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Feb 4, 2020

8 min. read

A look at three unique Manitoba housing options and the people who call them home.

Home, for some, the word conjures up images of a quiet walkup apartment on a tree-lined street in one of Winnipeg's older neighbourhoods. Others imagine a split-level new build in an emerging community on the edge of town. And some families dream about the peace and comfort of a farmhouse in the country.

Across the province, Manitobans are embracing a variety of housing options that suit their unique life stages. We spoke to three families who made big moves to find their forever homes.

Escape to the country.

Melody Tardiff knew rural living would be an adjustment. But she never anticipated the frogs. "They croak all night," says the born-and-bred urbanite. Three years ago, she moved with her husband, Julien, and two young sons from their house in Winnipeg to an acreage 20 minutes east of the city.

The once-bothersome croaks soon became a soothing part of the atmosphere at the 1,566-square-foot new-build outside of Lorette. "Now I can't wait to get home from the city to my little haven," says Tardiff, who commutes to Winnipeg for work.

Formerly part of a Saskatoon berry farm, the family's 2.5-acre property is lined with berry bushes that produce buckets of fruit each summer. Though the land was undeveloped when the couple viewed it in 2015, it was love at first sight. "We could just picture ourselves here," she says.

The move was partially motivated by Julien's desire to give their kids more freedom and teach them responsibility like he experienced as a child growing up on a farm. Tardiff thinks the move came at exactly the right time for their boys, now 15 and 12. "They weren't yet set in their ways—but they were old enough to handle some tasks." By managing chores like cutting grass and gardening, the boys feel a sense of ownership in the property and take pride in the results of their hard work.

On the flip side, the Tardiffs have also discovered some unexpected costs associated with rural life: vehicle expenses, including wear and tear, and higher gas bills. Homeowners making the leap from city to country should be aware that home insurance costs could increase as well—due to the longer proximity to hydrants and a firehall (volunteer-run halls can also impact rates).

It took six months for Tardiff to adjust to country life—where simple things like groceries, laundry and after-school activities require more advance planning. But now she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I feel completely at peace when I sit on my back deck," she says. "You hear rustling leaves, birds chirping—and even those darn frogs!"

Two men sitting on a couch in a living room.

Office space.

It takes real imagination to see how a bare concrete shell could become a cozy abode. But when Kurtis Kowalke and his partner of 16 years, Corey Quintaine, viewed a former 1960s office building, inspiration struck.

"We didn't look at any other places," Kowalke says, describing the nondescript building, located a block from Portage and Main in Winnipeg. "There was just something about it that intrigued us."

In December 2016, the pair bought the entire sixth floor and part of the seventh to build their dream home. The purchase launched a year-long journey of design, planning, permits and construction. They moved in just before Christmas the following year.

The result was worth the wait: an impressive 3,000-square-foot, two-storey, two-bedroom open-concept condo with a skylight spanning the entire width. The space is decidedly modern without feeling cold or cavernous. Partly inspired by the 1927 German expressionist sci-fi film Metropolis, the couple added a few futuristic and Art Deco touches. An expansive library and games area, with floor-to-ceiling shelving, creates visual impact, while the upper-level master suite includes a powder room and massive walk-in closet. The spectacular rooftop patio boasts a hot tub and 360-degree views of downtown.

Of course, there were challenges in building a new home inside an old shell—insulation and remediation topped the list. Repairs aside, the couple are thrilled to be pioneering residents of the up-and-coming area. The neighbouring Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED) is in the middle of a construction boom. Notably, the True North Square development will add 1.5 million square feet of office, residential and commercial space by 2023.

This was the couple's very first experience designing a home from top to bottom—and it just might be their last. "We definitely built this place to stay here for the long term," Quintaine says. "It really is us to a T." The sentiment is shared by the pair's 16-year-old cat, Punkin, who gleefully lounges in her own chaise under the massive skylight.

While a project of this magnitude isn't for everyone, Quintaine believes it's perfect for people with a creative vision and a yearning to put down roots. "It sounds a little counterintuitive, but if it's somewhere you're going to live for a long time, don't focus on resale value," he says. "Don't build it for what others will think; build what you love."

An older couple standing in a living room.

Condo converts.

There are few life changes bigger than selling your "forever home." Especially if it's the one you lived in for 40-plus years; the house your mother lived in; where you returned after your father passed; and where you raised two children.

But change is an inevitable part of life. And 70-something retirees Linda and Bill Sparling decided to embrace it. "We thought of it as our time in life," Linda says. For the couple, that time meant a big-time downsize.

Two years after the Sparlings started searching for the perfect Winnipeg condo, they swapped their four-bed, three-bath 1948 home in Norwood for a 1,440-square-foot, two-bedroom-plus-den in a small, community-oriented building near St. Boniface.

For the couple, the move was about investing in a new lifestyle. Rather than cleaning unused rooms and maintaining a large yard, they wanted to commit that energy to things they enjoy most: visiting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights; taking in local theatre; going on nature walks along the river; volunteering at Agape Table; and just having fun together.

But the process required a lot of planning. Five years before the big move, Linda started downsizing the family's considerable collection of belongings and heirlooms—including items inherited from her mother and Bill's aunts. Each year at the family's annual reunion, she'd put out a table of items so relatives could take what they wanted. The benefits were twofold: Linda could reduce her belongings while also passing on family history to loved ones.

As for the Sparlings' new home, it wasn't even on their list of condos to see. They spotted an open-house sign en route to another viewing and popped in on a whim. They both immediately knew it was "the one"—though neither said a word about it until they got home. As Linda recalls: "Bill said, ‘What do you think?' I said, ‘I could live there.' He said, ‘Me too.' And he immediately called our real estate agent."

Just over a year in their new surroundings, the pair has happily discovered that the most important things remain the same. "We still see our children, grandchildren and friends all the time," Linda says. "But we've got this new side to our life that's just different and exciting. I tell people to think about that—not what they're leaving, but what they're gaining."

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