By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
“We should buy an old building,” she said.
“It will be fun!” she said.
And with those remarks, Cobourg lawyer Carrie Low saw a life-long dream come true and a 14-month (and counting) odyssey begin – the hands-on restoration of a genuine heritage home.
It’s a project that has been on prominent display, as that particular house is at a busy corner in Cobourg – Division Street and University Avenue. You can’t drive for long in town without passing by that spot, and scaffolding and workers have surrounded the structure for more than a year now.
Low is originally from Toronto. She was born there and was raising her two children there when, 17 years ago, the family moved to Cobourg.
Coincidentally, at about that time, the family was one of several featured in a Toronto Life article written by a freelance-writer friend. It is called Escape to the Burbs – a title that is actually ironic, since the one thing she did NOT want to do was live in a suburb of Toronto. The slower-paced quieter life outside the city was what she wanted for her family.
Her husband Brian Porter is a firefighter, currently captain of a rescue squad in downtown Toronto. But a firefighter’s odd work schedule is very compatible with a distant address, so the family settled happily into their new life.
“I have always loved antiques and old things,” Low recalled in a recent interview.
“I was definitely the person in my family who would save these heirloom teacups.”
She did have the chance to do some interior restoration on her house in Toronto, which was built around 1912, but it wasn’t quite what she dreamed of.
“I always wanted to have a house like an old Victorian, but my husband doesn’t want to live in a house with no closets. And I wanted a playroom for the kids – an old house wasn’t going to be practical to live in.”
The opportunity finally came in the form of a challenge (as so many do).
Low had joined the firm of Irvine & Low Lawyers in 2017 but, within a few years, her partner Richard Irvine announced his intention to retire by the end of 2023 and sell the firm’s building at 24 Covert St., where he had practiced for a quarter-century.
She began the process of taking over Irvine’s real-estate practice, as well as carrying on her own practice of wills and powers of attorney. But the fact remained that she would need a new office.
She had actually signed a lease on another location when she and her husband found the old Victoria/Queen Anne Revival home at 410 Division St. They snapped it up in September of 2022.
The goal was to move the law practice to the old house in January 2023, which gave them enough time to repaint and freshen up the rooms inside. Then began the restoration work that would bring the outside of the house back to its original beauty.
“I love old buildings and had always dreamed of undertaking a project like this. I also had a strong desire to find a location for my business downtown that I would be excited to bring clients to. So when we saw this property was for sale, it ticked a lot of life-goal boxes,” Low said.
“My husband said, ‘this will scratch your itch, to be involved in a property like that.’
“It’s been a lot of fun.”
She was immediately taken with the fact that the house had good bones and beautiful architectural details.
“But we knew the outside needed major restoration. We thought that this building had great potential and could be a gem for this part of town.”
Demolition started in the fall of 2022, and restoration of the original cedar shingles that cover the walls of the second and third floors started as soon as the weather was favourable in April 2023.
The new colour scheme (shades of moss green and buttercream) make the red brick on the first floor and the now-cleaned stained-glass windows really stand out.
Low’s goal was to bring this beautiful old building back to its original state – uncovering those old decorative cedar shingles that were covered with aluminum siding back in the 1960s and painted several times – and to completely restore the curved wrap-around porch that was in very rough shape.
“All eight pillars holding up the front porch roof had to be replaced, as did all the sub-structure and deck boards. The porch was sagging considerably away from the house,” Low said.
The intricate gingerbread details have now been sanded, repaired and repainted. The wrap-around porch is nearing completion and a new decorative white cedar roof is being installed.
This piece of Cobourg history was originally built in 1902 by Jex & Company for the Henderson family, who were also prominent builders in Cobourg at that time and often collaborated with Jex & Company. With its prominent location, coming into downtown Cobourg, the old house was built to showcase Henderson’s detailed woodwork.
“We just hope the finished product makes people proud of our town’s gorgeous heritage buildings, and leaves a positive mark on our community or years to come,” Low said.
“It’s been a challenging journey for sure, lots of unexpected twists and turns. I’ve learned a lot about the construction process and managing contractor relationships over the past year. It’s not for the faint of heart but, in the end, I think it was worth it – not sure my husband would agree though,” she laughed.
Irvine & Low moved into the space last January and has remained fully operational during construction. You can follow their progress on Facebook (Irvine & Low Lawyers) or on Instagram (@thehouselawyer). Low also regularly updates progress in the Cobourg Yesteryears group on Facebook.
And Low looks forward to showing it off in person when the work is complete and she can plan a grand opening.