June 18, 2012

Remaking former Sooke B&B a major undertaking

Stonemason has been working on site for past 18 months to get the look just right

BY GRANIA LITWIN

Mazel Chamberlain would rather be fishing than gardening. In fact, she’d rather be casting a line or setting a crab trap than doing almost anything — but she is also getting hooked on the favourite Vancouver Island pastime. “Gardening in Sooke is a big change after Calgary and I’ve now got very squished-in knees and dirty fingernails,” she joked, adding she enjoys the challenge of discovering new plants and experimenting with exotics in Canada’s “banana belt.”

“My husband and I have lots of fun going on plant hunts and trying out all kinds of new things, like passion fruit, which I am planting for the first time this year.” Mazel and Don bought a two-acre waterfront property in Sooke — about a 40-minute drive from downtown Victoria — five years ago and plan to retire there one day. Currently, they divide their time between Sooke and Calgary, where she used to work as a contractor and house renovator. Her husband, Don, is a geophysicist.

Their waterfront home was once a bed and breakfast, and years before that it was a small cottage, of which remnants can still be seen in the main floor ceiling. But for the past three and a half years, general contractor Joe Kadar has been remodelling the existing structure and building additions to turn it back into a private home. Meanwhile, a stonemason has toiled for almost one and a half years, creating huge terraces and pathways as part of a major garden redesign.

It’s still a work in progress, Mazel said. But, there’s a new smokehouse and crab-trap shack, a guest cottage and a greenhouse. The Chamberlains can stroll through the multi-terraced garden, loll on a massive new dock and admire the grand, centuries-old, shaggy-barked cedar trees and a colossal sequoia. “Aren’t they marvellous trees? I don’t want the garden to look too formal because it is not a formal setting. I want to keep some of the areas completely wild,” Mazel said.

One of the property’s highlights is a cosy guest house, which has double screen doors and a dramatic wall painted by Kwagiulth artist Carey Newman, who also designed a bed headboard inside. The mural was painted about 10 years ago when the property was still a bed and breakfast, and the artwork has been refurbished and preserved by the Chamberlains. Wanting something to face the sea and represent the West Coast, Mazel recently acquired a first nations totem, which she placed under a deck to protect it from the elements.

But her favourite spot on the property is a newly enclosed garden next to the house, where she is planting colourful cutting flowers, veggies, herbs and more. “I spent a lot of time planning this and it’s the part I really like. It sort of wraps its arms around you. I’m filling the beds with beautiful things that have nice scent, like lilies and peonies, also tomatoes, herbs … a smattering of everything.”

The rustic pine chairs are more than 45 years old. “I bought them at K-Mart when we first moved to Calgary many years ago. They were $5 each and very sturdy. They’ve lasted and lasted, with about 20 coats of paint,” she said. While used to dealing with deer in Alberta, the owners are delighted to report that not a single one has tried to jump into the new kitchen garden, even though the fence is not particularly high.

The greenhouse was added last year — “the old one was a lean-to full of rats” — and this spring’s project was to finish the smokehouse, which has a chimney decorated with a large medallion of the Norse sea goddess Ran, with a large salmon positioned above it. Mazel admits she’s obsessed with fishing — luckily, her husband likes driving boats.

“He likes to navigate and he puts up with me,” she joked, adding her passion for fishing came naturally while growing up in Williams Lake, surrounded by streams and lakes. “I’ve been fishing on the West Coast probably 25 years now and ocean fishing has really spoiled me, because you can actually catch fish,” she said with a grin, adding that having a dock right out front was a big draw in moving west.

She’s also a fan of topiary and tried making some herself once. “They take a good five years to look like anything and it’s a lot of work, by the time you’ve made the armature and got it growing, and clipped. The ones I made ended up looking like little balls.” So she bought a topiary crane instead, along with a bear for the front garden. She found the latter in Calgary and hauled it all the way here. “He seems to be losing an arm right now, but we hope it will grow back.”

When they drive west from Calgary, they often use their 1985 Vandura camper. “It smells like halibut and the speedometer has gone around three times, but it’s the only vehicle we can leave and come back to ages later and it still starts,” said Mazel, who is often spotted cruising in gumboots and a lumberman’s jacket. It’s this kind of attitude that make the couple so fun to work with, said contractor Kadar. “They are terrific people, really humble, and they treat everyone like gold,” he said. “Don is a real detail guy who likes everything built strong and well the first time. He lets you do a good job.”

Kadar recently finished a three-storey addition to the 7,000-square-foot house. It includes a three-car garage, gigantic exercise room (which also holds fishing rods and boating gear) and a 1,500-square-foot guest suite. Kadar also restored and reconditioned the guest cottage, constructed several outbuildings, renovated the interior and added five feet to the dining room, along with a dramatic covered patio where all the beams except one made of pine were milled from trees on site.

“We stripped the whole property from the house down to the dock and completely rebuilt it with terraces and retaining walls,” said the owner of Kadar Developments, who has been in construction 30 years and specializes in everything from small renos to large custom homes. “We made the caps first and brought the rocks up underneath for a perfect edge.”

Special to the Victoria Times Colonist

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