Ulya Jensen has a knack for picking the next hotspot neighbourhood to live. After renovating homes in Westboro, Wellington Village and Hintonburg, the savvy designer set her sights on Little Italy.
“I’ve been living in Ottawa since 1993 and working in design for the past 15 years. I’ve successfully managed to do this four times — to design and live in a home in four different Ottawa neighbourhoods, which are all now hotspots.”
With its lively restaurant and coffee shop scene and close proximity to Dow’s Lake, the Rideau Canal and the LTR, Little Italy has become a desirable place to live. A hotbed for construction, the area is in the midst of a massive transformation with projects such as the Booth Street Complex, which some compare to Toronto’s historic Distillery District with its proposed mix of retail and residential. In addition, Ottawa’s Arnon Corporation has announced a large, two-phase development in an empty lot bordering Preston and Rochester streets, which will include a grocery store expected to be Farm Boy.
While Jensen (ulyajenseninteriors.com) and her husband, John Skea, had Little Italy on their radar, they had no immediate plans to move — that is until Pete McCallum, a co-owner of the Whalesbone restaurant group, expressed interest in buying their newly renovated Hintonburg home.
“During one of our gourmet dinner parties, Pete casually mentioned that if we were ever going to sell, to let him know,” says Jensen, who has done design work for the group’s three locations. “We eventually sat down to have a more serious chat — without wine — and agreed on a price.”
With Ottawa’s tight housing market, Jensen and Skea soon discovered finding a property in Little Italy might be a challenge. But as luck would have it, tenants at one of Skea’s rental properties in the neighbourhood announced that they were leaving Ottawa to move out West.
“The timing couldn’t have been better. It was meant to be,” says Jensen. “Thankfully, we were able to live in our Hintonburg home during the two-month reno on our Adeline Street home in fall 2019. I really like to put my own stamp on a place, to give it personality. It was a tight turnaround, but I have the skills, the people and know-how. We called it ‘operation small space’ as we went from about 2,200 to about 1,600 square feet.”
Jensen has a flair for smart design and making sure that there’s no wasted space. The only original thing left in the home is the maple flooring on the main floor and a bannister leading upstairs.
“It’s a long, lean home, so I had to use design tricks to make it look airy and spacious. In the kitchen, I added floating, open shelves on either side of the stove, installed drop-down doors on the cabinets to make it look really clean, invested in small appliances from Leon’s and bumped out the ceiling in between the beams to give the space more height. The ceiling is just under seven feet high, so it gave us another six inches.”
Jensen, who worked on the project with longtime contractor Gary Campbell of Everlast Renovations, designed an almost 10-foot long Cambria quartz kitchen island that sits seven and features two different types of thick slabs from Urban Quarry. A short, pendant light over the island is from Dala Décor, a new furniture store and custom design house in Ottawa. To make the room feel more spacious, Jensen used a colour scheme consisting of mostly whites with splashes of black for pizzazz. She also successfully mixed three metals – gold, stainless steel and black – to give the kitchen some “attitude” as well as reflective properties to add visual interest to the long, narrow room.
A multifunctional mud room behind the kitchen features IKEA cabinetry to store shoes, coats and other miscellaneous things, as well as a small freezer and handy beverage fridge. A tiny powder room on the main floor features an attractive tin ceiling and patterned floor tiles from Olympia Tile, which is also repeated in the front foyer. The open-concept living area features a mix of mid-century modern furnishing, including a grey couch from the Upper Room, a cognac-coloured leather ottoman and blinds from Delor Window Covering.
“All the windows needed replacing. When we were working upstairs, we discovered the walls were insulated with old newspaper and, unfortunately, vermiculite insulation, which added about $7,000 to our renovation, which topped out at about $70,000.”
Upstairs, the bright main bedroom features farmhouse chic wallpaper on half the wall and Sherwin Williams Gossamer Veil’s warm grey paint on the other half with a lighter shade on the stippled ceiling. Saley built a custom, double-rod closet for Jensen with extra pullout drawers for jewelry and makeup. The room fronts Adeline Street and looks over Alice restaurant, owned by award-winning chef Briana Kim and named one of Canada’s top new restaurants in 2020. Atelier, another top Ottawa restaurant on that list, is located just around the corner on Rochester Street.
The narrow main bathroom uses every inch of space and features a glass walk-in shower from Preston Hardware, Olympia tile and a floating vanity from Montreal’s Vanico-Maronyx. Jensen’s compact office features samples for clients to browse and a doggy bed for Reilly, the couple’s Miniature Aussiedoodle.
“COVID-19 has certainly impacted my business. I’ve being doing a lot of virtual design consultations on Zoom. With so many families working from home, our big jobs, like kitchen renos, have been pushed back,” Jensen says.
The basement features more storage space, an office for Skea and a cosy spare bedroom. The backyard is entertainment central with a lounge area, a new shed that offers extra privacy from the street and large outdoor stone tiles.
When asked if Jensen had her sights on another neighbourhood in Ottawa, she chuckled, “We’re definitely staying put for awhile. This neighbourhood has way too much to offer.”
Video: Open House: Home renovations during a pandemic (Global News)