April 18, 2012

Everything Illuminated In Island Retreat

Custom-built family home has spectacular views and glows with natural light

BY GRANIA LITWIN

Smitten by the staggering beauty of a high-bank property overlooking Vancouver Island’s Brentwood Bay, with distant views of Satellite Channel, two world-travelling executives decided this was the perfect spot to build their full-time home. To design it, they hired Keith Baker, who has been “going coastal” for more than 32 years, designing custom homes and additions to harmonize with their natural environment.

“What I love most is realizing the potential of a site and having a creative collaboration with the owners,” Baker said. “In this case, we were 100 feet off the ocean and up a hillside, so marrying the clients’ requirements with the practical realities of the site, without taking out more trees than absolutely necessary, was a challenge.” Another challenge was taking advantage of the views while bringing enough light into the house — since the back of the property faces south.

“Light is one of the most important things in any building,” explained Baker, owner of KB Design. “You get a great feeling when a space is beautifully, naturally lit.” Rather than adding rows of skylights, he solved the problem by angling up the roof. The result is beams of light that slice through the house like spears, giving the space a soaring, expansive feel. “The thing we like best about the house is the light,” said the owner, who asked that her name not be revealed.

“Regardless of the time of year or the weather, it’s always filled with light, and so tranquil you can’t help but feel rejuvenated. It’s the perfect place to come home to,” the owner said. The only thing she wishes she had done differently was to recruit an interior designer sooner. Instead, they started working with Baker, then brought in builder Gordon Hemsworth, and later asked interior designer Sandy Nygaard to join the team. But once they were all working together, the synergies began.

“We had spent years clipping photos from magazines and had collected two binders’ full,” the owner said. “A photo is indeed worth a thousand words.” Having lived in small spaces in Asia, the owners wanted ample storage. They also craved interiors that were simple, organized and clutter-free. “Sandy did an amazing job of helping create that and used storage spaces to provide an element of design.” The wall unit in their bedroom is a case in point. When Nygaard first suggested it, the owners thought it would be too imposing.

“Now I find quite the opposite,” said the owner. “It gives the room a coziness and warmth, as well as being incredibly useful.” The master suite extends along the east side of the house, with the bedroom facing the view. The walk-in closet is in the middle and a large bathroom is at the back. Light pours into the tub from a huge skylight and also filters through an adjacent walled garden with an Asian theme. The meditative space can also be enjoyed through the shower window. “The owners have a hectic life and wanted their home to be a relaxing retreat,” Baker said.

“The whole feeling is one of calm. Nothing is overly ornate or stimulating.” They also wanted a family home away from the city, where their three children (ages 13, 10 and eight) could enjoy green space and water, and they wanted a place to entertain friends and relatives. “Having spent time abroad, we wanted to merge the simplicity of modern Asian architecture with the West Coast contemporary look,” said the owner. “The house design does that beautifully. It has lots of zones, so it never feels crowded, even with larger groups.”

Yet the space is not overwhelming. “You can sit on a chair and not feel diminished or insignificant in the space,” Baker said. With its West Coast contemporary vibe, the home is an organic expression of the land it rests on. “We used a lot of rock and cedar in the exterior — authentic materials that give it a sense of place.” But Baker also revels in juxtapositions and asymmetry. The horizontal cedar, treated with marine oil to show the grain and to blend with the earth and greenery, is contrasted with vertical, corrugated metal siding.

Inside, the colours, textures and masses were just as judiciously chosen by designer Nygaard, who added many special elements, such as her custom, cold-rolled steel hood fan. Downstairs is a large entertainment room, bedrooms for the children, a control room that “holds the brains of the house” (the computer and entertainment systems) and a long, wide hall. One side of this clever, dual-purpose space opens to reveal a vast linear laundry area, as a series of doors slides away. One of the downstairs bathrooms also opens onto a path leading to the dock and hot tub, so bathers can dash in and shower, or towel off.

The builder, president of Hemsworth Master Builders, said the home took 16 months to complete and construction included a “complicated steel framework” to ensure it can withstand an earthquake. “We put steel on all the outside corners,” he said of the 6,400-square-foot, two-level home. (That figure includes garage, guest suite and basement.) He noted plenty of blasting was needed to create garage space for two cars and a boat, and it was “a bit of a challenge getting down to the wharf” because of the steep slope.

The house, finished in 2010, did well at the 2011 provincial Georgie Awards for residential construction, winning gold for best single-family detached residence in the $1-million-to-$2-million range; best kitchen between $40,000 and $100,000; and best interior design in a custom residence. The year before, it took home three gold CARE awards — for residential construction on Vancouver Island — for best single-family detached custom house built for $1 million to $2 million and best master suite larger than 500 square feet, and won the award for indoor environmental achievement and energy efficiency.

Victoria Times Colonist

 

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