House Beautiful: Mid-century marvel in Duncan worth the commute

The moment Kristen Lundgren and husband Louis Poulain saw the architect-designed mid-century-modern house in Duncan, they knew they had to have it — even if it meant giving up their “perfect” oceanview house, which was a lot closer to work.

As teachers at Shoreline Community Middle School, they had enjoyed walking to school from their home in View Royal.

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Now they’re doing an hour-and-a-half round-trip commute from North Cowichan on weekdays.

Despite the drastic lifestyle change, the couple has no regrets about purchasing the home, set on a treed one-acre lot with views of Mount Prevost.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime house,” said Poulain.

Added Lundgren: “Once we are here, it’s so lovely and so private. It’s a refresher.”

The 1956 house was designed by architect Harold Wong with gardens by landscape architect Clive Justice, best known for creating the UBC Botanical Garden.

Stepping into the home’s main-level courtyard and past its turquoise front door, with a starburst door handle, you immediately feel as if you’re walking into a time capsule.

The 3,200-square-foot house still has all the hallmarks of mid-century architecture — a flat roof, expansive walls of glass, clean lines, wide-open floor plans and a connection of indoor and outdoor spaces.

The house radiates casual elegance and glamour — so much so that Poulain said he can’t help but feel “he’s living like a rich person in 1956.”

Only one other family had lived there previously — Gilbert and Mary Thom, who owned a clothing store in Duncan, which was also mid-century modern architecture. While Gilbert is now deceased, Mary, who lived in the house for 61 years, moved to Victoria in 2017.

The couple purchased the house, which had sat empty for a year, in November 2018, and began their restoration “passion project.” Also moving in were the youngest of their five children, now ages 13 and 16. The eldest three are adults with homes of their own.

Thankfully, the family that previously owned this Mad Men-era house preserved all of its mid-century features, including mahogany walls and built-in cabinets, slate flooring in the entryway, a stone fireplace and even a unique intercom system that still works.

“The house was very sound, but there was still a lot of work,” said Poulain.

The house was remodelled in the 1970s, and all types of wallpaper, from stripes to floral, was applied liberally throughout, creating some over-the-top rooms — including one bedroom that had red floral wallpaper that matched the drapes.

The couple kept the drapes but removed much of the home’s wallpaper — a job that took more time than expected, since in some places, including the hallway and master bedroom, they had to peel it from the wall in one-inch pieces instead of long strips.

Poulain joked that this endeavour became “the battle of the wallpaper.”

Luckily, not all of the wallpaper had to go. Some of it is still perfectly suited to the home’s era and the new homeowners’ tastes.

The kitchen and dining room, for instance, have orange-and-gold patterned wallpaper that looks like it could double as wrapping paper, but blends in perfectly with the built-in mahogany sideboard and china cabinet in the dining room. Even the ceilings in both rooms are wallpapered, making a dramatic statement.

In the master ensuite, there’s a bold geometric wallpaper that co-ordinates well with the original tile floor, which features the previous homeowners’ initials. Poulain calls it the “Burt Reynolds bathroom,” since its style would have suited the film and television actor, who was popular from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Grass cloth wallpaper, which has made a comeback in modern design, was preserved in a downstairs study, while a downstairs powder room sparkles with a gold and white basket-weave wallpaper.

While others would likely have gutted the bathrooms and kitchen to update them, the couple largely left them intact, with a few exceptions.

They replaced the original Thermador stovetop, which they would have kept if it had worked, updated worn linoleum on the kitchen floor with marmoleum, and replaced a chipped kitchen countertop.

But even in the latter case, rather than upgrade to quartz or marble, they went with formica, which was popular in mid-century homes.

“We didn’t want to wreckavate the house,” says Lundgren. “What I love is a house being authentic to its era.”

The main-floor bathroom is a showstopper with a pink tile vanity, pink tiled shower surround, pink toilet and a broken mosaic tile floor featuring pink, blue, green, yellow, white and black tiles.

The couple was concerned they were going to have to replace the built-in sink, but fortunately, they found someone who was able to replace the faucets and make it work.

One of the best features of the house is the original woodwork , both in and out.

The house exterior and its chic carport are painted mahogany. The living-room walls are also mahogany, which would be cost-prohibitive to duplicate today.

To furnish the home, the couple chose classic mid-century-modern furniture, including a low-slung leather couch, teak side tables and a replica Noguchi glass-top coffee table — which has become an icon of mid-century modern design.

The dining room has a teak table and four Danish chairs, with their original fabric, all found in a second-hand shop in Victoria.

The 12-foot-high living-room ceiling is yellow cedar, and a Brady Bunch-style staircase to the lower level is Douglas fir, with the original wool shag carpet still on the stair treads.

The couple opted to remove the shag in the living room and replace it with a low-pile carpet instead of wood floors.

“We couldn’t do a wood floor, since the room could end up looking like a sauna with wood already on the walls and the ceiling,” said Poulain.

The living room’s main focal points are its glass wall, looking out to the backyard, and a wall-length stone fireplace.

The couple converted the fireplace from a wood-burning one to gas, but were able to maintain its stone surround, with rocks collected by the original homeowners from rivers around British Columbia.

“Most of the fireplace stones were collected by the family and transported in the trunk of their car during many hikes and car trips,” said Lundgren, adding they were able to find out more about the house after meeting two of the three daughters who were raised there.

They learned that the black rocks in the fireplace come from the Malahat summit, the green rocks are from Bridal Veil Falls near Chilliwack, the pink rocks are from Prince George, the white streaked rocks are from Mount Tzouhalem in the Cowichan Valley, and the remainder of the rocks are from the Capilano River.

The daughters were also able to shed light on other unique finds in the home, like their parents’ many safes. The couple didn’t even know about a safe hidden behind one of the cabinet doors in the master bathroom until it was pointed out to them by the sisters. Another safe is hidden downstairs in the floor of a utility room.

The downstairs leads to the gardens, created by renowned landscape architect Clive Justice, who designed a waterfall and pond feature.

The gardens had gone dormant while the house stood empty, but came back quickly when the couple turned their attention to the outdoors.

kpemberton@shaw.ca

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