Civil engineering was her first career choice, but after 15 years in Alberta’s oil and gas industry, Barbara decided she wanted to work from home — and to start designing them as well, from the inside out.
She earned an architectural drawing certificate at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and during the past dozen years, the Calgary professional has worked as an architectural designer, focusing on new construction and renovated high-quality, inner-city homes for other people.
But until now, she had not created a home for herself and her husband, Richard.
About six years ago they bought a lot in Sidney and their new West Coast-modern house gradually took shape. They recently moved into the comfortable, contemporary space with softly curving walls, sunken living room enfolded by a wide, half-moon stairway, rounded glass clerestory windows and sinuous kitchen island.
The owners, both in their mid-50s, were tired of conservative homes.
“We had a lot of 45-degree angles in past houses,” said Barbara, who also included curves in the sweeping landscaping of their new waterfront garden, which took several years to plan and execute.
“I spent the first year just doing the massing, blocking things out to see how the building’s shape looked and worked with the lot, which slopes to the water and the side.” The half-acre property had previously been divided into two R2-zoned lots, allowing four dwellings.
But she and Richard (who asked to use only their first names) chose to build a two-unit strata development instead, with the main home on two levels of 2,500 square feet each, and an attached bungalow of 1,300 square feet, where Richard’s mother lives.
Richard, who describes himself as a “mostly retired” geophysicist, said their reason for moving to Sidney was simple. Whipping out his cellphone, he illustrated his point with a picture of a car that had rolled onto its roof in a recent snowstorm.
“This is how it is in Calgary today,” he said gleefully.
Their home was built by Coastal Construction and, during those 18 months, the owners commuted from Calgary every few weeks. Barbara designed the interiors, too, but relied on Coastal’s interior expert Adriana Sharoun for local knowledge.
“Barbara has a strong design background and is very details-oriented, but needed a little help because of not knowing local suppliers,” said Sharoun. “They have great personalities and a lot of knowledge.”
Barbara said Coastal’s help was invaluable. “Their construction expertise and advice were essential. We were very involved in the design, but they made it happen.”
The owners wanted a home that was resource- and energy-efficient, with minimal impact on the environment. They achieved a Built Green Canada-certified home at the platinum level, which calls for the highest standards in everything from energy systems and materials to air quality and water conservation.
Almost all the floors are bamboo, as are the cabinets. The kitchen bar is topped with recycled glass made by Sidney artist Rick Silas, and rainwater is collected for irrigation.
Carpets are eco-friendly, pot lights are LED and many products were sourced nearby, such as trusses made in Sidney and K2 Stone from local quarries.
A big fir tree that had to come down on the property provided wood for the dining table and mantle in the bungalow.
The home’s geothermal heat is thanks to the drilling of five 250-foot holes, Richard said.
It cost about $40,000 more than conventional heat, and payback time is 20 to 25 years, but they are delighted to be using a form that creates no carbon emissions, and can also be used for air conditioning in summer.
One of the home’s most striking elements is a see-through glass-and-aluminum elevator with a platform rather than enclosed box.
“We debated about leaving the space for a future elevator or putting one in now, but were advised that specs change, so thought we should do it now,” said Barbara, who also decided to make it a focal point rather than a hidden amenity.
She wanted a flat roof, too, “but my client [my husband] didn’t want one,” so they opted for a low-slope metal roof and love the sound of rain on it, as well as its low maintenance.
They both enjoy the neighbourhood.
“We didn’t like the idea of being out in the country, miles and miles from anywhere … and here we feel we’re right in town, yet in a natural setting,” said Richard, who explained that while his wife did the design work inside and out, he took on tasks such as lighting and the home’s control system.
One of Barbara’s greatest challenges was designing the broadly curving steps down to the living room. The 20-foot diameter sweep is reflected in a curved kitchen island and wall enclosing their two offices.
Keeping on top of decisions from Calgary was difficult — “Every single thing went across my or Richard’s desk. … The only thing I didn’t look at was the studs” — but she is proud of the results and their use of leading-edge products.
“A lot of this stuff is fairly new, but we had the resources to use them and wanted to help advance the technology of home building, to do our bit.”
That they did, said project manager Troy Freeborn. “You don’t see many high-end duplexes like this. The owners didn’t want an over-the-top mansion and are very environmentally conscious.
“It’s the first platinum home we’ve built — and highly energy efficient with geothermal heat, a heat exchanger, full HRV [heating recovery ventilation] system with really high-tech filters; Hardie Board fibre cement siding; permeable landscape pavers; a rainwater harvesting system with 1,500-gallon cistern; insulation and drywall with a high recycled content …”
Many details were challenging, including the curved interior glass clerestory window above a wall dividing den and office rooms, and the wide living-room stairs. “We built them ourselves using big steel stringers and thick bamboo treads.”
The dining room’s drop-frame ceiling was another source of pride. “All the bamboo veneers were laid up in our own millwork shop … and the guys spent a lot of time taking into consideration all the lights and speakers.”
While Coastal has installed many home elevators, “none were like this with a 100 per cent custom glass and aluminum enclosure,” Freeborm said.
“Normally we try to hide elevators, put them in closets, but Barbara wanted it as a feature and it was a real challenge to fabricate with help from Excalibur Glass and Aluminum.”
Another aspect was lighting.
“Richard put a lot of research into LED lighting, which is not exactly mainstream in residential development yet. He researched the options, came up with recessed fixtures that suit the house, played around with different bulbs, light colour, characteristics of spread … we did mock-ups.
“He is a really bright guy who enjoys learning, so this was a real project in itself,” said Freeborn, noting LED bulbs last 25 times longer than incandescents.
The high-tech Richard also chose an Elan g! smart home system to control the home’s audio, video, climate, security, lighting, irrigation and access systems.
“Most people are not very involved when building a house and need some educating,” Freeborn said. “But Barbara knew every square inch of that house … which is pretty cool.”
Coastal has won 17 gold CARE awards (Construction Achievements and Renovations of Excellence), including project of the year twice, and also a provincial Georgie gold award and two national Sam awards for best custom home. Will the company be submitting this house for an award?
“Oh, yes,” Freeborn said with a grin.
© Copyright 2013