April 2, 2012

From Barn To Sustainable Home

Couple finds ‘dollhouse’ for aging mom and gutted horse quarters for unique living space

BY CRANIA LITWIN

Imagine walking down a narrow lane just a few paces east of Victoria’s Cook Street Village and suddenly seeing a small red barn dating back to 1890 — that’s what Nicole Chaland and David Lennam did two years ago. They were looking for a place to live with his mother Una, 84, so they could care for her in her later years.

“We wanted to live together — but not together together,” said Chaland, adding neither of them wanted to be in a dark basement suite. So they were scoping properties near the village, looking for a home advertised with a carriage house. “It ended up being more like a shed,” she recalled, but as they were leaving, a man across the street came out of his house and suggested they look at his place. It wasn’t listed, but had a red barn out back with a legal suite, and was accessed via a lane.

It turned out the house was ideal for Mom — “a delightful, immaculate dollhouse,” Lennam said — and the barn was perfect for them. More than a century old, it had once accommodated four horse stalls and a large hay loft. Chaland immediately saw its potential as a tailor-made space for their ultra-green lifestyle. Today, thanks to her vision, it is a unique 1,000-square-foot home with a welcoming country kitchen and serene, open-concept master bedroom and office upstairs.

The kitchen countertops are made out of wood from old bowling lanes. The floors are recycled planks and the giant harvest table used wood from the old Walmart store. It all began when the duo picked up crowbars and sledgehammers, invited some friends over and began the demolition. Reconstruction started in the fall of 2010 and the work was completed in just two months.

Lennam, who is a freelance writer, gives credit to Chaland for the transformation from barn to glowing example of modern sustainability. “I wasn’t really concerned about the environment until I met Nicole,” Lennam said. “Nicole took the lead on the design and Landeca [a Victoria integrated property service company] had the skills,” Lennam said.

“They were very good at going along with and enhancing everything she suggested. And their unbelievable craftsman — James McDonald — is a perfectionist par excellence.” Chaland is program director of Sustainable Community Development at Simon Fraser University. Her passion for community development, affordable housing and the integration of ecological and economic practices is evident in the home’s every detail. “It was so cool that Landeca could see the potential,” she said.

“The guys got excited about our goal to reduce our ecological footprint — and spent hours and hours sanding this,” she said, pointing to her kitchen counter. The wood once lined a bowling lane in Nanaimo. She found it at Demxx Deconstruction, a demolition and salvage company in Coombs on Vancouver Island. The new flooring is made from recycled planks in extra-long lengths, some measuring up to 14 feet. Glulam trusses reclaimed from the old Walmart store were used to make their harvest table and bench. (Glulam is a structural composite made from dimensional lumber that is glued together.)

One of the most appealing features on the main floor is the newly exposed, original ceiling that they uncovered beneath the drywall. The new, eye-catching nine-foot-high, tri-fold door looks expensive. But, bought at Lumberworld, it’s the value version of a Nana Wall folding glass system. It connects the kitchen and garden, adding 800 square feet of living space on warm days. The only two interior doors are hung from modern barn sliders.

Shopping around for appliances saved money and ensured satisfaction. Chaland put 30 hours of research into buying her cooktop alone. Chaland even found her farmhouse sink at Ikea. It cost $220 compared to $700 for other versions. Her cupboards, also from Ikea, came with a 25-year warranty. The couple wanted to keep the barn’s rustic feel, which ended up being easier than they thought.

The home is simple and inviting. Even Lennam’s mom is delighted. At first, she was unsettled in her new digs and missed her old neighbourhood. But now she is “perfectly happy” and thinks what they have done to the barn is “tremendous and exciting.” The main floor is all country kitchen, except for a walk-in closet measuring six feet by 14 feet.

Upstairs is a large bedroom with free-standing tub, compact bathroom and office. ‘“You don’t have to be some kind of millionaire to do this,” he said. The project ended up costing about $80,000 — and that was higher than anticipated because the barn needed a new $30,000 foundation. “When we took up the carpet and the old plywood, we found the floor had buckled and looked like the Sea of Japan,” he said with a groan. In any reno, there is always an element of surprise, said Landeca owner Michael Dingle.

“We knew the building had had some historic settling, but we discovered the foundation was in complete disrepair. There was a large chasm in the middle and we needed new footings, including one under a new main post in the kitchen. “Renovation is the noble part of the construction and design business, but it’s a tough practice because of all the unknowns involved,” he said. “When we met the owners, I knew immediately we were interested in the same things. This is true infill development and it’s as sustainable as it gets,” Dingle said.

Victoria Times Colonist

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