House hunters can be forgiven for reacting with a bit of skepticism when brokers speak of a home’s “good bones.” After all, the term can sometimes be code for a house that, despite it skeletal strength, requires considerable work to make it the nest of your dreams.
So it’s more than a little endearing when Vancouver Realtor Gary Serra says, “I saw that it had good bones” in speaking of the nearly 50-year-old house he acquired in 2013 in the city’s Cedar Cottage section. Indeed, in some ways, the forlorn bungalow looked as if it might be on its last legs. But the award-winning Serra’s schooled eye looked beyond the drab exterior and crumbling plaster: “I knew that I wanted to keep the original hardwood floors, fireplace, tray ceiling and room-divider wood detail in the dining room.”
And what did he wish to discard? “Almost everything else.”
The editing paid off. Today, the 2,000-square-foot house, with five bedrooms, three baths and a backyard, is not only a stately standout among its neighbours but a chic retreat for its owner and his guests—not to mention Serra’s beloved nine-year-old Boston terrier, Jackson.
If the six-month renovation was more than a little daunting, the result has been well worth the requisite stress. “The only second thought I had was the extent of it,” says Serra. “I’d been through just very small renos before but never one like this.” While Serra says there were no “big surprises” as work crews began the project, “the new plumbing was unexpected.”
Plumbing, though, made way for the thoroughly updated baths and the kitchen, where gleaming fixtures and appliances blend with the house’s overall mid-century sensibility without missing a beat. The comfortable furnishings capture the 1950s and ’60s with élan, right down to the tuxedo sofa and off-white wool shag carpet.
While there are thoughtful furnishings and accents throughout the house, Serra is a self-described minimalist. Still, he has collected a few meaningful pieces of art. The one most prominently displayed—on a living-room wall—is a painting by Vancouver’s Michael Edward Miller, an emerging artist whose work is influenced by technology. “The piece is done with spray paint,” notes Serra, “and reflects the early incarnations of gaming, such as Atari and Pac Man.” Though tending to the abstract, you instantly see what Serra is talking about when he describes the painting’s subject as “two intersecting hearts.”
Another personal treasure is the vintage silkscreen in the dining room. Circa 1973, the work once graced an office building in Germany.
Guests get to view Serra’s decorating taste en masse at his annual holiday party for friends and clients. The gathering is anything but spartan, with caterers overseeing the food and drink. The host’s more common parties—occurring when his busy work schedule permits them—are decidedly smaller scale. “I like casual dinners or barbecues,” says Serra. “The house is suited to my style of entertaining, because of its fairly open concept and great backyard with a deck and patio.” Although he enjoys cooking, Serra is quick to add, “I love to eat out.”
Of course, eating out isn’t always a choice when you’re the head of your own real-estate firm in a hot market. Vancouver born and bred, Serra—whose fate might have been sealed when, as a child, he held mock open houses—says the city’s real estate today is “very active, especially for detached houses.” And the thriving areas for gay men and lesbians? “Definitely East Van, the Main Street area, Mount Pleasant/Fraser, Cedar Cottage, Hastings Sunrise, Commercial Drive and Grandview.”
Many of the LGBT buyers, like Serra, are purchasing fixer-uppers. Those homeowners would be well advised to heed the Realtor’s words: “Interview contractors, and ask for references.” And, he adds with a smile, “Double your expected budget.”