House Beautiful: A dream house close to nature

When Ashley and Mark Rice began searching for their forever home, they were primarily looking for plenty of outdoor space, so they opted for two hectares of land on Old West Saanich Road.

But that was all they initially had — the land. The dream house was yet to come. “It was just a mossy bluff and it took quite a lot of vision. But we recognized the value of the property,” said Rice, whose 10-year career as a Victoria realtor equipped him with the ability to see what other potential buyers had missed.

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“This property had been for sale off and on for seven years, and when we started our hunt for a property, it came up in our price range,” he said.

They bought the land and spent $50,000 to landscape the front yard alone, creating an outdoor space for their young family. The couple have two children, Jaxon, five, and three-year-old Scarlett, who love nothing more than taking their child-size wheelbarrow up the hill to mom’s vegetable garden to pick veggies, whether they’re ready or not, said Ashley with a smile.

The stay-at home mom comes to gardening naturally. Her grandmother has won many awards for her garden, and the products of her mother’s green thumb have often been featured in local garden tours.

“I’m really into plants. And I really like West Coast natural plants,” she said.

Mark, however, likes tropical plants. “He wanted palm trees, so I let him have some by the pool,” she said.

Ashley was a stickler for getting the landscaping just right. She said it took her three tries to get the perfect trees by the boulevard, even if it meant pulling up what she initially planted not once but twice.

In the end, they planted 75 trees on the property, including Western red cedar, Colorado blue spruce, narrow spruce, yellow cedar, magnolias, dogwoods and 10 kinds of Japanese maples. They also planted Portuguese laurel, 120 English lavender plants, 100 French lavender, 120 rose bushes and 65 hydrangeas.

Ashley is testing lemon, pineapple and olive trees to see how they fare in our climate, along with having a typical fruit orchard and berry patches.

“My husband hates that I love gardening so much. I won’t clean the house because I’d rather mow the lawn or be up in my vegetable garden,” she said.

The outdoor space is definitely a showstopper, from the gardens to a bronze life-size elk statue (a nod to Mark’s love of big elk hunting), a side-deck seating area, an outdoor tennis/basketball court, and another outdoor seating area near the pool with a double-sided fireplace and television.

The pièce de resistance, though, is the large, covered outdoor kitchen, with a built-in barbecue, pizza oven, bar area and plenty of seating.

“This is my happy place. I love the outdoor space and being able to host large family gatherings,” said Mark, who adds it only takes him 12 minutes to get from the family oasis to his office.

The backyard also has a grassy play area for the children. Besides the landscaped property, surrounding the house, there’s another 1.2 hectares of forest that provides lots of trails for the couple to explore with their children.

Since the family spends a large amount of time outdoors, Mark said they didn’t want an impractical mega-house, so they decided on a floor plan of 3,300 square feet. As a result, the family uses all areas of the three-bedroom, three-bathroom farmhouse-style home. There’s also a carriage house on the property, with another 1,000 square feet of finished space over the garage.

The couple give full credit to their builder, Graeme Mann from GT Mann Contracting, for creating what they wanted and more. The company spent the first two months doing blasting and prep work to prepare the homesite and grounds.

“I would have settled for less, but GT Mann just blew it out of the water,” said Ashley.

She added the millwork went above and beyond with custom details.

For instance, in the master bedroom, the couple didn’t want basic board and batten on a feature wall, so the builder created a unique pattern that complements the fireplace and artwork.

Other touches include an arched oak front door, a porthole window, a raw-edge fireplace mantle, built-in wine cabinets and a kitchen prep area that is cleverly hidden behind a door that looks as if it’s part of the kitchen cabinets.

The kitchen has plenty of space to work and a huge island, with marble-look quartz, a Chevron-patterned marble backsplash, full-height wood cabinetry and a classic apron sink.

The interior design was by Creative Spaciz. “They literally were a mediator for me and my husband, so whenever we couldn’t agree, rather than insult each other’s ideas, we’d take it to them for a yay or nay,” said Ashley.

Added Mark: “They took our plans and completely overhauled them, from door swings to redesigning our walk-in pantry and master-bath walk-in shower. They were amazing to work worth. Full of positive and professional advice as well as the most important element — style.”

The design firm’s colour choices throughout the home, such as the darker blue in their son’s bedroom, promises to have longevity. Since the family moved in in 2016, Jaxon’s decorating style has already changed from hunting decor to shark decor and the blue works for both, said Ashley.

One choice the designers made in the master bedroom took a bit of convincing for Ashley — gold hardware. She agreed after being told that if it goes out of style, they only have to change the faucets in one bathroom, not all three.

But the choice to not put glass in the master-bathroom shower is one Ashley said she’ll never regret, because she no longer has to clean shower glass.

While this house has many bells and whistles, noticeably absent is a theatre room and basement.

“We didn’t want our kids turning into TV junkies,” said Ashley. “On beautiful days, wouldn’t you rather have your kids outside than in the basement watching TV?

“They’re outside exploring every day. What could be better than that?”

The house recently won two golds and three silvers in this year’s Construction Achievements and Renovations of Excellence Awards, showcasing the best in West Coast design and construction.

It tied for gold in best single family detached home category ($1 million to $1.4 million), and gold for best traditional bathroom. It also won silver for best kitchen over 300 sq. ft., silver for best interior residential (4,000-6,000 sq. ft.) and silver for best millwork (4,000-6,000 sq. ft.).

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