallmarks of that period in time.
Although the house is small, the attached garage elongates it to give the effect of a much larger home. It’s set well back on the lot to create curb appeal and give depth to the property. They chose building materials that evoked the farmhouse style while remaining low maintenance and accessible. Cindy was diagnosed with MS a number of years ago. Their plan was mindful of their future and decided to keep the house all one level with wide porches for easy access. The Blairs were ahead of the curve with their anticipation for an accessible home. In September 2019, the province adopted “Adaptable Housing” where every new house built is required to have a provision for accessibility.
While Andrew left most of the design work to Cindy a few areas where he did get involved were with the installation of the outdoor lighting system that comes on at dusk and goes off at dawn according to their longitude and latitude. Remembering the winters of his childhood in Pictou, he also thought it was good planning to have portable generators for both houses.
While they dispensed with the concept of a full basement, Andrew noted that very few homes on Vancouver Island have deep foundations because of the dense bedrock, he says that they did decide to do a heated six-foot-high crawlspace with staircase access in the garage. “It has the same dimension as the house and contains the furnace, hot water tank and auxiliary water pump. I am happy that we did go for a bigger crawl space as the home does not have much storage,” says Cindy.
Inside, Cindy wanted little rooms but, on house designer’s advice, added a 16-foot vaulted ceiling in the living room to make space for a dramatic, tiled fireplace.
Before the house was built Cindy started picking up décor elements that she knew would tie into her vision. The Sputnik clock and mirror in the living room both nod to the era. Authentic vintage finds and artwork also pull from the period.
“Some of the best and most timeless designs come from this era. This was a happy time in the years after World War II. There was a lot of colour in the 50s. They used neutrals as the base but then added colour in way that we don’t use colour today. It’s very cheerful!
Cindy is still on the hunt for authentic period pieces that tell the story of this design era. She recently swapped out her headboard for a more glamorous pink velvet that pops off the horizontal black-and-white striped wall in their bedroom and she is working on her collection of retro Christmas decorations for seasonality in her theme.
With a new build in a small town there continues to be curiosity about the Blair’s home in a neighbourhood planted with historic homes. She says one of the best compliments she receives is when people ask if the home had always been there. “We wanted the house to look like it belonged. We looked at roof lines from neighbouring houses and gave thought to many of the traditional elements. When I first came to visit 20 years ago I was charmed by the simplicity of the white siding and black shutters, you don’t see that out west.”
Now that the dust has settled from the build, Cindy and Andrew are also settling into a new life in Pictou County. Andrew has his sights set on retirement and spending time getting re-acquainted with the extended family that lured him back to Pictou. Cindy admits that once the excitement of the build was over she started to feel a little home sick for the west coast. She says that her sister likely adjusted faster than she did but she is beginning to get her feel for the community. She has already had requests for design consults as word has hit the street about her decorating flair. “I am not sure if I want to run a business but I have no issues sharing ideas,” says Cindy. “But just to keep that option open I have purchased the domain name Cindy-Lou Design Guru. You never know what might happen next!”