House Beautiful: Rainbow of light in Oak Bay

Perched a scant three metres above the rippled, blue-glazed, yacht scattered waters of Oak Bay, this striking new home makes a sculptural statement with glass, cedar, stone and bold horizontal elements.

The owners call it a house of light, because it captures the dawn rays on the ocean side as well as late afternoon glow through a three-storey, glass-walled staircase on the other.

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“In the early evening we get a rainbow effect on the stone wall of the staircase, which our two daughters love,” owner Charlotte said.

She and her husband, Chris, looked high and low for such an ideal building site and are celebrating their home’s recent completion with a musical event to benefit Pacific Opera Victoria, which will have a few high notes, too.

“My aunt is an opera singer,” said Charlotte, “and my daughters are vey musical, so I want to foster their appreciation for opera, something besides pop music.”

The couple bought the property across from Oak Bay Marina in 2014 and spent a year jumping through planning hoops.

It took another 2 1/2 years to build, due to the scarcity of skilled trades, said Novus Properties builder Mark Whitney.

“It is also a very, very detailed house and a complicated structure,” he explained, but Chris noted the build went smoothly: “Mark and I were friends before we started, and he remains a friend.”

The owners’ two daughters, ages 12 and 13, are also delighted as they each have their own bedroom, bathroom and deck now — and one of them is planning a vegetable garden on hers, high above grazing deer and bunnies.

Chris grew up near Willows Beach and always wanted to live in the area.

“For three years, I would go and get a Starbucks, then wander the streets, hoping to engage a homeowner ready to sell. The day this property hit the MLS we went to see it.”

The three-level home has five bedrooms, 5 1/2 bathrooms and takes advantage of its spectacular location with 11-foot ceilings on the main and 10-foot upstairs. It is wrapped in glass and gains plenty of passive solar energy.

“That’s why we have 11 automated transom opening windows and many more manual ones,” said Charlotte, who added they used to live in Michael Williams’ glass house on Ten Mile Point.

“Some days, we felt we were living in a greenhouse.”

As a result, their new house has loads of windows that open, plenty of cross ventilation, air conditioning and no skylights. It also has handsome grey sandstone walls inside and out, quarried on Valdes Island and sourced through Bedrock Natural Stones; countertops of Brazilian quartzite by Antolini; and Verona marble on the kitchen walls.

Many walls are concrete finished in Venetian plaster, giving it a fine, soft texture. “We wanted to steer away from a cold, modern, industrial look,” said Chris, adding they prefer a warmer, contemporary atmosphere.

While they had an architect he said, “we drove much of the project ourselves.”

For instance, he didn’t want any metal twang in the staircase so had it built of wood by Greg Johnston. “There is no steel spine and the wooden treads are about four inches thick. Each flight exceeds 700 pounds with LED lights in the wood stringers.”

Charlotte explained her husband is an antique and art dealer, “and is very artistic, so he brought a lot of elements into the design.”

The home is loaded with high-end details, such as transom windows in the great room above a cantilever, cedar soffit that acts as a light shelf. It breaks up the continuous volume of glass above and below, and holds square pot lights for down lighting, LED strip lights for up-glow, and hidden automated blinds.

This is also Chris’s design and the kind of element used by his favourite architect, Charles Stinson.

Window returns in the kitchen are tiled rather than dry-walled, so there are no worries about moisture; bathroom returns are mirrored; doors, jambs and trim are solid walnut; baseboards are flush-mounted in tile, drywall or concrete; and pocket doors are soft closure.

The home has two laundry rooms, one upstairs and another on the lowest level by the pool, where there is also a large media room with wet bar, microwave, wine fridge, dishwasher and drop ceiling, which hides LED lighting.

“LED is my favourite because it’s indirect, and provides a glow, a lovely ambience,” Chris said.

The home also has a wine cellar, gym, sleepover room for the daughters’ friends, a photography studio for Chris and a place the builder jokingly calls “the panic room.”

This soundproofed room-within-a-room is designed to muffle pool machinery on the basement level. It has a vibration isolation pad under the floor and sound-isolation channel all around, said Whitney.

Because the home is open concept and lacks visible supports, it is braced by a tremendous amount of steel. “We have huge steel I-beams throughout and seven sheer walls with one-inch rebar in some,” said Chris. “And we had all kinds of engineers working on this house — structural, envelope, civil, acoustic — and a marine biologist for storm-water issues.”

Architect Peter de Hoog noted it was a complicated project, but a pleasure to work on as the owners had strong, clear ideas about their home’s expression.

“It ended up being fairly wide, to ensure all the rooms had views, and we had to deal with quite a bit of grade change from the street. The house is seen as two storeys from the road, and 2 1/2 from the water.”

He had to keep within exterior height limits and also conform to setback requirements regarding sea level rise.

The home covers 7,400 square feet, not counting the garage, yet it doesn’t look imposing, because of the strong horizontal elements and exterior overhangs, which provide not only a stylish look, but also shade when the sun is highest in the summer months.

“Architecture is always about getting light in and controlling it,” said de Hoog. “Obviously, you can add lots of windows, but too much heat or glare is a problem. You don’t want people having to wear sunglasses inside.”

Salon concert a fundraiser for Pacific Opera Victoria

What: Great Houses of Victoria Opera Event

Where: This exclusive private residence on Oak Bay waterfront

When: Sunday June 10 at 6 p.m.

Tickets: $500 per person. Contact Nicole at 250-382-1641 or

This black-tie benefit for Pacific Opera Victoria features an intimate salon performance by violinist Mark Lupin and bass-baritone Tyler Fitzgerald, with accompanist Robert Holliston.

The evening will include gourmet cuisine prepared by chefs at Zambri’s, Charelli’s and the London Chef as well as fine wines, local spirits and a deluxe tasting with the Chocolate Project. A live auction includes highlights such as a Viking River Cruises package.

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