The ability to exercise passion in one’s craft can seem rare today, but for Daniel Ouimet, every day offers new opportunities to do just that. Which in his case, involves making something old look new again.
Ouimet is a third-generation carpenter and 35-year woodworking artisan whose companies New Vintage Renovations and Chantecler Artisan, which mainly focuses on custom furniture building, allow him to help local heritage home enthusiasts refresh the look of the past.
“People are often attracted to historical homes because of the craftsmanship; those specialized features like the mouldings, brackets, hardwood, built-ins and stand-out mantles,” the Fernwood resident and native of Quebec says. “I love taking those features and restoring them or adding them to homes – making them look like they’ve always been there.”
Ouimet calls himself a “house doctor” for the way he uses new technologies to bring older homes up to code, for example, but often manufacturing elements from scratch and matching them as close as possible to the original stylings.
He knows the challenges with designated heritage homes – that owners sometimes feel handcuffed by needing council approval for upgrades changing the home’s appearance, from paint colour to external restoration work. The criteria for designated homes can sometimes lead to expensive projects, where heritage features must be recreated as opposed to using more modern replacements.
People whose vintage homes are not designated but may be on the City’s heritage registry – a kind of watch list for buildings with architectural or historic significance in the community – are not subject to the same level of oversight. But they can also have tough decisions to make if they choose to undertake restoration projects to roll back the clock on their home.
For example, the owner of a 100-year-old home who is considering removal of the 1940s stuccoed exterior and a return to the original look of shake siding might be looking at a significant cost. Even repainting the stucco could run into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the house, Ouimet says.
“It gets kind of [to the point of] where do you stop,” he says, noting that painting stucco can be a messy, time-consuming job. “If you have the money, the real McCoy is the way to go.”
He finds it sad the number of interesting older homes that are torn down to make way for new builds, when, with some direction and commitment, they could be restored to their previous glory. Not everyone has the money to engage in such a restoration, he admits, but for those who are willing to go the extra mile, the results can be stunning.
On occasions where restoration is not in the cards, Ouimet tries to keep his eye out for period architectural elements he can salvage for later use.
One such instance came last year when he worked to transform the old stables at Royal Roads University into a classroom area. The restoration called for a replacement of the front entryway, he said, and he came away with the original front door unit, which will no doubt find its way into some future project.
His own restored home on Mount Stephen Avenue offers a fine example of his craftsmanship, outside and in. He finds word of mouth and doing visible projects in heritage neighbourhoods help keep him busy. He points to work he has undertaken on tiny, dead-end Yukon Street near Victoria High School.
“I’m doing two 1892 houses … I did the kitchen next door and now I’m at the next-door neighbour where we did the porch,” he says. “I have a hard time to free myself up.”
It’s nice to know that for homeowners looking to take their heritage restorations to the next level, there are artisans like Ouimet able to tackle such jobs lovingly and with passion.
“Victoria is rich in heritage homes of all varieties,” he says. “My passion in restoration spans from projects over 100 years old right to mid-century modern. Today’s materials available to the contractor allow us to modernize and create practical spaces, without losing the unique details that make vintage homes appealing.”
For more information, visit newvintagerenovations.com.