Skip to content

Classic and modern. Beautiful and functional.

'We really just wanted to lighten it up but still keep the character from some of the original features'

Joanne Viau has an eye for what can be. 

“The uglier the better, I always say,” she comments with a light laugh, before embarking on a tour through her newest real estate redesign project, a stunning six-bedroom, seven-bathroom home now for sale in one of Kelowna’s most coveted neighbourhoods, the Lower Mission.

The very notion that the stately yet welcoming and modern home at 539 Knowles Road could ever have been deemed anything other than elegant seems unfathomable today. Joanne, however, catalogued the journey that began when she bought the property and started  a transformation aimed at unlocking its potential. And there’s a world of difference between then and now. 

“It was so dark, this house, that I described it as something from a Charles Dickens novel,” she says, pausing at the bright and airy entryway.

Lia Crowe photo

So that it is no longer obscured by moodily coloured walls, heavy fabrics and distracting design features, Joanne prioritized filling the house with natural light. Diffused sunbeams pour in from the abundance of windows and highlight the home’s thoughtful design.

“We really just wanted to lighten it up but still keep the character from some of the original features,” Joanne says.

Maintaining original features was an easy choice, she explains. Joanne noted the high-end trim throughout the house and brought it back to its original luster, enhancing artfully placed arches and drawing the eye to European craftsmanship.

Keeping the traditional feeling born from the original construction and incorporating more contemporary design features has ultimately resulted in a home with timeless appeal.

The balance Joanne walked when she took on this project is illustrated perfectly in the heart of the home, a living room that offers soaring ceilings with wooden beams and a floor-to-ceiling, wood-burning fireplace.  

The boldly designed fireplace mantel draws in the eye and is contrasted against lighter features, helping to create a space that is as impressive as it is welcoming. 

No less striking is the kitchen. There Joanne added a wall with natural texture and juxtaposed it against an otherwise high-end and modern space. The natural, Okanagan rock wall frames a six-burner gas cooktop and offers a warm backdrop to top-of-the-line Thermador appliances, contemporary new kitchen cabinetry by Westwood with pull-out drawers, and kitchen organizers. It’s a space that can accommodate a busy family moving in and out or a chef creating a culinary masterpiece.

Tucked alongside this space, convenience and luxury meet in a temperature-controlled wine room, prep kitchen and full laundry area.  Hours could be spent in this space, but the lower level may be where the next owners of the home choose to go once their appetites have been sated. 

Joanne finished the basement of the house, adding an extra 2,300 square feet to fit all the modern amenities a person could ask for, including a pool table, workout room and large home theatre that is both tasteful and meets the needs of the most particular movie fanatic. Knowing home theatres are an important space for people to gather, Joanne tapped into the knowledge of experts to ensure that everything from sounds to the seating was topnotch.


Like every other room in the 8,000-square-foot house, a balance is kept between classic and modern; beautiful and functional.

That balance continues in the garden, where this gated estate’s backyard is an oasis, offering a pool deck with multiple access points off the main floor and opening to a large area for patio tables. A storybook quality underlies the functionality of the space, and a 15-foot fountain is intertwined in mature grape vines giving the look and feel of Tuscany.  

The patio extends to an outdoor kitchen and a quaint covered sitting area with a gas fireplace, where a running waterfall pours into the koi pond. The upper patio comes complete with a sunken hot tub and outdoor pool bathroom.

There’s a saltwater pool that opens to the lush space, with more than enough room to accommodate a greenhouse, fruit bushes, a play structure and an extensive grassed area.   

Everything has been considered in the reimagining of this stunning property.

As Joanne’s friend and realtor, Tracey Vrecko, says, “Nobody is doing it quite like Joanne.”

Lia Crowe photo

“It” doesn’t have a precise name. Not one that resonates with Joanne, anyway. Some may say she’s a house flipper, but that would be too reductive a title. Being a flipper —a real estate trend popularized by reality TV—doesn’t do justice, Tracey says, to the heart and soul Joanne has breathed into the eight projects she’s taken on in recent years.

Joanne says she has always enjoyed creating design solutions. She grew up in a family familiar with the trades, so she understood from an early age how things go together.

But it wasn’t in the cards earlier in her life to take on creative projects like she’s doing now, with her business Unlocked Potential. But it’s a change in direction that’s gaining significant support.

That is demonstrated by a strong Instagram following that turns their focus to her as she mulls over designs, shares tips and highlights a creative view on homes she’s reimagining.

Industry acceptance has also come her way. Joanne was recently named a finalist in the Okanagan Housing Awards of Excellence, from the Okanagan branch of the Canadian Home Builders Association. She’s been nominated in two categories, Residential Renovator of the Year and Excellence in Bathroom Renovations. All of it is an impressive leap from where she started. 

“I was a nurse for many years and then I gave that up to raise my family and help my husband grow his company,” she said, noting that his work was in the educational realm. “Then it was just my time to do something that interested me.”

At first, she considered opening a dress shop, but Tracey talked her out of it, convincing her instead to think about unleashing her creativity on older homes that needed new life. It was a choice that made sense right out of the gate, despite the significant learning curve.

“I bought one little house, which was just a moderate, small-sized family home, and I gave it a whirl,” Joanne recalls. “I met with a designer friend who I knew in town and I had my notepad and my paper and I was like ‘okay, who’s the first person I call?’”  

Demolition, she was told. 

“Then, who’s number two?” she asked. 

A framer was next on the list and from there, the ball kept rolling.

Kitchen/Living Room

Work on that house was not nearly on the scale of the Knowles Road home, but it will always hold a special place in her heart. Not only did it turn out beautifully, it was where Joanne started building relationships that made the experience a pleasure and laid the groundwork for future success.  

With a bit of luck and growing know-how, Joanne gathered a team of trusted tradespeople who have stayed with her as she’s moved from project to project. In an increasingly difficult labour market, they are quick to join Joanne whenever she takes on a new project, Tracey says. 

It’s just one of the reasons that Tracey, a distinguished-in-her-field and sought-after realtor, looks forward to working with her.

“I love showing [Joanne’s] homes because she doesn’t cut corners,” Tracey says. “That’s why we call it a transformation…Joanne’s focus is not on the profit but rather on the quality. She only uses the best finishings, so she is proud to hand the keys to the new owners.”  

It’s the future owners who are at the heart of what Joanne does. The entire home is put together with attention to quality and design so families of all kinds can put down roots and create new, beautifully set memories.

Photography Kyle Sanguin
Makeup Kathryn Ramsay