Posted by: Daryl & Wendy Ashby | July 5, 2011

Some Deals are Sealed by the Quirky Features

When is a hole in a kitchen wall a good thing?

When it doubles as a unique refrigerator, Mary Frances Hill discovered Robert McNutt’s apartment is like none other in the city, thanks to his eye for antiques and an ability to live without modern conveniences.

Nearly every inch of the century-old, 600-square-foot apartment is covered in vintage flair. In the elaborate bathroom, for example, a sink spigot hails from the early days of the Bank of Nova Scotia and the 100-year-old bathtub is fitted with a web of silver-exposed piping leading to a rainshower shower head.

McNutt acquired items from 1870 to 1915 only, to match the era of the apartment block where he’s made his home for the past 15 years. There’s the antique fireplace delivered from Cleveland, the doorknob from the Vanderbilts’ summer house in Newport, Rhode Island, and the rebuilt vintage chandeliers in every room.

The so-called cooling cabinet is deceptively simple. A hole in the upper kitchen wall brings a breeze that circulates straight into — and up and down — the cabinet. This is where he stores his food on the cabinet’s six shelves, constructed from strong mesh.

Without the ability to freeze food ( “Who needs ice? It’s overrated,” he says) or keep produce fresh in the cabinet for long periods, McNutt shops more like the Europeans, purchasing food every few days. And that has benefited both his health and social life.

“When people have refrigerators, you find science experiments [with your produce],” he says. “The way I shop, you develop a bond with the people you buy your food from because you see them every day.”

Still, there are drawbacks. “I found a pigeon trying to make a nest in my ‘fridge,'” he adds.

Not unlike McNutt, there was this onetime owner of a penthouse who was seduced by an century-old wall around the roof. It’s simply a matter of different strokes for different folks. I too have fallen under the spell of some of the old buildings in Victoria as they transition from decay to trendy dwellings.

Besides all the noteworthy architectural features, double-hung sash windows, original steel/iron support columns, one thing grabs me every time and its the sensuous employment of the original heritage details and incorporating them into the living space; the original brick feature-walls and exposed concrete ceilings and the vintage radiators which remind me of long-gone years.

There is nothing more intriguing than the way the light danced off the original leaded window panes. When the sun hits the bevelled glass in the late afternoon, you see hundreds of prisms and if you catch it at the right time, the foyer becomes awash with a series of them, like mini rainbows.

Often the original material includes wainscoting, fir stairs, oak floors, radiators, and even some wallpaper. Being a self-made historian, I’m in love with everything about this era of reconstruction.

Some of the old MaClure homes offer one enchanting discovery after another, such as the 15 radiators and four fireplaces that still warm the average vintage home. Although the noise the radiators make sometimes startles overnight guests, you will soon learn to tell which radiator makes what noise.

While some of you may consider it a fire-hazard, when is the last time you saw a bona-fide laundry chute, that still works? There is a friendly feel to these old homes, one that speaks of drama, love, children running in the halls and so much more of what has filled the rooms for a century or more.


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