Living On The Edge

A couple finds their perfect fit on the outskirts of downtown

Photography Curtis Trent

Like any city in the middle of a building boom, Edmonton’s revitalization reaches beyond the central core. Once the marquee projects are underway, the focus shifts to infilling the surrounding areas, making better use of old lots and replenishing mature neighbourhoods. For one Edmonton couple, that growing edge of downtown development has matched their move precisely.

Chris Sills and his partner, Kasia Denham, lived separately, smack dab in the middle of downtown, until May 2016. When they started looking for a place to buy together, they kept a small scope, searching central condos and sky rises within the area they lived. They didn’t find much, in part because they couldn’t bring themselves to spend $500,000 for 900 square feet of living space, but, more importantly, they couldn’t find what they wanted the most – a home.

“Central downtown had become too ‘hustle and bustle’ for us,” Denham says. “It didn’t feel like a real neighbourhood.” Last April, they widened their range and found a newly constructed 1,800-square-foot infill house in Oliver. They fell in love with it, and the area, immediately. “It feels like its own community to us, and it’s so quiet,” she says. “At my old place, I could hear the bus every 15 minutes, and I was between fire stations. Now we have an old folks home across the street.”

As co-owner of Tres Carnales and Rostizado, Sills enjoys his calorie burning, 20-block walk (or five-minute Uber ride) to work. “We have one vehicle between the two of us, and we
leave it parked most days, especially in the summer. It’s beautiful walking under the old trees,” he says.

The building sits on what was once a traditional bungalow with a big yard and garage, and it stands out for a couple reasons. First, it has three levels and three separate patios. It also faces the wrong way, as one of the city’s first wave of laneway developments, where the front door opens out onto the alley instead of the main street. It has a half-basement, downstairs garage, and plenty of stairs.

The first thing you notice inside is how much outside you can see. Windows of all sizes allow light and cross breezes in from almost every white wall, limiting the need for the soft LED lighting, even during the darkest months. It’s especially noticeable in the clutter-less kitchen, full of clean lines and soft-touch cupboards, where on a cloudy afternoon the mother of pearl, penny round backsplash still sparkles.

The interior decoration reflects the couple’s tastes and travels, and almost all the eclectic artwork comes from local painters acquired through MinBid. As big hip-hop fans, their home has a graffiti-Chicano feel, including the main floor’s central piece that Sills says “fits serendipitously” in between windows on its big wall, and the hand-painted skull bought in Mexico from a store that’s name translates to “Revolution of Dreams.”

At the top of the first flight of stairs is the second bathroom and window-filled guest bedroom, next to the cozy office, which has a futon for extra guests and serves as music central, with Sills’s record player pumping tunes wirelessly throughout the house.

Down the hall, the second-biggest patio opens into the second floor landing, a larger-than-usual space the couple has filled with a shrine to their time together. “It’s our menagerie,” Denham says, referring to the glass-shelving unit filled with hand-painted pictures and ornaments from Japan, Mexico, Cuba and Costa Rica. “It’s a nice space to enter into, when people come in from the patio after dinner in the summer.”

The second flight of stairs leads to the master bedroom and third patio with a 180-degree southwest view above the neighbourhood trees. It’s the place where, on first viewing, the couple knew it was meant to be. “This is where we finished the tour, and I turned to Kasia and just said, ‘Do you love it?'” Sills says. “I mean, when you walk out of your bedroom onto a huge rooftop patio…come on.”

The house is a testament to space-saving design, and the master bedroom closet may exemplify that more than any other feature. It runs long and narrow along the patio’s east-side wall, leaving ample lounge space and, like every room in the house, letting in a little light, too. “I love telling people that we have such a big closet, it has a window in it,” Sills says.

People have their perceptions of downtown, Denham says, but for them, their Oliver infill home is the best of both worlds – spacious and central. “To find something like this in the heart of downtown is amazing,” she says.

“Well, it’s not really the heart,” Sills smirks.

Denham demurs. “I don’t care what anyone says. It just is the heart.”

Perhaps the heart is where home is.

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