House Beautiful: 1953 rancher gets a total remodel in Uplands

In an era when bungalows and ranchers are constantly being razed and monster mansions springing up in their stead, an Uplands couple decided to move in a different direction.

When they first came here from Edmonton five years ago, Barbara Girard and Axel Meisen bought a three-storey house in the Oak Bay enclave.

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“We had wanted a bungalow, but our choice was very slim at that time,” said Barbara, adding the house was far too big. “I soon learned that everything I wanted was always on another floor.”

So they were delighted when the realtor who’d sold it to them called to say he had another buyer who’d seen the place when it was up for sale and desperately wanted it. Were they interested in selling?

“But we’ve just unpacked,” Barbara cried when she heard the news. The determined realtor swiftly rephrased the question: “How much will it take?”

A deal was struck and the couple set about finding the home they really wanted.

They found it five doors down — a 1953 rancher with almost 3,000 square feet on one level.

They took it down to the studs and created a home with much larger windows, fewer walls, a 900-square-foot deck and a totally reimagined garden.

It was designed by architect Shauna Makin and built by contractor Nick Kerridge of Re-design Services.

“They are very, very efficient,” said Barbara, noting the company only does one project at a time, giving it complete focus.

The rebuild ended up costing at least 25 per cent less than building new, said the owners, who have lived and worked in three countries and five provinces, and previously built a home from the ground up.

They both delight in the light that suffuses their new home.

It’s one of the things they love most, thanks to the massive windows that replaced the 1950s-style hip-height ones and the east-facing back of the house, now drenched in light every morning.

“It was a major transformation,” said Axel. “And it was very gratifying that we were able to transform not just a house, but a house from the 1950s, into a house for the 21st century.

It also meets their requirements for “very active aging in place,” said the chemical engineer, a former dean of Applied Sciences at UBC, which included the schools of engineering and architecture.

He and Barbara spent time looking at everything from task lighting to walk-in curb-less showers, non-slip tiles, eliminating tripping hazards and creating extra-wide doorways.

“We know our trajectory here,” said Barbara with a smile. “We know where we’re going.”

Interior demolition and renovation began in 2017 and took five months, after which the owners moved back in while the exterior was updated. Landscaping with more than 500 new trees and shrubs came last, all conceived by Barbara.

They installed a high-efficiency HVAC system that provides both heat and air conditioning. Eco-conscious elements in the home include finishes with low off-gassing, natural materials, water-sparing faucets, low-flush toilets, LED lights and on-demand hot water.

The interior design was inspired by a Ted Godwin painting that hangs on a feature wall between the kitchen and living room.

Waterscapes by Godwin, who was known to paint as if he were standing mid-river, are seen throughout the home. His liquid artworks led to their choice of soft blues, greys, pale yellow and a few splashes of red.

“We wanted a peaceful, harmonious, tranquil environment with flexible living space, lots of big window and natural materials,” said Barbara.

All the wood is Canadian, with cherry cabinets, blond maple flooring and many furniture pieces made in the Scandinavian style by an artist in Newfoundland.

The rooms are larger than normal, especially since the couple combined three bedrooms and a hallway at the rear of the house to make one long living room edged in windows opening onto the vast deck.

The former living room is now their master bedroom, and it’s so large that they created a huge storage closet on one side to hold things like luggage, in addition to an ensuite and generous closets.

Two rooms at the back of the garage were transformed into offices. Each has a Murphy bed and loads of storage, and the two are connected by pocket doors, to create either two guest rooms or one large one.

The roomy kitchen was previously four smaller rooms, including a galley kitchen, bathroom, laundry and pantry.

The couple lived in Vancouver for 30 years while Axel, who was born in Hamburg, was at UBC. He was then asked to take over as president and vice-chancellor of Memorial University in Newfoundland, and was later invited to become chair of foresight with the Alberta Research Council. The Order of Canada holder has continued to be a strategic advisor to numerous groups, including the Universidad de Piura in Peru, which recently gave him a second of his honorary doctorates.

Montreal-born Barbara, who was project manager for their home rebuild, is a strategic planner and change-management expert who created her own company. She works in both private and public sectors, loves music and joined the board of the Victoria Children’s Choir after moving here. She previously was vice-chair of the Shallaway Youth choir in Newfoundland, which now has 450 choristers.

Axel calls the new home their “condo in a garden,” and the two say they are enjoying the environment here immensely.

They see Victoria today as the way Vancouver was 40 years ago.

“But I’m not too happy when I predict that Victoria will be a lot like Vancouver in 20 years,” said Axel.

“We have an opportunity to do something different here, to maintain the special quality of Victoria and Vancouver Island,” said Barbara, adding they love Vancouver and spend quite a bit of time there.

“But we chose to be here because it’s smaller, easier to get around, more eco-friendly and there is a better quality of life.”

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