Lofty ceilings, soaring skylights and an Indonesian bench — fashioned from a giant teak tree root ball — greet visitors entering Peter and Susan Stanford’s newly renovated home.
“We gave each other the bench for our wood anniversary,” said Peter, referring to the traditional gift for a fifth wedding celebration. “The Indonesians used to burn these roots on their beaches, until they realized they could make furniture out of them.”
Both he and Susan appreciate history, tradition and art, so when they moved here from Ottawa a few years ago, they were drawn to the gorgeous setting and sleek lines of a mid-century home designed by John Di Castri on Ten Mile Point.
But the two also love contemporary architecture, so when it came to upgrading their house, they were faced with a tough decision: to do a massive renovation or demolish the building and start anew.
They chose to save what they could, “because it’s very much a character home, and we want to celebrate the architecture,” said Susan.
They lived in the house for three years before deciding how to proceed — and then the massive project began. One day, after almost everything in the middle of the house had been demolished, a neighbour walked by and quipped: “Hurricane?”
The owners can joke about it now, but Peter said it was a taxing time: “Everything started to cascade: If you do this, you have to do that. And if you do that, you’ve got to do something else.
“It was a real education. We were very naïve at the beginning.”
Much of the work was driven by the new building code and seismic demands.
“And what annoys me,” said Peter, a lawyer specializing in liability insurance, “is the super-expensive coverage we still have to pay for earthquake protection. I thought it would come down with all these improvements. But no, the prices are the same as if we were still living in the old tumbledown home.”
Susan, who is a technology strategist for the provincial government, pointed out the house has numerous sheer walls (with extra seismic reinforcing). “Just about every primary load-bearing wall is a sheer wall now, and there is not an inch of wiring, plumbing or insulation that isn’t new.”
One of the first issues the Stanfords had to grapple with was the “whimsical” layout of staircases in their new home.
“When you came in, you first climbed up half a flight of stairs, then went down a long hall, then down another full set of stairs,” said Peter. “It was an exceedingly inefficient use of space.”
By realigning the staircases and eliminating wasted hallways, they not only improved the flow but gained a large media room, office and spare bedroom.
Other goals included re-orienting the house toward the ocean rather than the forest, and redesigning a central portion of the home that had been added two decades ago.
That renovation had added a new living room that cut off views from several rooms. By designing a new great room and angling it 30 degrees, the current owners regained views from the downstairs office and former upstairs master bedroom (now a guest room).
“And the living room is now oriented to Mount Baker,” said Peter.
The Stanfords also wanted more natural light. “That was one of our priorities, because this house was one of the darkest places we’d ever experienced,” said Susan, who notes that light floods in all day now.
While the original home was “built like a tank” and very difficult to demolish, Peter said many of the improvements had been poorly done and he could tear down parts of the 1992 addition with his bare hands.
And while Susan did most of the painting, he did a lot of demolition, creating huge piles of drywall, shovelling mountains of garbage into bins, removing hundreds of nails and losing 10 pounds in the first month alone.
All the demolition was done by hand, “and we found lovely tongue and groove wood, as thick as 2.5 inches in some places,” said Peter. “We saved all the planking from the roof, and original fir beams. We tried to save the original vaulted ceiling but our foreman, Clint Smith at Falcon Heights, pointed out we would lose most of the beams when we added new insulation.
“So we tore down the roof and raised it two feet. He was so smart and saved us a lot of money and headaches.”
What does Peter love most about the new house? “The radiant in-floor heat. We were ratcheting things back because of costs, but I’m so glad we spent money on the floor.”
This form of heat also meant they gained space downstairs (after removing the old furnace and ceiling ductwork) for a full-height basement with office, den and music studio where Peter composes and records music.
Susan likes the new flow best. “It is so easy to live in this house now. We added about 600 square feet, but it seems much larger than 3,100 square feet, because of the high ceilings and volume of space.
“And it is fundamentally one-floor living. Our friends are clamouring to dog-sit for us.”
Dave MacKenzie, president of Falcon Heights Contracting, said the renovation was a challenge, but the custom builder noted any large renovation has challenges and difficulties. This one included trying to retain Di Castri’s vision while taking advantage of the million-dollar view, modernizing the home and working within a reasonable budget.
“You always want to limit compromises and maximize views.”
The home had suffered extensive water damage, some areas of the roof were rotting and there were many structural requirements to bring it up to code, to seismic standards and energy efficiency.
“These are large factors, and are often why so many homes don’t get renovated,” said MacKenzie. “You can often build new for the same price. Renovations are much more in-depth than people think and having a builder on board that you trust, right from the beginning, is critical.
“My foreman worked a lot of magic on this job … but this home has a fair bit of history and architectural merit.”
Designer Ryan Hoyt agreed, adding it was a unique project.
One of the things that amazed him was the level of detail in the original drawings. “It was fabulous and definitely not something we’re used to seeing these days.”
But while the house was in a stunning setting, it had been designed so the majority of views were toward parkland. “It’s tough to speculate why, as certainly the ocean view is the showpiece for us.”
He solved this by angling a new addition toward the ocean.
The house had also been poorly sited regarding sunlight, “but new rooflines allowed us to introduce a transom window above the front door and new skylights. The space has a more open concept now, so the light washes into the whole space.”
While the home had a style that represented its time well, there were a number of complications, “mainly because we were third in [to work on it] and the earlier renovation had taken away some of the home’s charm.
“We removed most of that work and I’m pleased to say the result does not look like phase three. This renovation ties it all back together again.”
The $575,000 renovation took top honours at the 2015 CARE Awards, winning gold for best renovation and silver for best master suite, in its size and cost categories.