INTERIORS SPRING 2010 | Enduring Appeal
A stately reno on the escarpment’s edge stays true to history in winning styleWritten by Michael Gordon | Photography by Tom Vogel
The brim of the Escarpment provides many breathtaking views, reminders to Hamiltonians of who they are and what forces have shaped their city, from the railyards and highways to the harbour waters, from the lush natural lands to the blazing stacks of north end industry, to the limestone underfoot. And throughout, you can’t help but be aware of the presence of another kind of history, namely architectural history. For all of its foibles and frailties, Hamilton is blessed with uncommonly beautiful building stock, some of which dates back to the city’s childhood.
For fans of such heritage, life in the city can be bittersweet. For every Victorian homestead that is lovingly preserved, another half-dozen moulder and sag, waiting for some benevolent buyer to make the financial and emotional investment needed to bring it back to its original lustre. And while too many vintage buildings are fated to disintegrate or be pulled down, some of these old homes will catch a lucky break.
Such is the case with this handsome heritage home on Claremont Drive that predates Confederation. Known as “the Chisholm Home,” it’s instantly recognizable as an esteemed property in the company of the best the city can offer. Flanked by gorgeous mature trees and constructed of solid limestone, the four-bedroom home has been proudly and patiently restored to authentic period detail – to the point that torn antique wallpaper was matched and refabricated by custom contractors – but doesn’t deny itself modern amenities. A renovated kitchen boasts cherry cabinets, granite countertops, professional-grade appliances and radiant-heated floor, for example. Two of the four bedrooms have ensuites, there are two sunrooms, a pair of studies, dining and living room with vintage mahogany panelling and hardwood floors throughout, lending the space an air of quiet authority.
But the homeowners also welcome a good time. In the private backyard, you’ll find a year-round plunge pool with hot tub and outdoor wet bar. It undoubtedly helps when the original owners had an expansive vision and a taste for the good life. A discreet trap-door hidden under the living room rug – the space was originally the dining room – leads to a crawl space in the basement. It has been suggested that during the days of Prohibition, forbidden liquor could be stealthily squirrelled away when scornful eyes paid a visit.
It may come as no surprise to discover that the gentleman directing the meticulous restoration of this properties is none other than Ken Heaman, former curator of Whithern Historic House and Garden – another graciously imposing home from the same era. There’s a recognizable fingerprint shared by the two properties. Where Whitehern’s modern-day stewards have themed individual rooms after various eras in the life of the resident McQuesten family, decorating spaces in the fashion and decor idiom of the day, the Chisholm Home has merged influences from multiple time periods and multiple generations to create a signature look that feels at once fresh and historic. The sure-footed execution and attention to detail gives even empty rooms a spark, a warmth and sense of life. And the kinship between the two homes runs deeper still. The home’s namesake was James Chisholm, lawyer to the McQuesten family, and Whitehern staff have discovered correspondences that hint at convivial social relationships.
Though a great deal of time, creativity and care went into restoring this property, there are other historic homes in need of love, and this one has recently come on the market, ready to accommodate new lives and new stories, and perhaps ignite another grand passion for the city it keeps watch over.