House Beautiful: By the enchanted forest

They say an Englishman’s home is his castle, but this Englishman and his Canadian wife have a distinctly different view of home.

Kmit and Kel Stone, who live in a 7,000-square-foot house at Cherry Point just north of Mill Bay, have designed a multi-functional dwelling that is not only a farmhouse and atelier, but a music studio, office, gallery, giant workshop and a place where they can live a sustainable life among supportive neighbours.

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It doesn’t have battlements, but the home rises two-and-a-half storeys, overlooks an “enchanted forest” and has a large Buddha guarding the entrance — and the wine cellar.

The building was originally constructed as an electrical plant at an industrial site, but was never finished. It was then dismantled and moved to the property in the mid-1980s and used as a barn by Kmit’s father.

Kmit is an only child, and when her 89-year-old mother needed more care, she and Kel decided to move to her Mill Bay waterfront acreage.

Originally, the Stones thought of tearing down the old barn and building anew, “but it seemed silly to put more footprint into the ecosystem, as it was a very sturdy building,” said Kmit. So they took the more environmentally conscious route and turned it into a multi-purpose dwelling.

“For the first four years, we did virtually nothing but clean up the property, empty the building and remove garbage,” said Kmit, who noted the land was thick with blackberries and broom, but also had a majestic stand of Douglas fir, “a little enchanted forest at one end, which I fell in love with.”

“We decided to bring the farm back to its sweetness,” she said.

After sketching ideas for a new interior, they hired Duncan draftsman and designer Jim Cleough, who drew up plans, which were certified by an engineer.

Happily, the barn had been solidly built, said Kel.

“It had 32-foot-long steel beams, 15-inch I-beams, and the upstairs floor was three-and-a-half-inch thick car decking, similar to that used on the B.C. Ferries.”

One of the first things they did was put down a fir floor using lumber from trees felled on the property. The property’s wood has also been used to create custom furniture, a sliding barn door into the workshop, spalted maple cutting boards, picture frames, cabinets, beams, trim, windowsills, a 300-pound rolling butcher block for the kitchen and a wine cellar.

They found second-hand marine plywood along with plywood that had been used for staging in the Vancouver Olympics and other recycled treasures at Demxx Deconstruction in Coombs.

Bolts and washers from old hydro poles were purchased from Steel Pacific Recycling in Nanaimo, while “pretty well all the doors and windows are recycled or rejects, so we made all the holes to fit them,” said Kel, who turned an old marine chart table into a coffee table.

“We learned a lot about recycling as we went along, and it felt good to keep things out of the landfill,” said Kmit, who pointed to a large window bought from Habitat For Humanity, which brings soft northern light into her art studio.

Kmit feels connected to horses, “to their allegorical and metaphorical symbolism,” and they move though many of her works. She even describes their newly renovated home in terms of the massive shire horses that used to do heavy work such as ploughing in days gone by.

“There is an old saying about a heavy draft horse: She’s not a pretty girl, but she’s a working girl. Well this barn is a working girl, designed to be flexible,” she said with a chuckle.

They see their barn as a serene and contemplative space, a home that’s warmed by natural woodwork and lots of farm antiques, despite its industrial ambience.

The tall structure has four-metre-high ceilings on the main floor, almost five metres high on the second floor. Above that is a cozy master suite, with a large sunning deck.

The Stones hammered sheets of copper to give a warm and inviting look to the kitchen, and hanging shelves were made from old wood from the barn. Cabinets are bamboo, and they devised a small service alley behind the sink counter to access the backs of appliances, where the roof slopes and space is less usable.

“I’ve watched so many people put together a building and then have to take it apart when they want to change something,” said Kel, 68, who has a background in marketing and works in the import-export business.

When not travelling around North America or being an enthusiastic part-time farmer, he plays guitar and drums. “I’m an old plucker from Liverpool who grew up watching the Beatles and Jerry and the Pacemakers.

Both he and Kmit enjoy building and creating things, said Kel, who made his wife a giant easel by attaching water pipes and clamps to a wall, then made door handles and coat hangers by taking old barrels apart.

Kmit, 61, creates her art in a variety of media and has worked in photography in the past, but favours oil and encaustic painting these days.

“We are both art makers. I got the paint part and Kel got the music part,” she joked, adding she used to exhibit at the Fran Willis Gallery but now shows at their Clearwater Farm, by appointment at clearwaterstudio.ca

“We work hard and it’s always a mad push in every season, especially the harvest,” she added. “This is a small farm, but they are becoming more valuable now. If there were an earthquake, we would be able to feed ourselves, and others.

The farm has lots of water, she said, thanks to a large aquifer and redundancy built into the system.

The Stones, who have 600 fruit trees on the property, sell apples, pears, rhubarb, lavender and hay and have started growing kiwi and olives. They also forage for mushrooms on their 14-acre property.

“You have to stay flexible in this business and we are learning as we go, but the farming community here is amazing, everyone shares and is very encouraging,” said Kmit, noting there are vineyards within a short walk, baked goods and coffee at Ron’s Place farm stand at nearby Cherry Point Beach, and Berkshier and Tamworth heritage pigs at Muddy Feet Farm, where Clearwater’s apple seconds go.

“We’re surrounded by amazing people from all around the world, including First Nations, and we joke that we have all the skills we need, within a very short distance, to handle just about anything.”

She said they were stunned and delighted to discover a large number of people their age doing exactly what they are, “working enthusiastically and playing contemplatively.

“Our barn is a working space for seniors… we are a cheerful old married couple who farm, play music and make art. We hope never to retire.”

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