House of light
Hera Arevian doesn’t like junk.
The owner of two of Ottawa’s most fashion-forward lighting stores refuses to sell knock-off designs and adamantly refused to knock down her 1946 cottage home on the Ottawa River on the city’s west side. Instead, she transformed it into a house of light by the water.
Most evenings, Arevian, the owner of Arevco Lighting, her handy husband, Robert Ward, who also happens to be an assistant surgeon at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, and their 15-year-old daughter, Olivia, have dinner at an old mahogany table under a wonderful light fixture called Rhapsody. It looks for all the world like sailboats dancing over the water that the family sees while eating. The delicate white shades look much like riding the river under full sail.
There will be a new table in time, says Arevian, who loudly grumbles about high prices and poor workmanship of modern furniture.
The couple happened upon the Grandview Road house six years ago when invited to dinner by a doctor colleague at the house next door. They put in an offer, trading a larger, party-friendly home on Athlone Avenue for “a poky house with too many rooms and not enough light.” Yet there was the river and the most magnificent view of downtown Ottawa, including Parliament Hill.
They lived in it for nine months before drafting renovating plans that took down walls, moved rooms and injected new life into a home that one architect said was a tear down.
“This is as far west as I am going,” says Arevian, who describes herself as a Montreal urban girl who doesn’t need to buy a cottage because there is a dock outside their fully enclosed sunroom and space for a fire pit where Olivia barbecues marshmallows. Her husband likes to dive off the dock, doing lengths from one neighbour’s house to another’s when the weather is warm. When it isn’t, he slips into a lap pool he recently installed in the basement.
This city cottage is seductively private, thanks to the deep lot and a huge cedar hedge. It’s also immensely livable, open and full of many personalities under one roof. There is the large and welcoming front porch, where Sevy, the family Portuguese water dog, likes to flop down and there is the back deck, perfect for outdoor meals and offering steps down to the grass and then the shale stone by the water.
Inside, there are the bamboo cabinets in a kitchen with sandy marmoleum flooring that mimics the shades and textures of the shale rock outside. There is the all-season sunroom, a family favourite place to watch rain storms come down the river in July and snow squalls erupt in February.
“We didn’t want a breakfast bar in the kitchen because there wasn’t room and because when you sit at the dining room table you watch the river and the changes,” says Arevian.
The dining room is open to the living room, yet there is a distinctive personality thanks to caramel-coloured leather couches, an oriental rug on hardwood flooring they discovered hidden under worn shag carpeting and a most magnificent table lamp made from darkly stained driftwood found on a British Columbia beach. The only other table lamp in the house sits in another corner of the living room, a hammered wrought-iron affair that curves with the waves outside the new windows.
This woman of light has a treasure chest of choice when it comes to lighting, so it’s an education to look at her choices, starting with the wonderfully romantic crystal chandelier lighting up the master bedroom, which was originally the dining room.
“Now when I am lying in bed, I can appreciate and enjoy the crystals and light,” says Arevian, noting the chandelier used to hang in the large dining room of her parents’ home. Now it adds an exotic edge to a romantic room of silk draperies and an old-fashioned black-and-white tiled ensuite where pot lights subtly define bathing areas.
A wall leading from the living room is lit with a piece of light art — cut out iron that adds subtle night light — while overhead five more pot lights add another layer of light.
Arevian, already a lighting veteran, learned some lessons during the renovation. “You don’t need all lighting to connect when spaces are open. Every space is unique. In an entrance, don’t spend a lot of money because people don’t look up and notice. They are looking into the house.”
She did spend on a honey-coloured glass light that casts a warm glow over the reception area, where you can turn into a guest bathroom, go upstairs to Olivia’s bedroom, turn into the master bedroom or go forward towards the river.
And even experts make mistakes. She picked brass marine wall sconces for the front sunroom, but then fell in love with a silver ceiling fan. The brass fixtures are going to be traded for silver models.
Taken together, the light fixtures fit the spaces and the spaces link to the outdoors. It’s a perfect cottage-home that with time will be polished, not thrown away. It’s the Arevian way.
The new Arevco Lighting store
Where: 915 Clyde Ave.
Background: Hera Arevian has nurtured a devoted following with her avant garde store on Richmond Road near Churchill Avenue, thanks in part to an eclectic collection of domestic, American and European manufacturers and wonderful window displays concocted by Peter Moir. The Richmond Road spaces were cramped, light fixtures didn’t have the room to shine and parking was difficult, so Arevian, who grew up working in the family’s lighting store, went looking for new spaces. The new Arevco Lighting opened in June.
“Now we have room so people can come in and see the lights,” says a clearly delighted Arevian, who also thinks the space could easily handle cocktail parties.