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Apartments / Real Estate Exclusive: 
House & Home Hangover Special Contributor, Katharine of Girl About O Town

This past May, the first ever Old Ottawa South Homes between the Bridges Home Tour was held to raise funds for the redevelopment of the Old Ottawa South Fire hall. 

Spearheaded by local designer Tanya Collins, this showcase of six surprisingly sophisticated neighbourhood homes was clearly a smashing success.  Most I met were enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon of socially sanctioned snooping, and were doing so despite the horrible weather.  

Girl About O Town

I confess that until May 31, I was a home tour virgin.  For years, I have seen the others – like the IODE and Old Ottawa West House tours - covered in the Ottawa Citizen, but I have never managed to make it out.  A design and decoration enthusiast like me ought not to have missed these sneak peak opportunities, but for one reason or another, I have not seen what there is to see of Ottawa’s most attractive and elegant homes.  That is, of course, until just the other day.

However, shameless snoopers be warned!  There is a strong possibility you may suffer a house tour hangover...

While it was most certainly fun to frolic through other people’s fabulously perfect houses, I must confess the day left me feeling more inadequate than inspired.  These were some seriously beautiful homes, carefully designed and decorated to a standard well beyond average, and in every case the homeowner’s care and attention to detail was astounding.  The tour offered an impressive variety of styles ranging from fashion forward to eclectic collector and from  tailored transitional to country cosy, with every stop along the way offering something new to take in.

As if it were not enough, these homes were spotless!  Impeccable!   Pristine!   While I am sure that many more hours than normal were spent in preparation, I found myself wondering how it was possible to keep them so clean.  There was not a single dent in the wall behind a door, not a scuff on any stair, and no evidence whatsoever of grime, dust or grease anywhere to be found!   Now I keep a clean house as best I can and even enlist the regular assistance of professionals, but maintaining streak free windows, immaculate baseboards and clutter free bookshelves at all times, I cannot!  Beyond the bathtub, the pile up of mail and the little girlaboutOtown’s extensive shoe collection, the larger jobs at my house must wait for those “big event” clean-ups that take place on a far less than frequent basis...

Girl About O Town

Interestingly, while the appeal of these gorgeous homes was undeniable, I found myself wanting something different.   Unlike magazines that can be appreciated for their artfulness and kept for future reference, seeing such loveliness in the light of day and being present to pry up close was a strangely transient experience, and even a tad intimidating.  As a voyeur left with nothing but an impression of the lives lived in these homes, it was somewhat unsettling to move around, to interact, and to reflect on the space without the benefit of the owner’s uniqueness to enhance the encounter.  It was not at all obvious in every home who actually lived there or how they lived, and there was not always much trace of personality.

I am sure that given the opportunity to see these houses in working order I may have thought otherwise, but I found myself almost relieved to meet the owner in two of the homes on the tour.  I was grateful to witness their pride of place and fortunate to be embraced by their warm enthusiasm.   To me, these were the most inspired homes, as they more clearly revealed the distinctiveness and character of their inhabitants, and their spaces were especially interesting because of it. 

Admittedly, it took me awhile to recover from the tour and to put it all into perspective.    Flopped comfortably on my rescued couch, warmed by the late afternoon sunlight streaming in through my dust-covered window, and sipping hot tea from a special pottery mug I chose for myself during a particularly hard time, I began to understand...

At my house, I feel at home because I live here with those I love, and because it brings us comfort and peace.  Even though I am passionate about furniture, design, and the decorative arts, my place would not yet make it onto any magazine pages.   However, as I come to know myself and understand my cohabitants, and as we uncover our preferences, refine our tastes and appreciate our functional needs together, the better our “mix” becomes.   We are conscious of this process, and we embrace it because we are constantly seeking to create a home that fits how we live, reflects who we are and will accommodate our changes into the future.

Neither too trendy nor too traditional, I hope that over time, our home evolves into something more than you will see in a magazine.   I aspire to combine cozy and convenient with a pleasing and personal ambience, because to me, this is the art of living well.  Rather than fashionable, I aim for functional, as I believe that chic should not look like it came in a can.   Architecture, colour, pattern, texture, lighting and layout are indeed the essential elements, but so too are our thrift store finds, family heirlooms, deftly curated collections, cherished gifts, dollar store delights, photographs and snapshots, not to mention our children’s best artwork alongside our most preferred pieces.  These ingredients are just as important as our strategically selected investments, as a gracious home cannot be created through acquisition alone.  Instead, I believe true grace is the result of the thoughtful and authentic expression of all those who live within a home’s four walls, and to me, it cannot be seen.  It must be experienced.

Girl About O Town

In the end, I am happy I went and would certainly go house touring again.  Next time however, I will look past the perfection and remember that my good house will never be done!

All photos by Katharine,

Katharine is a dedicated furniture junkie and decorative design enthusiast. Feel free to reach her by email at  if you have questions, comments or suggestions.

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