Down to Earth
Looking for a practical home in their desired area, the Dodd family built from the ground up.
Photography by Curtis Comeau
A few years ago, Deborah Dodd was driving through Crestwood when she spotted a man hammering a “For Sale by Owner” sign on his front lawn. She jumped out of the car, ran across the street, and told him he could put his sign away – she wanted to have a look at the house. “We signed the deal that night on the back of a napkin,” says Deborah’s husband, Lindsay.
The modest home was typical of the wartime bungalows of Edmonton’s older neighbourhoods and not anything to write home about. But, in 2007, the housing market was red-hot and houses everywhere were selling well above list – and without home inspections. The situation was especially challenging in popular neighbourhoods like Crestwood – an affluent, older area transformed by high-end infill – where inventory is low.
“At that point, we just needed to get into the neighbourhood,” says Lindsay, noting that the couple wasn’t sure if their son, Michael, would get into Crestwood School (reputed to be one of the best schools in the city) if they didn’t live in the area.
But they also knew that while they planned to live in the house for a little while, they’d ultimately be tearing it down. With two growing children, the Dodds knew they’d need more space and were unlikely to find a bigger home in Crestwood that also suited their tastes (they prefer a very minimalistic, modern aesthetic). Building made the most sense.
So, for a few years, the Dodds and their two children lived in the well-maintained, 800-square-foot home, and began imagining their dream home. They kept an idea book, filled with pages from home magazines, and researched builders. Finally, they came across Jay Spadafora, president of Homes by Element Construction Ltd., who had built some other homes in Crestwood that the couple liked. They were confident he could design the family the right house – without an architect.
“We wanted the builder to design and build the house – and that was a conscious decision,” says Lindsay. “In all of my reading, where projects got into big trouble was when the architect and builder started going after each other.” He and Deborah figured it would streamline communication and prevent bumps along the road, since a builder wouldn’t design a home with features it couldn’t build.
So, after five years of living in their Crestwood house, the Dodd family moved into a nearby rental home, and the 14-month construction process began. Each day, Lindsay would leave his west-end office (he’s the owner of IT consulting firm, Savvia Inc.) to visit the construction site. Every week, he and Deborah met with the project manager, site supervisor, designer and Spadafora himself.
The couple remained very involved in the project, from the demolition of their old home to the completion of the new house, but the anticipation was rough, just the same. “The walls go up in a hurry, and the exterior of the home, and then, nothing,” says Deborah. For months, much of the work happened behind the scenes – like the wiring and installation of the HVAC system – and it appeared as if the project had slowed to a crawl.
But the home was completed on schedule in November 2013 – just in time for the holidays. The timing allowed the Dodds to host the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce Christmas party, as Lindsay was the chair of the board of directors at the time.
The party put the home’s more practical features to the test. At the front door, in lieu of a large mat, the builder installed a discreet drain to “solve Edmonton’s wet boot problem,” as Lindsay puts it. The entranceway also boasts a large, rectangular walk-in closet, which was large enough for the jackets and boots of more than 50 guests. Additionally, the open-concept main-floor layout allowed for guests to comfortably mingle.
The couple loves entertaining and this plays into the home’s design. In the kitchen, a three-quarter wall between the kitchen and dining area keeps visitors from seeing unwashed pots and dishes and then offering to help. There’s also a luxurious steam shower in the basement, across from the guest room, to allow it to be used by both guests and the rest of the family.
The couple has also used space conservatively. An uber-modern, neutral interior makes the house feel very open and spacious, but the two-storey home is only about 2,300 square feet, including the second floor; this makes it noticeably smaller than many of the new builds in the area. “We didn’t want or need a huge house,” says Deborah, explaining that everyroom of the house is used every day – except for the guest room. As a result, the couple doesn’t have a formal dining room that they’d only use a couple of times a year, just a main eating area beside the kitchen.
The Dodds also prioritized durable, cost-effective materials. On the main floor, most of the flooring is white oak hardwood, with a laminated product on the underside to make it more durable. The kitchen counters are white quartz, which doesn’t require any upkeep.
“We’re low-maintenance people,” says Lindsay.
Throughout the home, ample storage options keep clutter out of view. On the main floor, a mudroom off of the kitchen was designed so that coats and boots can’t be seen from the kitchen or dining room. Now 11 and 13, their children have decorated their rooms to their individual tastes but have large walk-in closets to keep their clothes and possessions tucked away.
But as practical as the Dodds may be, the home boasts some unusual elements. In the basement, a server room allows Lindsay to be fully connected to the Savvia office. Lindsay explains that any of the technology in his office (servers, desktop computers, printers, etc.) can be controlled from his home. “If our main office and control centre were to burn to the ground tomorrow, we could move the staff into the house and resume operations within minutes,” he says.
There’s an area in the basement for indoor cycling, with a large-screen television (the Dodds are avid cyclists). Lindsay’s large drum kit also lives downstairs.
Then, there’s the art. Throughout the home, original paintings add colour and whimsy. “When we were first married, we made a pact that we wouldn’t buy any non-original works,” says Lindsay.
Their first piece: A painting by Christopher Lucas, then an Edmonton-based artist who sold his work at the Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market. Since then, the couple has purchased works by Toni Onley, Kari Duke, Sa Boothroyd, and, most recently, landscape painter Greg Hardy. One of Hardy’s prairie landscapes hangs above the couple’s fireplace in the main living area; its hues of yellow, purple and blue stand out against the room’s neutral colour palette.
“We try to acquire works that stretch our comfort zone a bit,” Lindsay explains. When they’re drawn to an artist, but can’t afford to buy an original, they rent from the Art Gallery of Alberta. Right now, a five-foot-by-six-foot sepia photograph by Steven Dixon adds visual interest to the dining room.
After less than a year in their new home, the novelty hasn’t yet worn off. The home is just what they’d hoped for – possibly because of all of the time they spent collaborating with the builder. “So much thinking went into this house,” says Lindsay.
Brentwood couch and coffee table by Johnston Casuals Furniture from Sage Furnishings. Greg Hardy painting from The Peter Robertson Gallery. Natural Tree Stump side table by West Elm.)
Kitchen and Dining Room
Steve Dixon’s “Shed” rented from the Art Rental and Sales Gallery at the Art Gallery of Alberta. Stools by Groove Stool from Structure. Bjursta dining room table from Ikea.
Swan bed by Huppe and sidetable from Inspired Home Interiors. Lamps from Winners. White pillows and bedding from Simons. Brown pillows from Restoration Hardware.