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For figure skating stars Alexandra Young Palin and Eric Palin designing well-thought-out, beautifully crafted homes is second nature. The couple recently created their dream home in Calgary’s Rutland Park, renovating and re-imagining a 1,400-square-foot, mid-century bungalow to create a four-bedroom, light-filled family-friendly home with soaring 16-foot ceilings and an appealing Scandinavian modern esthetic.
The two professional star figure skaters met in 2014, while on contract for Disney on Ice’s World of Fantasy. The couple circled the globe performing to worldwide audiences. In Toy Story 3, Alexandra played the role of Barbie and was paired with — you guessed it — Eric, who played Ken.
“Little did we know when we first met that we would fall madly in love,” says Alexandra.
“Even more, we had no idea that we would eventually get married and start building dream homes of our own,” says Eric, realtor at Re/Max House of Real Estate.
The duo transitioned from their contract with Disney on Ice to working as figure skating stars on cruise ships and while doing so also began planning for their next career move, one that would allow them some stability and the ability to live closer to family in Alberta.
The couple knew that they wanted to parlay their love of design into their next venture. They had travelled to more than 33 countries with Disney on Ice and developed an appreciation for the ethos of design sensibilities worldwide.
Alexandra focused on studying interior design, while Eric took his real estate course. Then in 2020, their contracts up and their new lives about to begin, they moved to Calgary, where Eric started a real estate career and Alexandra dug into the design world. Together, they founded Tano Studio, which Alexandra says “happened very organically,” and began reimagining homes within Calgary’s inner-city, always with the thought of finding their dream home to recreate and put their personal touch on.
In July 2021, the perfect home revealed itself. Drawn in by the mid-century architecture, the convenient location and community skating rink, the couple fell in love with Rutland Park in Calgary’s inner-southwest core and put in an offer on a mid-century bungalow, only to lose it in a heated bidding war. But they didn’t give up; they began knocking on doors and introducing themselves to the neighbours and putting out feelers for potential sellers.
“Alexandra pointed out a flat-roofed green bungalow. We knocked on the door and mentioned that we wanted to buy the house and reimagine it. The owner said: ‘Let me stop you right there. We’d love to sell.’ ”
It took a week and a half to negotiate the deal. The couple signed on the dotted line, while sipping lemonade in the backyard of their soon-to-be new home. They took possession two months later in September 2021 and began renovations in January 2022.
Alexandra wanted to retain the flavour of the 1950s bungalow and rather than being constrained by the original architecture, she re-envisioned it, keeping the original footprint, exterior walls, concrete foundation and floor joists and bumping out two portions of the floor plan on the west side and south side of the original home, adding another 600 square feet. She reconfigured the attached single-car front garage turning it into the home’s office and powder room. She constructed soaring 16-foot vaulted ceilings, a feat that required the use of a 53-foot-long metal structural supporting beam that spans the entire length of the home from front to back.
“What started as a necessary structural element quickly revealed itself to be a stunning design feature in its own right. Rather than cover it up, we knew the beam had to be celebrated and showcased as an integral part of the home’s character,” says Alexandra. She then utilized the leftover portion of the beam (it came in a length of 63 feet) to add structure and esthetic embellishment to other portions of the home, like the leathered granite floating kitchen island — the beam holds up one side, adding a textural contrast to the space.
The design and materials in the home really reflect the couple’s appreciation for European and Asian design — Alexandra named the couple’s design studio Tano, which translates to emphasis in Japanese.
Functionality within the home was top of mind, as was incorporating plenty of natural light. Many of the spaces are multi-functional — the main floor office can be a workspace or a bedroom. The oversized windows in this room were painstakingly designed and constructed to perfectly frame a stand of 30-year-old spruce trees.
“We really took so much time to carefully curate the sizes and angles of all of the windows. It’s an inner-city property, but from every angle in the home, you are looking at trees,” says Alexandra, whose favourite moment in the home is in the living room. “The natural light just bleeds through.”
In the kitchen, along the rear wall overlooking the deck and backyard, a nine-foot-long window extends from the countertop to the ceiling and folds completely open, creating an indoor-outdoor space for warm-weather entertaining and enjoyment, while also providing stunning tree-views year-round.
The home’s feeling is Zen-like, with free-flowing moments, much like a musical score.
“We knew that the beam was going to create this incredible feeling in the home with the vaulted ceilings, but that it was also going to be very dramatic, so I added some softer elements, some texture and wood grain, leathered granite, really mixing the materials and having a softer colour on the walls, instead of a stark white, so it pulls everything together,” says Alexandra.
The exterior of the home is clad in wood, preserved using “shou sugi ban,” a process that chars the surface creating a beautiful charcoal black colour. The striking material is also mirrored on the floor-to-ceiling living room fireplace surround. The couple was first introduced to this design process in Norway and immediately resonated with the look.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from the things that we have experienced and the places that we have been; it has all been so inspiring,” says Alexandra.
The couple and their two fur-babies, Boston Terriers named Jo and Lula, moved into the home a year ago. After only six months of settling in and in a scenario that echoed the reimagined home’s origins, a neighbour who lived across the street knocked on their door and made the couple an offer — it was one that they couldn’t refuse.
Although sad to let the home go, the former figure skating duo is now in the process of reimaging their next dream home in West Hillhurst.
“It’s a different vibe, but that’s part of my design ethos: to listen to the feel of the original home and take cues from that. It just makes it so much more special when you shine the light on the beautiful moments that a house already has,” says Alexandra.