If you scroll through designer Michelle Martel’s
Instagram, you’ll feel like you’ve transported into her historic Victorian in Montreal, which was built in 1902. The 1,930-square-feet home boasts high ceilings, intricate crown moulding and enough plants to make any green thumb jealous. The designer gives us a behind-the-scenes rundown of the renovation and shares her dos and don’ts when tackling a makeover on your own! Seriously, every room is Pinterest-worthy, scroll down to see for yourself.
“This project is without a doubt the biggest renovation and lifestyle change we’ve ever made,” says Michelle. “After living in our very first home in the suburbs for 20 years, my husband and I decided to downsize and move to the city. Initially, we were looking for a ‘reno-free’ home, as we had completely renovated our previous home and were aiming for an easy transition into the city. After two failed inspections on two houses we fell in love with (they were completely renovated), we realized that the only way to get exactly what we wanted was to buy a ‘fixer upper’ and take on another renovation.”
“This Old Victorian caught my husband’s eye online, so that was it,” says Michelle. “We loved the high ceilings and original details, such as the plaster moldings and woodwork. The plan was to live in the house for a few years and start the renovations later, but we quickly realized we couldn’t wait.”
“We knew as soon as we walked into this house that we wanted to preserve and respect its history,” she says. “We made sure to highlight and preserve the details that made this old Victorian so unique. The plaster moldings on the ceilings and medallions around all the light fixtures, for example, were at the top of our list of details we wanted to preserve. Our vision for the space was to brighten it up first and foremost. We are attached to other homes on both sides, so natural light is hard to come by. Painting the house white was the easiest way to achieve that.”
“I love open shelves and displays,” she says. “The key to keeping open shelves curated is to only display objects you absolutely love and to never, ever put anything on them ‘temporarily’! If you have loose mail or papers lying around, use a beautiful basket and put that on the shelf. Clutter has a way of taking over very quickly and open shelves are an easy dumping ground for things we just don’t know what to do with. Lastly, mix it up! Books and plants are beautiful on shelves and inevitably warms up any space. Don’t be afraid to use them on your open shelves.”
“I strongly believe in mixing budget-friendly and high-end elements in any home,” she says. “Creating a unique, beautiful space can be done on a budget. Our home is full of art, and I will admit to having a hard time leaving a wall or shelf blank.”
“We own a few pieces of original art but most of it is from images I love from magazines, flea markets, calendars or posters I ordered online,” says Michelle (pictured). “Greeting cards, postcards, letters and photographs are also easily transformed into beautiful pieces of art. As for furniture, my home office is entirely furnished with IKEA furniture, except for my desk chair, which I purchased for $15 at a liquidation sale a few years ago.”
“We tackled the entire main floor at the same time, which included the kitchen, the powder room, and replacing the wood floors throughout,” says the designer. “It was a very busy and crazy summer, but we got it done! Oh and yes, we decided to adopt a puppy in the middle of it all!
Before tackling any renovation, do your homework and carefully evaluate if this project might require you to hire outside help. There are so many moving parts in any renovation, it is crucial to have a plan, drawings and to hire the right trades. Last but not least, make sure to get the permits required for your project. Getting it done right the first time is so important for your wallet and your sanity.”
“After we tackled the first floor renovation, we were running out of energy and inspiration,” says Michelle. “Despite being an interior designer, I was getting tunnel vision. So, without hesitation, we hired an interior design firm to help us with the upstairs renovation. We renovated two bathrooms, an office for my husband and a closet. It took six months and we decided to stay in the house through it all.”
“Everyone has a green thumb,” she says of her impressive plant collection. “I think that most of us are intimidated by plants, but it doesn’t have to be scary, I promise. My favorite plant — and it’s an easy one to care for — is
Sansevieria, also known as the ‘Snake Plant.’ They do well in any lighting environment, and they are beautiful and very structural looking. ZZ plants, also known as Zamioculcas zamiifolia, are very resilient and quite beautiful.”
“The 12 ft. ceilings are one of my favorite things about my home — without hesitation,” she says. “Our layout is long and narrow, so the high ceilings give each room a sense of lightness and openness.”
“After two straight years of renovations, we are taking a well-deserved break,” says Michelle. “We will be tackling our front balcony/staircase next spring. Until then, we will enjoy our home without dust and hammering for the first time in a while.”
Author: Victoria Christie