Building a house by committee is not generally a very popular way to go. But when Kathy and Jan Goulding started work on their Charlotte Street home, a committee of neighbours appeared and offered “suggestions.”
The first thing the Toronto transplants heard was that they must preserve the weeping cherry tree at the front of the lot. Several neighbours offered photos of the tree in full bloom, and cautioned the couple to design around it.
“We started getting the impression this weeping cherry tree was something special,” says Kathy. “It had been used by an art teacher as a subject for a class. People tell us it is the most beautiful tree in May — people would email us with love for this tree. They sent us photos. We understood, and preserved the tree.”
“We started edging the house away from the tree,” says Jan. “But when we moved the building back we started encroaching on a neighbour’s view, so we shrunk the house slightly.” This is a good example of how you build a house without alienating your new community.
They’ve also preserved the nearby crabapple tree, and even a flowering bush another neighbour said is the “prettiest shrub on the street” when it’s in bloom.
“The excavator was doing an eight-foot over-dig from the house foundations,” recalls Kathy. “I asked if he could save the bush. He said they weren’t equipped for landscaping, but that he would try. He scooped a big hole with the excavator in the front, and scooped the bush into the hole. It’s not in the most appropriate spot, but hopefully it has been saved.”
Kathy has also dug up and replanted black-eyed Susans, and saved hydrangeas and rose bushes — “They tell the stories of the people who have lived here before,” she says.
The Gouldings have been renting nearby properties so as to be able to be on-site as much as possible, which has also led the very gregarious couple to get to know their new surroundings and those who inhabit them. “We’ve met a lot of people,” says Jan, who confesses he will talk to pretty much anybody who wants to chat.
The original design for the site was a very modern, two-storey project. “We might have built a beautiful modern abomination,” says Jan now. “We spent enough time on the lot to know it would be the weird house on the street. Between our direct neighbours, we wanted to maintain context.”
As they spent time in the environment, they started wanting to build something “sympathetic to the neighbourhood, with a retro look: we wanted to go backwards, build a single storey house wth a classic sloped roof,” says 66-year-old Jan, who remembers this as the type of house in which he and his peers were raised.
“As it turns out, we’re building the house we really, really want,” says Kathy.
Choosing the brick with which to face the outer walls became one of the most difficult decisions — until the Gouldings decided to share it. “We brought sample plates and checked them in various lights and times of day,” recalls Jan, who is something of a perfectionist. “We had all these sample cards lined up along the fence so we could decided on one. Passersby would say, ‘I don’t like this one — but I like that one.’ So we left the bricks out and did a straw poll on people as they passed the house. Everyone liked the one we preferred — and the neighbours had a sense of control.”
Kathy remarks the site is the “cleanest building site people have ever seen” — which might have something to do with the fact Jan and Kathy visit the site with brooms at the end of every day. Perhaps as a show of gratitude, neighbours have generously shovelled the lot’s driveway.
“One day, my mood must have rubbed off on the neighbours,” recalls Kathy. She had been in a slump about something, and was surprised and touched to find four neighbours clearing the snow from the job site for her and the workers.
The couple are both retired from Goulding Consultants, Jan’s firm of management consultants in health care and IT planning for hospitals. While retirement might seem peaceful and relaxing, such is not their current state. They would love to join various groups and clubs — and even take up sailing again — their days, nights, weekends, and dreams are taken over by the building project. “It’s a self-inflicted pain, really,” says Jan, laughing. And that pain might become more intense, as they plan to move into the unfinished house in a couple of months, so they can do all the cabinetry and millwork themselves.
In the meantime they have just enough energy left over to volunteer with the Shaw Guild, work in the Shaw gardens, volunteer for the Rotary house tour, and enjoy hikes with the Niagara Nomads.
Married for 39 years, the pair met at a trade show. They were introduced, in fact, through a friend who also now lives in NOTL. And why did they choose our town for their “forever” retirement home? “Well, when you want to leave Toronto, you choose east or west,” says Jan practically. “East is Prince Edward County; west is Niagara. We wanted a small town with big city culture: NOTL has jazz festivals, the theatre, a great library — this town has a lot of amenities for its size.” They find they’re meeting several old friends on local streets who have also made the move west and found the delights of our amenities.
All considerations have been made for comfort, beauty, safety, and warmth. “We’re not movers,” says Jan. “This is where we will stay.”
“The thirty-nine-inch door indicates it’s a very welcoming place,” says Jan — one inch for every year of their marriage.
The Gouldings are confident they have made the right choice. “This morning I watched a woodpecker and some cardinals, the junkos getting the dregs, my bunny in the back yard,” says Kathy, describing the picturesque nature that surrounds their property. “I have everything I need.”