NAVIGATE WEST: The Oakville Coach House

The historic Coach House at Erchless Estate’s recent restoration harkens back to the building’s original heritage.

The project was put in the hands of +VG Architects and general contractor Clifford Restoration. Both firms have extensive experience in heritage restoration. “The Coach House is one of the original buildings at Erchless Estate. As well as being the home of the Oakville Museum today, it’s a pivotal location in Oakville’s history,” explains Julian Kingston, supervisor of museum recreation and culture. “The Coach House is woven into the story of this location – a story that reaches back far before the founding of the town.”

The 121-year-old Coach House was originally built as a carriage house and gardener’s cottage and is protected by the Ontario Heritage Trust for exterior elements and by a Town of Oakville Cultural Heritage Landscape plan for both exterior and much of the interior. “Interior heritage designations are unusual, butfor Erchless Estate, including the Coach House,nthey were felt to be appropriate.”

In order to meet the design brief, there was an “adaptive reuse” approach in the carriage room and stables where robust modern materials were required to stand up to multiple uses. The gardener’s cottage was restored to its original floors, woodwork and heritage plaster.

The stables exhibit many original elements, including the stall walls for the horses, complete with hoof and teeth marks, and the ladder to the hayloft, which was uncovered during construction. Design changes were made to keep it exposed.

Some exterior enhancements were also made. Paving now makes the building accessible and the signature shingle cladding was completely restored. The only major change here was adding a reproduction rolling door with a full-width folding glass wall. “This is the linchpin of the design as it allows the carriage room to open onto the fenced terrace creating a unique indoor/outdoor space and reinforcing the connection of the Coach House to the beautiful gardens of the grounds,” Kingston notes.

The final result still honours the estate’s history. “We wanted to preserve the Arts and Crafts feel of the Coach House and respect its heritage, but at the same time we needed a modern multi-use space that meets current building codes,” says Kingston. “That was a real tension throughout the project – we needed utility without breaking what makes it charming. When you spend time in and around it you can feel that we succeeded.”