July 31, 2013

A beach house with style

Stately mansion on an acre of waterfront has been completely renovated over the past few years

Victoria Times Colonist

OAK BAY — As he welcomes us into one of Victoria’s most chic and stylish homes, owner David Knight explains it really is a “playful house.”

That hardly seems the case at first glance, but the urbane owner has a twinkle in his eye as he guides visitors through rooms that are alive with contemporary art and appealing details, and illustrate his knack for elegance without attitude. There is even a James Bond-style wall above a fireplace that glides up at the touch of a button to reveal a television, and downstairs is a large wine cellar lined in cognac-coloured wood, with access through an old safe door. “You wouldn’t want to ever actually close that behind you,” Knight teased.

Perched on a rock at the edge of a one-acre Beach Drive property, the 7,000-square-foot home has undergone a seven-year renovation and addition that isn’t over yet. “It took that long because I wanted to see it at each stage, and be involved,” said Knight, who commutes from Toronto and is founder of Georgian Capital Partners. “I wanted this house to be very different from my stiff, WASP-y, Georgian house in Toronto with its Group of Seven paintings and their uptight lights over the top.

“This house is about the outdoors, and I wanted it to be fun — I wanted to let it fly.” The home is sophisticated and pretty, but not too pretty and definitely not frivolous. Built in the 1980s, it was redesigned and expanded with the assistance of local designer Robyn Bryson, Vancouver architect Grace Gordon Collins and local builder Mike Griffin.

While Knight wants the home to evoke good humour and a light spirit, he also appreciates symmetry. The home used to be a pseudo-neo-Tudor rectangle. “It seems every house on this stretch is either Tudor or very modern with big plate glass windows. Big rectangles do the job of seeing out, but they don’t do a house any good.

“My first idea was to knock it down and create a glass house like the one at Ten-Mile Point (designed by J. C. Scott). I looked at that house five times and it is totally one with nature, which makes more sense here. “But I had just paid $2.2 million and my designer said it would be about $4 million for the house I wanted, so I said forget it. … Of course, I have now spent about the same on renos,” he said with a smile.

The house was redesigned in an “H” shape, because Knight wanted more western exposure. On the west-facing side, flanking the entry, are two new rooms: a lounge and bar where the garage used to be, and a sunroom addition. When he first viewed the house, Knight drove down the long drive and saw two enormous garage doors. “I prefer the first impression to be of a house,” he said, so he went to Oak Bay council for a variance allowing a new garage by the street.

“They tried to talk me out of it and explained not every day was sunny, and I said, you are absolutely right, but I want a coach house as a feature.” It opens with a stable door — no power opener — and he removed the former dining-room chandelier and hung it there.

Knight originally wanted two small guardhouses at the front gate, as at Buckingham Palace, “but I built one and it looked ridiculous so I took it out.” And he is a “junkie” for art. He collects whimsical ceramics and vivid paintings, but doesn’t like art everywhere. He has no paintings in the living room, where he opted instead for classical European-style millwork and a select few 1840 woodblock prints by famed Japanese master Hiroshige.

Other walls are hung with contemporary works by Ivan Eyre, Ted Harrison, Michael Adamson and Jason Gringler, and there is a naked nymph in his forecourt, surrounded by flowers and sculpted by Leo Mol, of Winnipeg. Tucked in a storage room are six large panels by Jack Shadboldt, waiting to create a 20-foot-long wall of art when Knight opens his new Victoria office.

The renovation isn’t even finished. So far, in addition to the additions, the work has included raising all the ceilings, taking down walls, adding crown mouldings, removing doors and raising doorways to improve sight lines. “In the previous design, a guest walked in and saw a dishwasher on the far left, a bathroom on the right. I wanted to clean that up.”

The front door was previously solid, but he wanted more light and elegance, so he cut out the middle and added grillwork from a French garden gate, circa 1840. His love of Palladian architecture is obvious in the home’s symmetry, and when it comes to colour, he is equally particular. One section of the house was painted eight times before the right shade of yellow was found.

“I wanted a Mediterranean yellow like you see on villas at Lake Como. The pearl-grey accent was relatively easy to pick.” In the living room, he wanted calm, but the dining room is raspberry-coloured and glows in the candlelight from wall sconces and reflects on the gold-leaf ceiling. “I didn’t want to fill it up, so I have no sideboards and used a glass table with tulip-shaped chairs designed for comfort.

“It’s very dramatic at night, with these amazing velvet curtains and Aubusson carpet.” For the master bedroom, he found a Belgian seamstress who attached Swarovski crystals to the bedspread to reflect the stars at night. But the real beauty of the house is its location down by the water, he said.

“Every other house nearby is up near the road” because of setbacks, said Knight, who studied money management at Harvard Business School and worked in Boston for 10 years before returning to Canada in 1980. His migration to Victoria has taken 15 years, and he looks forward to opening an office here. “There is nobody like us in this market. If Walmart is a bank, then we are Tiffany’s, a boutique for high-net-worth personal business.”

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