Leaside renovation re-invents small spaces into a great room

John Bech-Hansen is a rare breed in the home renovation industry. As a general contractor, he’s known among his clients as a “unicorn” for his swift work and fastidious attention to detail.

But he’d been in business for almost 18 years before he put his skills to a true quality test: a major renovation in his own home in Leaside.

The project could easily have turned into a “cobbler’s children have no shoes” situation, but Bech-Hansen completed the job, which included gutting the main floor and removing a 15,000 kilogram brick wall, in five weeks flat.

His wife Angela Burley’s influence may have had something to do with the pace of the project. “My wife can’t stand dust and mess, so I had to work really fast,” he said.

The vision for the renovation was to combine a narrow galley kitchen, a rarely-used formal dining room and a tiny family room into a single large great room. As projects go, it was a straightforward ask, and work he’s done plenty of times. But the technical challenges required Bech-Hansen to call on all of his experience — and a little creativity.

The family room tucked at the back had once been a single-car garage. When Bech-Hansen and Burley bought the house in 1999, the room had been converted to a living space, complete with garage door. They replaced it with windows, but the double-brick wall stayed intact because it was load bearing.

“The wall was over 20 feet long and extended right up through the second storey, where it divided…

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