February 27, 2012

Victoria home takes pre-fab to a whole new level


Stylish Vancouver Island residence is an example of what can be done with ‘Lego-style’ technology

BY GRANIA LITWIN

It’s an overcast day in February outside a new grey house in Victoria that stands at the top of a broad, inclined driveway. But there’s nothing dull or dreary about this contemporary home recently built by Chris and Jenny Marshall in the Fernwood neighbourhood.

It’s as sophisticated and tailored as an Armani suit, and if it were a person, it would likely be strutting down an Italian catwalk or posing for the Parisian fashion paparazzi. The interiors are pared down. The palette is monochrome, ranging from mother-of pearl to a deep, rich charcoal.

And like a meticulously styled power suit, even the lining is elegant. A peek inside the silver-coloured kitchen cabinets and drawers reveals a decorative laminate in a dog-bone pattern. Every haute-couture outfit needs a sharp-looking pocket square and the living room has the perfect flourish — a scattering of chartreuse silk cushions in a fresh celery tone drawn from a painting above the sofa.

Heated grey ceramic tiles pave most of the main floor, along with grooved carpet tiles that look and feel like fine corduroy. Bright walls provide just the right contrast, like a crisp white shirt. “It’s a challenge when you have a theme this strict,” said Victoria designer Bruce Wilkin. “Working with the idea of all-grey outside, we brought in a lot of disparate items: the stucco, the paint, the flashing. There was no contrast colour. But inside, we made it all white, with lots of grey accents and textures — like the ceramic tile and the lined carpet tile. It was very unusual to use that commercial product in a residential building.”

The tailored look suits the couple. The Marshalls are owner-partners of Eclipse Creative, a communications agency. Jenny, who studied at Emily Carr School of Art and is a graphic designer, is creative director, while Chris is the general business manager. He took a year off work at Eclipse to act as general contractor for their new house. One of his first challenges was a site that was almost solid rock and required $60,000 in blasting and excavating. Once the foundations were in, the walls and roof went up quickly because he and Wilkin used a pre-construction system from Pacific Homes.

“I think it is the best way to build today. Completely custom, all locked together, very energy-efficient. You could heat this home with a candle,” Chris said. “The home is modular and built like a kit house,” explained Wilkin. “Everything is laser-marked, all the cuts and studs. It comes together Lego-style and is very precise.” As for interior finishing, the kitchen is one of his favourite rooms with its subtle and elegant components, including a “continuous, discrete strip of metal on top of all the drawers and doors, so hardware is seamless.”

They discussed the idea of black counters, but chose white quartz and have used it throughout the house for a contemporary look, with squared edges. Some of the elements Jenny likes most are the wood-wrapped stairs and fireplace, the jewel-box kitchen with its sparkling tiles, and the small cosy den. “We’re minimalists, and I find this house a very calming environment.”

The term pre-fab used to conjure images of boring design and box housing. Not any more. “We build only at the opposite end of the spectrum,” said Andrew Hallet, project consultant at Pacific Homes.

Founded in 1982, the family-owned firm specializes in pre-fabricated custom home and cottage packages. It makes about 100 homes a year, shipping them to places that include Alberta, Yukon, Alaska, Korea, the Bahamas, Costa Rica and Mongolia. “In Korea, our homes are seen as luxury items.”

Hallet said the company’s system simplifies building and has many advantages over traditional construction. “There are savings in framing time, fewer trades to deal with, a safer job site, less waste, guaranteed fixed price and increased thermal efficiency.” Customers send plans to the company, which feeds them into a computer-aided design program.

“We build each house in the computer before we cut a single piece of lumber, and by doing this we catch a lot of mistakes. That saves fixing things on site.” Walls, trusses and floor systems are pre-cut, numbered and treated for mould, moisture and fire. Pieces are delivered locally by crane truck, and overseas in containers. Components are assembled like an Ikea kit.

Pacific Homes has made thousands of houses ranging from 500-square-foot cabins to 10,000-square-foot homes. The cost is $40 to $50 a square foot and includes windows, glass, doors, siding, roofing, insulation, floor systems, drywall, interior doors and all trim, Hallet said. “The system is faster to build and better built for about the same [cost] or less. A house is typically locked up in seven to 10 days.”

Victoria Times Colonist

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