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House Beautiful: Arbutus tree inspires contemporary Deep Cove home

A centuries-old arbutus tree was a source of inspiration for a contemporary-style Deep Cove home, whose owners aimed to keep as many trees as possible when preparing their one-acre forested lot for construction.

A centuries-old arbutus tree was a source of inspiration for a contemporary-style Deep Cove home, whose owners aimed to keep as many trees as possible when preparing their one-acre forested lot for construction.

That “save a tree, build around it” philosophy has resulted in a stunning home that blends architecture and nature. Taking centre stage was the largest of the lot’s three arbutus trees, with its distinctive golden bark.

The tree, which stands out in a group of cedars in the backyard, is the first thing one notices after entering the house and looking out its five-metre-high (17-feet) windows from the main floor.

And while this is a home filled with art, it’s the trees outside that are the real masterpieces.

“For me, it’s always been about the garden. I like the yard full of trees — the feeling of going into a forest,” says owner June, an avid gardener (the owners asked that their surnames not be used).

The couple, who both work in the legal profession, are outdoor enthusiasts and appreciate their home’s location near Horth Hill Regional Park.

June’s husband, Barry, adds that while he often takes their dog Jasper there for walks, he never ran into Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, who were frequently spotted on its trails when they, too, lived in Deep Cove in the winter of 2019-2020.

June and Barry moved from Edmonton, where they maintain a condominium, nearly two years ago after their custom-built house was completed by Tidman Construction.

The couple have high praise for the construction firm, who Barry says were sticklers for detail and ensured the high-end home was perfect for them. The company also recommended artist and designer Dan Boot from Studio DB3 to design the house.

“We have a real appreciation of the designer. He spent so much time getting to know us and had a lot of skill and talent, no ego. The design was about us,” says Barry.

Barry — the former chairman of the board for the Art Gallery of Alberta — says he was so pleased with Boot’s work that when he saw a painting Boot had on exhibit in Sidney, he bought it to hang over the living room’s fireplace. The photo is called Photosynthesis but Barry refers to it as “The Tree of Life.”

This premier spot was truly high praise for Boot’s work, given the couple’s extensive art collection, which includes works by such well-known artists as First Nations painter Norval Morrisseau, Israel modernist Nachum Gutman, and Canadian landscape artist David Alexander, among many others.

“[Boot] was thrilled. He doesn’t get to sign his name on the house, but he’s got the best feature wall in the house,” says Barry.

Boot’s artwork depicts a tree that echoes the colour palette of their home, which was itself inspired by the arbutus tree. Even part of the home’s exterior cladding, which in places consists of galvanized steel, was painted gold to resemble the arbutus bark.

The 5,000-square-foot house has plenty of outdoor space to enjoy the forest-like setting and gardens, as well as views of the Malahat highlands and Saanich Inlet.

Those views were the main factor in the designer’s decision not to have the outdoor deck stretch across the full length of the house.

“We went with two separate decks so it wouldn’t detract from the view,” says Barry, adding the couple’s favourite sitting spot is in front of the fireplace, where they’ll enjoy a glass of wine while looking out towards their private backyard retreat.

The two separate decks include one that is accessible from the kitchen, on the left side of the open-concept living/dining/kitchen area, while the second is accessible from Barry’s office and the adjacent primary bedroom to the right.

June snapped up one of the three bedrooms downstairs as her office space, because she can look out directly to the beloved arbutus tree.

The couple’s three children and three-year-old grandson, who all live out of town, now have plenty of space downstairs when they visit. The final job is to install a second kitchen downstairs, which will give visiting family and friends quicker access to snacks and coffee.

Barry points out the downstairs kitchen and an adjacent area could easily be converted into accommodation space for live-in help, should that ever be necessary in the future.

Barry, who loves to cook, was very involved in planning details for the main kitchen upstairs, with the help of kitchen designer Lisa Dunsmuir of Step One Design.

The result is a main-floor kitchen that takes into account all of Barry’s kitchen “gadgets” and must-have items, including a 10-year-old butcher-block rolling table he brought with him from Edmonton.

June wasn’t sure if it would work, but Barry persevered and the designer found a spot for it under the kitchen island seating area, at the end of the island’s work space, where he can pull out and roll it to wherever it’s needed.

Other kitchen conveniences Barry says are worthwhile was having a full dishwasher as well as a half dishwasher in a drawer — useful when there’s less cleanup to do. A kitchen must was the Miele combination convection steam oven, which Barry says takes the place of a microwave.

There’s also a breakfast area at the end of the kitchen where Barry has his commercial-grade espresso machine, as well as other daily-use items like the toaster, out ready for use and not hidden away in an “appliance garage.”

“I don’t mind having them out. We live in this house and we’re going to use them, so there’s no pointing in concealing them. It’s not a commercial boardroom kitchen,” he notes.

Other practical features in the kitchen include two sinks, a stainless-steel backsplash in one area that provides easy access to Barry’s high-performance handmade Japanese knives and and lots of counter space for food preparation.

All of the cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms are by Pronautic Millwork — another suggestion from Tidman Construction. The marble in the bathrooms came from Matrix Marble & Stone in Duncan.

As both Barry and June point out, the first step in any successful new build is choosing a builder and architect you can trust.

It was especially crucial for them, since the house took three years from start to finish and they were living in Edmonton at the time.

“We always wanted to start from scratch and build a contemporary home. We were so lucky to find the right people,” says Barry.