Globe Real Estate
JOHN BENTLEY MAYS
26 September 2003
The Globe and Mail
Whether plucking a raffle ticket out of jar for some good cause or putting the screws to political opponents on town council, Ann Mulvale clearly delights in her job as Mayor of Oakville — so much, in fact, that she is running again for the office in this autumn's municipal election.
But she doesn't enjoy it enough to be a politician everywhere and all the time.
“The Mayor doesn't live here,” she said to me recently over coffee in her spartan living/dining room.
There's certainly nothing mayoral or even vivaciously sociable about Ms. Mulvale's north-end Oakville house. It is not large, and not glamorous or imposing. The living room furniture is comfortable, but (given the room size) sparse.
It's a house that speaks of quiet evenings with a few close friends and a bottle of good wine, though even on that topic it doesn't speak loudly.
What this house does represent, at least for its new owner, is a sense of personal homecoming. After the loss of her husband to cancer in 1995, Ms. Mulvale lived for several years in the Oakville home she and her family shared for their last nine years together. Then it wasn't working any more. “My need was to move from the other house,” she told me. “I needed to turn a page. It was a wonderful 25-year marriage, but I needed to get on with my life — to have a gathering place for others, to meet my needs for the rest of my life.”
The place she bought earlier this year was almost, if not quite, perfect. A picturesque site atop the steep ravine of Sixteen Mile Creek, and ready access to the waterway's wildlife and shady trails, were basic requirements. With its tight, 33-foot street-side frontage opening to 153 feet of wooded bluff-top and an abrupt plunge to the water below, the pie-slice property had the right location.
Then there was the structure itself, which needed some serious face lifting, but was otherwise what Ms. Mulvale was looking for. After coming to Canada in 1972 from workers' row-housing in the industrial Midlands of England, she had quickly taken a liking to the open, spatial flow and lightness of suburban late-Modern residential planning. She found what she liked in this house, which had been designed and built by its first owner in 1971.
While the two-level layout of the 1970s still pleased her, the period trim was wanting. The low, broad façade was covered by rough rocks that may have given it a rustic look 30 years ago. By the time Ms. Mulvale took possession, however, they made it appear dowdy, dated and heavy.
Among her first acts in turning the house into a home was to strip off the stone from the front — the material has been saved for reuse as a back yard patio — and replace it with warm wood.
Inside, the work required was less a matter of armed intervention than diplomatic persuasion. The former owner, who also appreciated the Sixteen Mile ravine, had provided wide-angle views through tall windows in the living/dining room.
But as Modern houses tend to do, this one had become dark with the passage of years. The potentially graceful sightline from the front door, through the main level and into the forest, was blocked, first, by an opaque banister around a stair leading to the lower floor, then again by panelling that ran the length of the rear deck. The simple expedient of replacing the railings of both stairwell and deck with clear glass immediately lightened the sombre interior.
It's perhaps too soon to tell what further changes Ms. Mulvale will make to her new home. While she has moved in a few pictures and a sizable load of family and political memorabilia, a sense of incompletion still hangs over the house. The sparely furnished lower level still feels less like a zone of comfortable dwelling than a basement. If the Mayor doesn't live here, then its main resident is clearly a lady too busy to fuss all day with home décor.
Or perhaps this combination of sentiment and austerity suits the private side of Ms. Mulvale just fine. Among the mementoes she has unpacked are two that, in any case, sum up the emerging emotional colour scheme of the place. One is a plaque with a quote from Holy Scripture that reads: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
But near this little declaration of love and loyalty is a sign that goes: “No Smoking. Town of Oakville Bylaw 1987-293. Max penalty $2,000.00.”
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