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Designers refreshing Nova Scotia architecture

An Italianate style 19th-century sea captain's home in LaHave recently restored by Ken McRobbie and Colin Blanchard of 31 Westgate. - Contributed
An Italianate style 19th-century sea captain's home in LaHave recently restored by Ken McRobbie and Colin Blanchard of 31 Westgate. - Contributed

Ken and Colin finally have a Cobb house.

For those interested in both the built heritage and future of this province, that was a loaded statement, because Andrew Cobb designed many of the signature structures, be they university buildings, churches, cottages or homes, that rose in Halifax through its formative years of growth and trauma during the 20th century’s bloody first half.

Ken McRobbie and Colin Blanchard have built a life and business (31 Westgate) designing and decorating the spaces of the new generation of well-heeled who are both part and product of Halifax’s growth.


An Italianate style 19th century sea captain's home in LaHave recently restored by Ken McRobbie and Colin Blanchard of 31 Westgate. - Contributed
An Italianate style 19th century sea captain's home in LaHave recently restored by Ken McRobbie and Colin Blanchard of 31 Westgate. - Contributed

“We might have a fancy cabinet from south of France, vintage fabric, hand-made ceramics from California, pots from Provence, antiques from the Coxwells,”said Blanchard of what fills the shipping containers that follow him and McRobbie home from their many buying trips.

“Those pieces that add personality to a person’s space.”

Their latest project was a sea captain’s house on the shore of the LaHave River.

The vertical oriented home with a small tower out front is typical of the Italianate style favored by those with means and a desire to show it in the late 19th century.


An Italianate style 19th century sea captain's home in LaHave recently restored by Ken McRobbie and Colin Blanchard of 31 Westgate. - Contributed
An Italianate style 19th century sea captain's home in LaHave recently restored by Ken McRobbie and Colin Blanchard of 31 Westgate. - Contributed

You’ll find them in old towns along river valleys that were once ship-building hubs.

The boats that left places like LaHave and River John and Spencer’s Island took this province’s sons across oceans and home again, sometimes with fortunes but always with stories.

The architecture of those houses was a way to show not just their wealth but their worldliness to their neighbours.


Ken McRobbie of 31 Westgate inspects an Italianate style 19th century sea captain's home in LaHave prior to renovations. - Contributed
Ken McRobbie of 31 Westgate inspects an Italianate style 19th century sea captain's home in LaHave prior to renovations. - Contributed

Cobb wasn’t raised in one of those houses.

He was born in Brooklyn.

At 14, his father died, and his mother took him home to Nova Scotia, where she had extended family.

Times were tight for the son of a widow.

He earned scholarships, first to Acadia, then the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

He toured Europe and brought home to Halifax the latest thoughts on architecture.

The Dingle Tower was one of his first projects.

Over the coming decades, he would design much of Dalhousie University’s Studley Campus along with buildings for Acadia, Kings and Mount Allison universities.

The Presbyterian church in Wolfville, most of the public buildings and houses associated with the pulp mill in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, and the Greenvale School in Dartmouth all were his designs.

“Cape Cod with an Art Deco twist,” said Blanchard of the cluster of houses in Bedford designed by Cobb for Halifax’s growing class of well-to-do.

While Blanchard and McRobbie’s work has been breathing new life into this province’s architecture by blending respect for the old with hints of the new, 860 Shore Drive will be their own.

It was Cobb’s personal residence in 1943 when a truck plowed into the city bus he was riding on, killing him.

So what do Blanchard and McRobbie have planned for their new home?

“A very light touch,” said McRobbie.

“The couple we purchased it from treated it beautifully.”

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