June 3, 2013

Couple brings the outside in with alterations

Conservatory allows avid gardeners to enjoy the beauty of outdoors from comfort of indoors

Victoria Times Colonist

VICTORIA — When avid gardener Carol Turnham and her husband Harold decided to renovate their home in the Uplands neighbourhood, her first thought was to add a conservatory so they could enjoy growing plants year-round and bring the outside in. “I can see the garden on all three sides of this glass room,” she said gleefully. Recently, others could too, because Carol’s conservatory — as well as her whole whimsical garden — was featured on the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s garden tour.

Carol says her sunroom has done more than add greenery to her house and sparkle to the garden. The decision to add a glass room triggered a cascade of changes throughout the 1965 home’s main floor. When it was added onto the dining room, the newly expanded and brightened space suddenly became a great room and focus of all the house happenings. A formal long, lean living room was re-incarnated as a generously proportioned dining room, with a grand piano at one end, and the former television room and cramped kitchen were married into one large space, becoming the warm heart of the home.

Skylights were cut through the formerly dark, two-storey foyer roof, which used to have burgundy-lacquered walls and “looked like a cave.” Now the pale walls are alive with a cheerful, creeping-vine pattern wallpaper and the space is flooded with light. “We needed to renovate because both my husband and I come from very large families and we have four children and six grandchildren,” said Carol, who noted it’s not unusual for them to have 30 people for dinner.

The half-acre property is often the location of garden parties, too. “I have tables and chairs for up to 100 people,” Carol said. More than a dozen tables and scores of chairs are scattered around the garden on a regular basis and the rest are stored behind a large hedge, ready for the next fete. Her garden is full of whimsical touches and more than a whiff of Alice in Wonderland, with an oversized clock, miniature teacups on stakes, a chandelier hanging from a huge oak bough, cards with witty sayings hidden under hosta plants and children’s toys adrift in seas of green and deep herbaceous borders.

A former swing-set has been repurposed to support sweetpeas, while nearby is a tall eucalyptus tree that Carol salvaged in a bedraggled state from the Oak Bay municipal dump. “I just keep collecting and collecting. I now have about 175 roses and many fruit trees, too.” Carol credits a six-week design course at Camosun College with giving her the impetus to create a garden. “That’s what inspired me to start digging. The property here was previously very dried out with many unhappy shrubs, a scrubby lawn and an old, non-functioning concrete pond. My husband and I dug out the pond and because there were some boggy areas, we created three new ponds and a little stream bed under a bridge.”

They decided to “take the plunge” and do the renovation after living in the home for 28 years, said Carol, who did all the tile work around the fireplaces and hung all the wallpaper herself, even in the foyer, where she balanced on a scaffold. “I enjoy doing this kind of thing,” said the former teacher and fibre artist, who was born in Edmonton. She said her husband, a lawyer, “earns the money and I find frugal ways to spend it.”

The glass room is her pride and joy and was the creation of David Maxey, a specialist in sunrooms and conservatories. “A British conservatory is much higher and more ornate than a typical sunroom,” said the expert at Allied Glass, explaining the difference. “This one is a Victorian conservatory with a faceted front, a very open design and lots of special detail.” Its roof system uses aluminum extrusions to hold the glass, while the walls are made of structural vinyl. The glass is double-glazed with high-efficiency panes that give it the efficiency of triple-glazed windows.

“They are very high-quality windows that increase passive solar gain in the winter.” Upper sections came from England and were assembled here, while lower walls were made locally. “We had to upgrade the engineering for our weather,” said Maxley, who has built glass rooms and conservatories for more than 20 years, for clients as far away as Florida and California, and as near as the Gulf Islands and Minter Gardens on the Lower Mainland.

Some clients want simple sunrooms, while others hire him to cover outdoor pools. He explained the Uplands project was more demanding than most, because the owners didn’t want a visible beam in the conservatory or their new kitchen. “Usually, when you cut through a wall, you add a beam, but here the owners wanted them hidden — and they had to span 17 feet in the conservatory, 22 feet in the kitchen, and carry a full roof above.”

The result is a much more open feeling, “and more light because you don’t drop down a foot,” said Maxley, who oversaw the entire renovation, which was built by Duncan Maffia. The project included a lot of new windows, especially in the kitchen, but Maxley said the owners didn’t change any of the sizes or shapes. “They did a beautiful job on this reno, and they filled the conservatory with gorgeous plants. That’s just how they’ve been used for hundreds of years.”

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