House Beautiful: A ‘cottage’ getaway close to the city

There’s nothing like a vacation home, that cosy bungalow or bolt hole where you can escape the commotion of the city, revel in the countryside and enjoy some extra space between you and your neighbours.

For an out-of-the box thinker like Andrew Beckerman — who has a large condo in the Bayview One building — the idea of a holiday retreat doesn’t involve braving the Malahat on a busy Friday afternoon or riding a ferry to a Gulf Island. The retired architect can lock his condo and be at his “cottage” in 12 minutes.

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Located just five kilometres away in Fairfield, in the soothing shade of a quiet (almost country) road, his holiday destination is a small apartment in a house that he designed and built a dozen years ago. He no longer owns the house, but rents its secondary suite. “I am very comfortable in my Bayview home, but I can go a whole week without seeing my next-door neighbours. I wanted to have a place where I could reconnect with neighbours and my old neighbourhood. So this is cottage country for me,” said Beckerman.

He uses the little apartment a couple of times a month, and offers it to visiting friends and family, too. “But my main motivation in assuming a nine-year lease was to also make this space available to local charities and societies in the community, for when they want to house visiting consultants and speakers, or applicants coming to town for interviews.”

“This is so charities don’t have to absorb the expense of hotels.” The location is ideal: a couple of blocks from a bus stop that connects to downtown, the University of Victoria and Camosun College, and a short stroll to Fairfield Plaza.

Beckerman regularly supports societies such as the Victoria Foundation, Cool-Aid, Our Place, AIDS Vancouver Island, the Together Against Poverty Society, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Pacific Opera — but is keen to offer his second home to other non-profits, too.

“While I enjoy packing up a small bag of supplies and bicycling out to spend the weekend in my cottage,” he hopes the attractive, art-filled pièd-a-terre can also fill a useful gap for others.

Since moving here from the United States 14 years ago, and becoming a Canadian citizen four years ago, he has been a major patron of many groups. Among his numerous gifts has been the donation of $750,000 in art to the AGGV.

The architect built this silver and blue, corrugated steel-sided home in 2006, and when he decided to move back into the 650-square-foot suite, after it had been rented for many years, he upgraded the finishings and rethought the lighting.

Although it is half the square footage of his condo, he also managed to display 44 pieces of art there, compared with just 36 in his Songhees home — partly because the latter has almost two full walls of glass.

His art ranges from antique Navajo rugs and Santa Fe pottery, to paintings, prints, carvings, Thai tapestries and Indian brass. He also loves photography, and recently found an old envelope containing photos he took of Cairo decades ago. They now march along his office walls.

His Bayview condo doesn’t lend itself to storing many books, due again to the windows, and although he has given many away, he is holding onto his favourite tomes. With this in mind, he designed a Lilliputian library in a deep closet, and, in the process, created two tall narrow walls areas on either side for artworks.

“My books mirror my travels [including his passion for Italian palazzos] and a lot of them relate to my art collection, including many pieces which are going to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The staff members there are not necessarily familiar with or knowledgeable about Native American painters and potters in the context of New Mexico,” so the books will be a valuable resource.

Many of the details in Beckerman’s home are works of art in themselves, simple and inexpensive to conceive. For instance, a sleek, silver handrail on the staircase is made from a length of standard rectangular stainless steel tube with caps welded onto the ends. He chose a finish with texture so it doesn’t show fingerprints.

With a little imagination and ingenuity such simple items, fabricated from standard materials, can become unique elements.

“The contemporary wood panelling on the walls and ceiling of the main floor is just carefully fitted 4x8, 4x9 and 4x10 foot sheets of standard plywood, but it wraps you in a wonderful warm glow.

“I don’t have a lot of artwork on these walls because I want people to see the panelling. It’s a statement.”

The panelling helps the small space look larger because of its reflective quality and the use of one continuous material. “Because the ceiling is also panelled, you don’t notice it is a little on the low side, barely eight feet compared to upstairs where the ceilings are 10 to 13 feet high.”

The upper floor’s higher ceilings make the room seem bigger, and also gave him the opportunity to expand the storage potential by adding lofts in both the bedroom and office.

In his bedroom, he created a starry-night effect by installing an LED projector above a suspended panel drilled with recessed pinpoints. The twinkling lights above create a magical effect in the dark and can be put on a timer.

The large dining-room table, custom made for his former home in California, was cut down from 40x90 inches to 30x60 to fit the new space, and an offcut of granite was used to handsomely top a bookcase in the main

room.

When rethinking his kitchen, he decided to lighten it up by painting the original veneered cabinets a glossy white to match the appliances. He hired Rockstar Finishes to give them their high-gloss, plastic look and also replaced the dark backsplash.

“The appliances were white, and I wasn’t about to replace them all, so I made them disappear in an all-white wall.”

Small white tiles now stretch to the ceiling, adding more reflection and light, and a large mirror over the sink mimics a window. “Ideally, you always want to have a window over the sink,” he said, adding this acts like one, and he hung it high enough to avoid splashes.

Here is his email for those wanting to inquire about the suite for charitable benefit: adbeck@shaw.ca

Note: This feature appeared in Capital Magazine on April 28, but with incorrect photos and captions.n

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