House Beautiful: A collector’s paradise by the sea in Oak Bay

Not every woman would agree to putting a pool table in the dining room or hanging a giant model of a de Havilland Gipsy Moth over the bed.

But Judy McKerlie loves how her husband, John, has decorated their unique and fascinating Oak Bay home, and they both share a deep love of collecting.

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Downstairs is another wonder. Here they have created a rustic guest cottage inside a large lower-level room. An homage to their former place at Shawnigan Lake, it’s designed to give guests a fun and woodsy experience when they come to stay.

As for the afore-mentioned nine-ball pool table in the dining room, it elicits different reactions. While male visitors drool and ask John how he got away with it, “Women tend to ignore it and walk right by,” he said.

That’s just a small sample of the delightfully quirky home of the McKerlies, who retired here from Ontario, bringing an array of exceptional collectibles.

In every room are surprises and small wonders, ranging from old walking sticks and exquisite model ships to decoy ducks, antique golf clubs, football memorabilia and oil canvasses painted by John, who painted virtually every picture in the house.

Then there is the board and batten siding and grasscloth on the walls, sisal carpets on the floor and shiplap, which they added to the ceilings, all lending the home a Nantucket beach house ambience.

And the McKerlies do indeed have a dining table, just not where expected.

When the couple moved in, noting that the dining room didn’t have a view, they created an eating area at the view-end of the living room in what used to be a screen porch.

Instead of a predictable collection of candlesticks or flowers down the middle of their antique pine table, the owners have arranged a detailed replica of a CNR train, built by an artist in La Conner, Washington, an engineer who worked on the original.

“John is my decorator,” said Judy, and it does appear that there is no end to his talents, from interior planning to the design and construction of whimsical driftwood birdhouses.

An eighth generation resident of London, Ont., John travelled west for a vacation with his children in the early 1980s and was spellbound.

“I figured the people who lived here were the luckiest in the world,” he recalled. “We left slush and snow at home and found full-blown spring here.”

He and Judy first bought property at Shawnigan and enjoyed cottage life where she, a former national rowing champion, could also work out in her shell on the lake.

But after some years, they decided Shawnigan was “pretty quiet and we were coming into Victoria three or four times a week.” They moved to Victoria and found a home on Newport Avenue. They bought their current home in 2004.

Judy, who began rowing in singles, doubles and eights at Brock University and went on to win three national titles, now rows at the Whitehall Spirit Rowing Club in boats at nearby Oak Bay Marina.

The two also enjoy golfing, and John continues to be a keen renovator, having redesigned three houses and built one from scratch.

Their Oak Bay home was built in 1948 close to the waterfront and although remodelled over the years by previous owners, it needed a lot of work.

“It was very rough when we first saw it, but we like projects and saw the potential,” said the businessman, who started out in the automotive business and then ran a 150-year old, landmark flower shop in London for 25 years.

Their home’s kitchen was previously a small galley-style space on the street side of the house, and had been moved to the ocean side by previous owners.

The McKerlies updated it with Jason Good Cabinets and created an office for John where the kitchen had been.

They cut a large hole in a wall between the living room and hall — where they placed a replica of the Bluenose — and removed another wall that had encased a dark stairway leading to the lower level.

They redid the master ensuite, replacing the tub with a generous shower and adding tile to the floors and walls, and a shiplap ceiling,

Then they built the small “cottage” on the lower level. “People feel very comfortable here and say they’ve had the best sleeps ever,” Judy said with a smile.

Some of their more subtle improvements included redoing patio doors so they all open outwards, instead of in.

“It was a massive reno and took about six months,” said Judy, noting her husband is adept at renovating and remodelling. He once renovated an old, long-abandoned garden cottage as a home. It stood on property that had been subdivided off a large estate near London and the result became the centrefold feature in House & Home magazine.

He is quick to add that it’s not every wife who would allow her husband a free hand and be so supportive.

“Judy should take a lot of credit too, although her real passion has been teaching primary school kids, and kids with disabilities.”

While their home looks like a one-level building from the street, it’s actually two, thanks to the sloping lot.

It used to have two small bedrooms on the main floor, but one is now a painting studio for John, while the other is a card room that wouldn’t look out of place in the Empress Hotel with its antique furniture, Persian carpet and dark-papered paisley walls.

A sunroom was also added at the front.

Jutting out from the house, it’s a relaxing space with views of the garden on three sides. “We originally thought of creating a garden cottage, but our son suggested an addition to the house instead, and it has worked out very well,” said John, noting Brent Chomack Construction did the project.

They both emphasize that the garden is very much the result of previous owners’ efforts, but the McKerlies have added their own character.

Among other things, they removed some fencing and “architecture” that divided the property up and hindered flow. They also added a hot tub on the ocean side and had Tony Hubers at Shibusa Ponds build a water feature near the front door.

“He was terrific,” said John, noting they are lucky to have a garden that gives them so much privacy, as well as shelter from the wind and sea spray.

“Gardening here was a pleasant surprise because things grow so quickly. Everything seems to just burst into bloom, and is exaggerated…

“There is always lots of pruning to do, as shrubs and trees grow quickly, but this is one of those gardens you can leave for a month and not do anything.”

And after 40 years in which he didn’t paint much, he has been inspired to get back to his easel. “I go in spurts and really enjoy getting lost in the creative process.”

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