Meadowlea Makeover

Inspired by visits from author Lucy Maud Montgomery, these retirees restored their PEI home with history in mind

Written by: Lisa Bendall
Homeowners Ian and Beth Carter were captivated by Prince Edward Island almost 40 years ago when they spent a summer vacation in the stunning province with their two young daughters. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘This is paradise. There is no place in Canada like this,’” says Ian.

Summer after summer, the island continued to beckon them. And in 1988 the couple from Georgetown, Ontario, bought the property they planned to retire in: Dubbed “Meadowlea” in old documents, it was a historic homestead on the north shore of PEI with spectacular views of the ocean and sand dunes. They would live here for 10 years, the Carters reasoned, until it made sense to move closer to family and healthcare.

But, in 2002, before Meadowlea would become their all-season dream home instead of just a summer getaway, the couple set about in 2002 to restore restoring it to its former glory. They were inspired by a 19th-century sketch in a local historical atlas that showed an expansive Victorian residence resting on the site – before it was devastated by a 1925 fire in 1925 and rebuilt as a simple farmhouse. The couple also knew from their research that the property’s beautiful flower gardens had enchanted Lucy Maud Montgomery, a frequent visitor. “It was the location as well as the history of this place that made it unique,” says Ian. “That fit our notion of a perfect retirement.”

Could they do the homestead justice? “It was an ambitious restoration,” Ian says, but counts himself lucky to have found a creative architect who shared his vision, as well as a self-taught contractor with an artistic gift, and a dedicated construction crew. “We were privileged to work with this team of individuals,” he adds. Case in point: The kitchen’s gorgeous coffered ceiling was installed only after the contractor did an on-the-spot sketch on the Gyprock and said to Ian, “D’you think this would look any good?”

The house is in fact all about looks. The team added four large bow windows, two upstairs and two down, to take full advantage of the ocean scenery and breathtaking sunrises. New covered verandas wrapped the house on three sides. “These provided us with additional space to enjoy the outdoors and views across the shore,” Ian says, adding that the dentil moulding also enhances the outside of the house. “It’s quite beautiful and detailed. Those features give the house grace and beauty.”

The grace and beauty doesn’t stop with the exterior. The sunken “keeping room” – a dated name for our modern-day den – is a focal point inside, with floor-to-ceiling custom windows as well as a fireplace, entertainment unit and built-in bookshelvinges. All the warm-looking cabinetry in this room, and in the kitchen and upstairs bathroom, was custom-made from cherry and birch by a local craftsman. Ian likes the decorative pillars in the living room area. They’re repeated outside on the verandas. “They’re rather elegant,” he says. Original stained cranberry glass was incorporated into the staircase landing: “It’s quite pretty.”

But the reno wasn’t without its challenges. It took place during a brutal island winter, and included a few unhappy surprises. Ian, who managed the project long-distance from Ontario, received weekly good-news, bad-news phone calls from his contractor. “We laughed because it was always bad news,” he recalls. On the outside exterior of the house, the original cedar shakes they’d hoped were well preserved under vinyl turned out to be dried and crumbling. Most of the exterior framing had to be replaced as well, and even a significant piece amount of the hand-hewn flooring inside.

“It became a money pit,” Ian notes, admitting they went two and a half times over their original budget. “But we were comfortable with that and we chose to go ahead. The result was exactly what we wanted.”

Part of what they wanted, before the project was completed, were plantings that would honour the past as well as respect the harsh rural, ocean climate. “We worked very hard to create what we hope is an English country garden, the kind of garden that Lucy Maud Montgomery would have experienced,” says Ian, who hired a local landscaper to select ornamental grasses, rhododendrons, peonies and hydrangeas that would stand up to the maritime winter climate.

The Carters would have liked to construct the potting shed and coach house included in their original design. But with the budget blown, it just wasn’t possible. Still, they’re thrilled with the final result of their rebuild. Now that it’s time to move on to the next phase of retirement, they have listed their historic dream house for sale, and say they look forward to passing on the Meadowlea legacy. “We are ‘from away,’ but the residents of this community have embraced us. We have been privileged,” says Ian.