February 26, 2013

Composer combines love of music, design

Music By the Sea Festival founder renovates Ten Mile Point penthouse from top to bottom

Victoria Times Colonist

Christopher Donison is a pianist, composer, librettist, conductor, lecturer and founder of the Music By the Sea Festival in Bamfield on Vancouver Island. But he is also an interior designer of some note, and recently transformed his parents’ former Wedgewood Point penthouse in Ten Mile Point by renovating it from top to bottom. “Architecture and music are not all that different,” explained the former musical director of the Shaw Festival, who serves on the board of the National Arts Centre.

“They are not incompatible. Architects and composers talk about the same things all the time: density, form, composition, structure. Colour is just a wavelength, you know. “Music has harmony, and you can see harmony in your surroundings,” said the jovial composer who sketched houses in his spare time all through grade school and once dreamed of becoming an architect. His talent for interior design has paid off, too. As soon as he finished decorating his penthouse, someone bought it, and he’s now planning his next project. “I want to build my own home from scratch, maybe on the Malahat because I love that view, looking down at the water … and up to the stars at night. That’s something that I love about this penthouse, too.”

But before leaving his home to star gaze from a new location, Donison will host one last, lavish dinner party at the penthouse. The extravaganza — with musical interludes by Donison and a menu prepared by Italian chef Gianfranco Mosca — will be auctioned off as part of an upcoming fundraiser for Music By the Sea. Mosca is a friend who helped plan Donison’s new kitchen, created by Urbana. “Every time Gianfranco came over, the cost went up another $20,000,” quipped Donison, who is delighted with the sizzling results.

One of Mosca’s best pieces of advice was to move the range from the inside wall to the new island — where a cook can admire views of Mount Baker and cruising killer whales while rustling up a meal. “This truly is a great kitchen and I have to hand it to Urbana, who did all the cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom,” Donison said. One of the most intriguing cabinets is an innovative $2,000 vertical wine cellar. “It doesn’t need refrigeration because it never gets direct sunlight and is backed by a cement column. I love my wine column.”

Rosemary and Wes Donison bought the condo when it was new in 1990. Their conductor son spent more than a year redesigning the 2,500-square-foot home. “This building was very well constructed to begin with,” said Donison, adding that he enjoyed the renovation process. “I have completely redone a couple of houses before, so I had some experience, but there was a lot to figure out here … and everything was dusty rose and pink — the marble, the carpets, the wallpaper.” He decided to make it over to the highest quality he could possibly manage, as a tribute to his parents’ memory.

“There was a little bit of grieving going on during the process. … My parents loved this place and entertained here a lot, so I wanted to be respectful of that and also give the penthouse some impact, whether I kept it or not. My mother used to ask me: ‘What would you do with this place?’ but I never thought I’d ever have the chance, being a starving artist.” After inheriting it, he began dreaming about all the changes he could make and ended up spending about $300,000. His first move was to rip out the wall-to-wall carpet. The Finishing Store did a “fabulous job” in laying the eastern maple floors, after Donison did extensive research into options.

“The industry has convinced everyone that prefinished, engineered flooring is the way to go, but I didn’t want bevels that would collect dirt and crumbs in the cracks. The only way to get a really tight floor with a square edge is to have it laid on site. So that’s what I did. This floor is glued on cork, then sanded, filled and finished. “It certainly costs more than a prefinished floor, but the premium is not as onerous as you might imagine, given it took three weeks to install instead of two days,” he said, happily gazing around the smooth honey-coloured floors.

“Not only is it gorgeous, but it functions so damn well.” The fireplace, previously covered in dusty rose marble, is now aglow with Vancouver Island Carmanah black marble. The ensuite vanity is white marble from Tahsis. “The slabs were too big to bring up in the elevator, so it all had to be loaded in by crane.” Being an expert in audio tones, he was also meticulous about choosing shades of colour to harmonize with the light and seascape. “The ocean plays a big part here. That’s where the decisions came from. Each room is slightly different, but they flow into one another — and most of the floor is the colour of sand.”

Donison chose granite for the kitchen countertops and believes one of the reasons the penthouse sold so quickly was the colour palette he chose after hours and hours of contemplation. “I worked for a long time on the colours and repainted some walls three times. For instance, the bathroom didn’t look right when we installed the glass door. The tone was all wrong, whereas it’s perfect now.” He used 10 different greeny blues and bluey greys in the penthouse, paying special attention to transition hues. While ensuring the colours would flow, he also removed two short walls to increase traffic movement and improve sightlines from the kitchen, nook and dining room out to sea. He noted that decorator Gillian Murray helped with some of the finishing touches and knick-knacks.

He also spent about $6,000 to remove all the textured ceilings. “If I had done all this but not the ceilings, it would have been a waste of money. It would have still looked dated.”

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