September 10, 2012

‘Humble’ Arts and Crafts Victoria home restored to glory

Building conservationist uses own dwelling to demonstrate how tender renovation of older building is ‘good stewardship’

Victoria Times Colonist

A famous architect did not build this house, and it’s not a grand mansion located in a swanky part of Victoria. “It is a great example of a humble worker’s house,” says owner Richard Linzey, who points out its various charms. “And there are not many of these on our heritage registry.” This is why he and his wife Kim are thrilled with their modest home and have had it designated heritage.

Richard was born in Kent, England, and knows all about safeguarding the character of old buildings, having specialized in heritage conservation all his life. As a practising architect for 14 years, he worked with English Heritage in London, looking after 700 historic buildings and sites, designing visitor centres, undertaking stabilization projects and adding new buildings that would suit the historical settings. His career path crossed that of some illustrious names.

“I met Prince Charles many times, and other members of the Royal Family.” He is also author of the two-volume Fortress Falmouth, and The Castles of Pendennis and St. Makes, a guide written for English Heritage about two castles built by Henry VIII in the mid 1500s, “to guard the seaward approach to Falmouth Haven on the border of Cornwall and Devon.”

Restoration to the home of Richard Linzey and wife Kim, right, revealed details like a fir staircase, Douglas fir floors and a butler’s pantry.

After moving to Victoria, the architect first worked as heritage planner for Victoria, but is now manager of heritage programs for the province. His Victoria home is located in the Burnside-Gorge area. Linzey and his wife have spent the past two years intensively restoring the old house, doing everything from a major kitchen renovation to tearing off the 1980s stucco. They haven’t sought heritage designation for the interior, as they want free rein inside, although their changes are in keeping with the era.

He is a fervent believer in the restoration of old homes and wants to demonstrate how a heritage house can become a “model citizen, how it can show good stewardship, and can model sustainability for all existing buildings.” A home doesn’t have to be an elite house to be worthy of preservation, he argues: “The most environmentally friendly house is the one that’s already built. We can avoid tearing down old buildings, because we have the tools to save them and companies like Vintage Woodwork to help us.”

And while some people may think conservation fossilizes a building, he says it helps release a building’s potential, and homeowners gain valuable skills when they learn how to repair their own homes. “It is one of the most sustainable ways of living, and there is so much to learn in an old house. We think some of these details are mannerist, to do with decoration, but they all have a function — like a little apron I wondered about under the rafter tails. When you start shingling, you understand this is to cover the top row of nails.”

His 3,000-square-foot house was built in 1913 for Marguerite Ozard, headmistress of southern Vancouver Island’s Craigflower School, and Richard finds its history as fascinating as the house. “Her family had a big fruit-growing farm in Gordon Head and she lived here with her brother. It was quite rural then.” The most “exciting” thing they’ve done was removing three tonnes of exterior stucco. Inside, they were keen to restore all the Arts-and-Crafts elements, including a lovely fir staircase with exposed balusters, pocket doors, dining room buffet, Douglas fir floors and stained glass.

Ripping out the 1950s kitchen was a challenge, as was taking down a wall to incorporate the former butler’s pantry. Richard built a coffered ceiling and tore out three layers of nasty old flooring. Kim fell in love with the house the minute she saw sun streaming in the front hall windows, but was appalled by the kitchen. “The house had such a good feeling, but I didn’t want to cook in that kitchen. I hated it, and was worried about how it would look after the reno, but Richard kept reassuring me. Now I love the fusion of old and new.”

They have also rebuilt front and back decks, and added a new roof, chimney and garden. And the reno has offered some hilarity along the way, like finding a cache of 37 Playboy magazines in the attic rafters. “I checked them out — they are worth about $25 each, and very tame by today’s standards,” he said with a chuckle, adding that his own current writing project is a book on the Royal Navy at Esquimalt.

The restoration was a huge undertaking — “We’ve put in about $40,000” — but because the house is on the city’s heritage registry, one-third of the building envelope repairs were paid for by the Victoria Heritage Foundation (about $12,000) and federal and provincial grants covered another $4,000.

“It really does make this kind of thing very affordable,” said Richard, who notes the house has stood for 100 years and will last another century now. “I’ve worked on buildings dating back to the 1500s and, with proper maintenance, they can last indefinitely.” Are they planning a holiday this year touring historic homes perhaps? “No, no,” stressed Richard. “We’re heading to an up-Island spa for a rest.”

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