Life after Forest Hill
Couple ditch house in tony neighbourhood for the country comforts of Port Hope
Friday, December 14, 2018 – Print Edition, Page H6

PORT HOPE, ONT. -- 166 Dorset St. W.


Asking price: $1,195,000 Taxes: $4,857 (2018) Lot size: 66 feet by 196 feet Agent: Fionna Barrington, Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.

THE BACKSTORY Scott Elson and Scott DeWare began spending time in the rolling hills of Northumberland County about eight years ago.

Mr. Elson, a designer, and Mr.

DeWare, an executive, both worked in Toronto, but their weekend haven was a coach house in a tiny hamlet north of Port Hope, Ont. Over time, the two noticed their weekends were stretching to include more days in the country than in the city.

"We were in Forest Hill and we were using it as a closet," Mr. Elson says of the couple's home in an upscale Toronto neighbourhood.

The two decided to look for a full-time home in Port Hope, where heritage architecture and a lively cultural scene have drawn many artists, writers and antiques dealers to the small town on the edge of Lake Ontario.

Mr. Elson often travels to the homes and vacation homes of his clients around North America, but he figured the historic town would make an ideal base for his design business.

The circa 1865 cottage for sale at 166 Dorset Ave. W. in Port Hope appealed to Mr. DeWare as soon as he looked through the window to the garden in a rear courtyard.

"Scott looked at it and said 'sold,' " Mr. Elson recalls. "The courtyard is what made him fall in love with the house."

Mr. Elson took a little more convincing. The owner had lived there for about 30 years and the interior was in need of refurbishment. Over the decades, previous residents had changed the layout and covered the floors in shag carpeting.

"The house was a bit of a horror story," he says.

But the elegance of the original Regency cottage was still apparent beneath the layers. The two learned that the house had once belonged to a ship's captain who commanded a vessel on the Great Lakes.

"I'm an interior designer so I immediately connected with it," Mr. Elson says of the home's charm and heritage.

He was inspired to undertake a renovation that would restore original details and create a backdrop for the couple's collection of art and antiques.

The two named the property Braigh Cottage in a nod to their Scottish heritage and the home's position high on a hilltop. The word braigh means "summit" in Gaelic.

THE HOUSE TODAY The red-brick house overlooking Lake Ontario is considered a late example of the Ontario cottage style, says real estate agent Fionna Barrington of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd. The Regency influence can be seen in the high ceilings, transom windows and the peaked roof at the front, she points out.

"It was meant to be a little more grand," she says.

Mr. Elson and Mr. DeWare ripped up layers of carpeting and had asbestos removed from the basement. They puzzled over the logic of the previous owner, who had placed the laundry room at the front of the house.

"We found so many oddities," Mr. Elson says. "She had an office that was an angry, mean, little dungeon."

Mr. Elson says many of the large homes in the area were rooming houses in decades past and he wouldn't be surprised if the cottage on Dorset Street was at one time as well. Some later additions had carved up the space to create more rooms.

The original brick cottage was built in the traditional configuration of a centre hall and four rooms. At some point in the past, someone had torn down part of the wall running through the middle of the house. Mr. Elson had the wall rebuilt to restore the plan and create a formal dining room.

When the shag carpeting was ripped up, the couple found 1930s hardwood underneath.

That wood was in such poor shape, however, that they had that taken up as well. Underneath was the original rustic wood floor of shiplap construction.

"We found all this original, gorgeous white pine," Mr. Elson says.

The wood had once been painted brown, but they had it repainted in white.

"We decided to go with white because this house is all about light," he says.

Throughout the house, original windows and their antique hardware were refurbished and others were custom-made to suit the architecture.

French doors at the front and the rear of the main living area let the lake breezes flow through in the summer months, Ms. Barrington points out.

The former laundry area is now a guest bedroom with an ensuite bathroom.

"My pet peeve is seeing a TV shining through the front window," Mr. Elson says.

The room that houses the kitchen is an addition that dates to about 1900, Mr. Elson says.

When the couple purchased the house, the windows were blocked by countertops running the length of a kitchen wall. They pulled out those elements and had the window openings lowered - mainly so that their two Australian terriers could watch the world outside, he says with a grin.

A 15-foot island with custommade sinks and Caesarstone countertops provides plenty of workspace for the couple, who both like to cook.

The chef's range provides six burners and a warming shelf.

A door opens to the courtyard outside.

The master suite at the rear has a large bedroom. A former sunroom in an addition that dates to 1985 was turned into a year-round sitting room that opens to the garden, Mr. Elson says.

There's a large walk-in closet and the former office has been turned into a luxurious ensuite bathroom with a walk-in shower and stand-alone tub.

Ms. Barrington says the town of Port Hope is drawing lots of people escaping from the congestion and high real estate prices of Toronto.

There's a lively theatre and arts scene, she says, and plenty of cafés, restaurants and boutiques.

The Ganaraska River that runs through the middle of town is a popular place for fishing and recreation. Trout and salmon runs in the spring and fall bring huge crowds of visitors to fishing tournaments and festivals.

Ms. Barrington says the house is a short walk away from main street shopping and the Port Hope train station. The beach, a private golf club and the independent Trinity College School are also within walking distance.

THE BEST FEATURE Outside, a wooden veranda wraps around two sides and provides a place to relax or dine on warm summer days.

The courtyard provides a private terrace for dining al fresco, sheltered by walls covered in espaliered apple trees, climbing roses and hydrangeas.

The backyard includes an English cutting garden and a wisteria vine. There's a potting shed and a secret path that meanders through to mature trees at the back of the property.

"It is a wall of green," Mr. Elson says of the view in the summer.

Associated Graphic

The Regency influence of the red-brick house that overlooks Lake Ontario can be seen in the high ceilings, transom windows and the peaked roof at the front.

Throughout the house, original windows were refurbished, with some additions made to suit the architecture. In the kitchen, a 15-foot island with custom-made sinks and Caesarstone countertops provides plenty of workspace for those who like to cook.


The backyard includes an English cutting garden and a wisteria vine. There is also a potting shed and a secret path that makes its way to mature trees at the back of the property.

French doors at the front and the rear of the main living area let the lake breezes flow through in the summer months.


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