When looking for a house, have you ever considered the perspective of the home itself?
If you have, 39 Derry Street in Guelph is one lucky property.
David Ruhl and Lee Vosburgh lovingly renovated the two-bed, two-bath, charming red brick house, which was built in 1894.
They purchased the home in 2013 and over the course of eight years have completely redone it. It was a task this particular couple is uniquely equipped to do.
Ruhl is a licensed, professional engineer who owns residential design and construction firm Ruhl Builds; his background is in building science and restoration. Vosburgh, a design graduate from OCAD University, is a creator and influencer who runs the popular blog Style Bee. She has impeccable taste, a designer’s eye and a commitment to sustainability.
“The curb appeal is what kind of got us here. It’s just got a really kind of classic look,” says Ruhl. They were also attracted by the camber-top windows, the original floors and high ceilings.
The pair met when they were both living in downtown Toronto. This house reminded them of the brick charm of their old Annex neighbourhood and had lovely details you don’t often find in newer homes.
“It had an old urban vibe,” says Ruhl. “The interior, however, was basic. It hadn’t seen a friendly renovation hand in many, many years.” The builder reckons the last time any work had been done was likely sometime in the 1970s.
Older homes can often be a bit of a hodgepodge. Someone may have renovated part of the house; years later, someone else renovates another.
The duo made sure to tackle every room, with the aim of creating a cohesive feeling. They took down some of the old plaster, put up drywall, added insulation and replaced windows—a lot of infrastructure work.
They also put in a new kitchen and new bathrooms. “It’s got a modern minimal look inside, but we’ve maintained the character,” says Ruhl.
Vosburgh loves the beautiful natural light that is plentiful in the home. “Definitely for me, a large part of my work is photography and so the natural light in here is really something I cherish,” she says.
They restored some of the trim and kept the walls white. Many remark that the home feels incredibly spacious, which the pair attribute to this light and the high ceilings. “We just wanted it to be as open as it can be, with lots of neutrals and calming spots to just rest the eye and body,” she says.
One of their most impressive projects was the backyard revamp. “Back in the day it was a pretty weird, dank yard,” says Ruhl. It just hadn’t been made a priority, adds Lee.
The new owners will be able to just move in and enjoy. They won’t have to live through the messiness of a remodel: the dirt, the gravel, the concrete being poured. They can simply sit back, relax and admire the details, such as the gothic picket fence where each slat was cut by hand one at a time.
The backyard renovation took about four months and couldn’t have ended at a more perfect time. They finished up just as Covid hit, when suddenly they had this great outdoor space to enjoy.
“We really wanted it to feel like a little hidden oasis. You don’t see it from the road and you don’t really see it from inside the house until you’re out there,” says Vosburgh. “It’s like this surprise little paradise. Because we have these big maples, it’s really nicely shaded with dappled light coming through, so it’s nice and cool even in the dead of summer. A little firepit extends your use of the space when it’s colder, so it’s a really great three-season outdoor area.”
Vosburgh’s favourite part of the house in the kitchen. Ruhl completely updated it; it now has beautiful vaulted ceilings and skylights. “It just is such a fun place to cook and spend a lot of time in,” she says.
The neighbourhood is filled with character-rich homes and is part of the King George Public School catchment area. There’s a good mix of people, including a few who have lived in the area for more than 50 years, as well as couples and young families. The area is very dog-friendly and there are bike trails nearby; less than two blocks away is Wolfond Park, then the Speed River. Walk ten minutes and you’re in downtown Guelph.
The two believe in the stewardship model rather than outright ownership. “We make homes as best as they can possibly be and then we’re ready to hand over the keys,” says Vosburgh.
“The things that the house needed to have done to it have been done,” explains Ruhl. “It’s sort of our general philosophy with building. We want to do things well and make sure that Derry will now stand here for another 100 years.”