House Beautiful: An artistic new angle in Fairfield

Once upon a time, this Fairfield home was a small, ordinary-looking cottage. Today, it has a fairy-tale garden full of mysterious-looking sculptures. As for the house, it’s a cool, contemporary, live-work family home on four levels.

This is where artist Samantha Dickie lives with her children, pursuing a career creating abstract works resembling everything from spinal columns to giant Egyptian perfume bottles.

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She was recently commissioned to create two ceramic pieces for the Louis Vuitton store in Boston and will display her talents at next weekend’s Fired Up! exhibition of contemporary works in clay at Metchosin Community Hall. (See details below)

Dickie’s house is as intriguing as her art.

Tucked into a tree-lined street set back from Ross Bay, it was originally bought as a fixer-upper a decade ago. The compact home covered about 1,000 square feet back then, and she planned to put on an addition, but the project expanded and evolved when she found rot in the foundation.

The artist redesigned and re-envisioned the entire building, from the ground up, while keeping the footprint the same. The result is several unusual angles and room shapes.

The owner developed a new basement, extended the main floor into the back garden, built a studio in the upper storey, then conceived a rooftop deck above that. (Such decks are no longer allowed because of privacy concerns of neighbours.)

Her rooftop view takes in ocean glimpses to the south, Gonzales Hill observatory in the east and the “candle” atop Rockland Avenue, formerly a water tower.

The main floor comprises 1,250 square feet, while the basement adds 750 and the studio another 700 above that — crammed with work benches, tools, kilns and shelves to store pieces in progress.

“I had to get a variance for the catwalk that leads to my studio,” she explained of the glass-sided hallway and staircase that starts above the kitchen and leads to her workshop and the rooftop.

The owner said most of the rebuild was completed almost a decade ago, with help from Wil Peereboom at Victoria Design Group and contractor Barry Goddard.

Her extensive atelier includes two firing rooms and three kilns. Two kilns are electric-fired and smaller, but one is enormous and weighs about 2,000 pounds.

“To get it up here, we used a crane with a telescopic fork lift. It stands on a concrete floor with double, extra-thick joists,” she said of the gas-fired Geil kiln.

“I had to build the house around it, and now I have to live here forever,” added the single mother of children aged 12 and 15, whose dark looks reflect her Spanish ancestry.

She had a pot melt down to the bottom of one of her smaller kilns recently and it was a challenge to clean out. “And you think cleaning your stove is a lot of work,” she said with a chuckle.

The hard-working contemporary ceramicist didn’t always plan to be an artist or a house designer — although she does both now.

“I started out doing women’s and native studies, but switched when I totally fell in love with the process of ceramics.” She attended Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson and since graduation has exhibited in galleries in B.C., Alberta, the Yukon and Ontario.

A lover of abstract, sculptural work, she received project grants from the Canada Council, Alberta Foundation for the Arts and Yukon Arts Fund.

Her works have a raw, organic, tactile quality. “I am fascinated by the beauty of decay,” but she also enjoys her modern design.

The back wall of her living room is a glass garage door that slides up to create a smooth transition from indoors to a snug and inviting back garden, which she designed with installation help from Garden City Landscaping and Edibella Landscaping.

Above a new storage shed in the back garden, she designed a rooftop deck. “Now the kids have a treehouse,” she said — in addition to a hot tub and trampoline.

She said she bought in this part of Victoria because it’s a great location, close to the beach and schools.

“I lived in the Yukon before coming here and learned you can do nothing with a house if you don’t have the right neighbourhood.”

The Fired Up! Show

WHERE: Metchosin Community Hall, 4401 William Head Rd.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 25 and 26. Opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 24, will feature live jazz

TICKETS: Free. More information at firedup.ca or call 250-590-5744.

This year’s Fired Up! Show is celebrating its 35 year and is titled Monumental.

It will include works by Meira Mathison, Vin Arora, Sandra Dolph, Sandra Harquail, Gordon Hutchens, Cathi Jefferson, Kinichi Shigeno, Pat Webber and Samantha Dickie.

These core members will be joined by guest artists Elaine Brewer-White, Peter Flanagan, Bob Kingsmill, Alwyn O’Brien and Clive Tucker.

Fired Up! features the longest running ceramic exhibition group in Canada

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