The sloping waterfront property on Salt Spring Island was very appealing to its new owners because of its southwest exposure and the way the house snuggles into the rocky slope.
But major structural changes were necessary, said builder Derek Sowden. One concern was the roof, which had been been “put on sideways.”
“A roof is usually supported on parallel sides by two strong walls. But in this case, they picked the wrong two sides and supported the trusses on curtain walls, which meant a loss of structural integrity. We had to ensure the house had continually supporting columns, continuing from bottom to top for full point load.”
He hired an engineer to help. The solutions included bringing in four-ply laminated engineered beams on the main floor, and installing a steel beam in the basement to create more usable space on the lower level.
Downstairs was a “forest of posts” that they wanted to get rid of.
“We had to rebuild several beams because they were hanging by a thread with bad connections and bad support,” Sowden said. “The engineer told us there was about 25 per cent of the strength this home should have had.”
The home was built in 1993 and had a lot going for it — deep, 14-inch joists (they are often just 9.5 inches) that allowed lots of space for new in-floor heating, along with good ceiling heights and lots of glass — but it was crying out for improvements
“Before the reno, it was a mediocre house on a great lot,” Sowden said. “Now it’s a great house on a great lot.”
The new owners contacted Sowden last November, handed him the house keys and gave him carte blanche to “make it nice.” “It was a little scary — if I’d really done that, it probably would have ended up looking like a man cave,” he said with a chuckle.
So he called designer Brigit Mitchell and together they rebuilt, refreshed and redesigned the home while its owners were out of town.
“We had a pretty free hand and kept in touch with them by texting and emailing pictures,” said Mitchell. “They basically just told us they wanted warmth and wood.” When the couple finally returned home and saw their new house for the first time, the wife started crying with happiness.
During the seven-month renovation, the owners, who prefer to remain private, came to the island only twice, so the “reveal” was dramatic.
Mitchell said one of the most dramatic areas of change was the kitchen.
Formerly a dead-end alleyway culminating in a fridge that didn’t fully open because of a nearby wall, it had a high peninsula on the right and a green AGA stove on the left.
“There wasn’t room to swing a cat,” said Mitchell, who noted the large green stove was a limiting factor, as the previous owners had used it as inspiration for counter tile, house trim, highlights throughout the room, stair rails — “everything.”
Mitchell said it was Kelly green and Sowden called it British racing green. Whatever the shade, she determined it had to go. The old stove was repurposed and sold, and replaced with a new, four-oven, dark grey AGA.
The new propane stove became a jumping-off point for restyling the entire space. “It needed weight around it, so we used Rocky Mountain hardware, dark soapstone countertop to ground everything and designed a big island. Even the backsplash has an earthiness to balance.”
Such energy-efficient cast iron ranges cost about $20,000 and weigh 584 kilograms. Sowden said it costs about $1,000 just for a certified installer to set it up, but it’s a polished performer and helps heat the whole house.
Cabinets throughout the house are by Peter Young and all the drawers are wood-lined and dowelled and have soft closures.
“Peter is a one-man show,” said Mitchell. “When working with him, there is never an issue that something won’t be perfect.”
The basement also required a complete overhaul. The new owners wanted a clear-span basement, so a steel beam was brought in to replace posts and shelves.
The space now includes a bright, all-white bathroom, a media room with Murphy bed and roll-out hidden ping-pong table, and new storage areas.
It also has what Sowden said is one of the first 4K televisions to be installed in Canada. “It just landed and it’s the highest resolution there is.” The Samsung set costs about $15,000 and has a state-of-the-art sound system.
While the 2,000-square-foot house may look cottagey from the outside, it’s a very “smart” house inside, with abundant wireless controlling systems.
Sowden said the reno was extensive — “Nothing was untouched” — and most of the house was gutted.
“We re-drywalled everything, created square edges where previously all the corners had been round, because that really dates a house.
“We added electronic hydronic heat in the floors, LED lights throughout and on-demand hot water. We reconfigured the skylights, widening and moving them where necessary, replaced all the flooring, added cedar sills and matching doorjambs everywhere.
The three-storey house steps down to the water and also has a new staircase leading from the front door and master-bedroom level down to the main living area.
It used to have heavy banisters and posts, but has been reconfigured with see-through glass. The whole unit wraps around a naturally finished yew tree trunk that seems to grow up the middle.
A mini pantry was added in extra space in the middle landing, and a laundry room was created at the bottom of the staircase in excess basement space.
The bathrooms were gutted and now boast porcelain tile floors, creamy quartz counters and off-black cabinets by Peter Young.
The home now also boasts three barn doors, which are space saving and “kinda zippy-looking and fun,” said Sowden. He noted the hardware costs about $300 and the doors themselves about $200.
“They are better than pocket doors and allow you to open and close them without moving furniture in a small room.”
Mitchell and Sowden said the level of skilled trades on Salt Spring Island is high and that, combined with easy-going owners, made the project “wonderful.”
A smart house
This house has state-of-the-art “smart” features and automation electronics installed by islander Kevin Kopetzki of Quantum Systems Design.
They include custom audio, video, telephone and CCTV security cameras as well as network and automation wiring.
Among other benefits, the owners can instantly view their property from any smartphone, near or far.
The media room downstairs has a 78-inch curved flat panel TV and 7.1 surround sound systems, with built-in flush-mounted, remote-control speakers. The family room features a 55-inch curved screen, flat panel TV hidden in custom millwork, which also contains all the home electronics.
NEST smart thermostats control six independent heating zones, said Kopetzki. “These are interfaced through a Insteon HUB controller. The main water valve is also controlled by this HUB, which allows the owners remote access through their smartphones.”