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House Beautiful: Reflections on the bay

Kathryn Amisson and Graeme Roberts have lived at Port Royale Estates for 18 years in a light-drenched, 2,400-square-foot townhouse that clings to a slope overlooking Brentwood Bay.

Kathryn Amisson and Graeme Roberts have lived at Port Royale Estates for 18 years in a light-drenched, 2,400-square-foot townhouse that clings to a slope overlooking Brentwood Bay.

Their roomy two-storey home has a large upper deck and covered patio below — both offering views of Todd and Saanich inlets, the Malahat and marinas — but these owners have enhanced their unit’s already gorgeous outlook with numerous well-placed, almost disappearing mirrors.

One fully mirrored wall in the dining room, for instance, flows right over the hall entryway, not only doubling the size of the living area but expanding panoramas of Brentwood Bay.

Another mirror on the water side of the same long room is cleverly positioned and sized to look like a full-length window on the corner. The owners even mirrored a wall at one end of their long deck, on the partition wall between it and the next unit’s, amplifying both the outlook and feeling of spaciousness.

It’s hardly surprising that these two became so creative after downsizing to a smaller space from their previous home in Oak Bay. Amisson is a full-time artist with an eye for perspective and tricks of light, and Roberts is a savvy businessman and former mayor of Nanaimo who understands the value of expanding your real estate, even if only in a reflection.

Born in Manitoba, Amisson moved to the West Coast with her family at an early age. After attending the Alberta College of Art in 1970, she began painting full time.

Well-known for her landscapes and seascapes, she has a passion for wide-open spaces and loves the views from her Brentwood home — especially the soft northern exposure.

Over the years, she and Roberts have continued to renovate their home, adding hardwood floors, granite kitchen countertops, mirrors and modernized bathrooms — all with a view to increasing reflections and boosting light.

“Guests are quite amazed and fascinated by this innovative, decorative and effective application of reflections,” said Amisson in an email. The artist likes to maximize light for her work, not to mention the views.

“An artist doesn’t want to work in powerful light; you don’t want to get the full punch of sun, but it needs to be bright and I love working in an open space.”

The wall colours were also selected with art in mind, as Amisson rotates her canvases throughout the house as they move from her studio to galleries in B.C. and Alberta.

“Our colours were deliberately selected as a neutral backdrop for paintings, such as the dark grey green in the living room, and buttery yellow in the bedroom and kitchen. I like warm and perky,” she said.

Not only has Amisson painted almost all of the pictures in the house, she also painted all the walls — including a very high one over the descending staircase, which she finished by attaching her cutting-in brush to a long metal pole.

“It was quite intense keeping a steady hand while leaning over the bannister, trying not to get paint on the ceiling,” she said with a chuckle.

Amisson is also the family handyman — “I love making stuff and I’m also very thrifty” — and super-organized. Asked about a particular shade of paint or renovation detail, she immediately pulled out a booklet in which she has noted every single design improvement they’ve made.

“I always wait until Graeme is away for a few days and then go full tilt with any changes or improvements,” she explained, adding she used to refinish and reupholster furniture when painting sales were slower, but not anymore. “I’m up to here with work now.”

In the kitchen, where her nephew did the crown moulding, she painted walls a soft maple-fudge shade, with trim and cabinets finished in Navajo white, set off by dark granite countertops from Stone Age Marble & Granite. “We extended the countertop on the peninsula to gain more counter space and took the granite up the wall for a backsplash.”

Hating waste, and being a terrific recycler, Amisson recently created a collage of small items in the kitchen using leftover frames. These days, her own frames are getting larger as she paints bigger canvasses for well-heeled collectors.

“There are a lot of windows in many of the newer, bigger homes and owners are often opting for one large piece rather than a lot of little ones.”

She recently did a triptych — a three-panel artwork — for a wealthy Calgary family wanting a large painting over their massive fireplace. Turned out it was not big enough, so she was asked to paint a fourth panel, for a final size of about 1.2 by three metres.

Roberts, whose office is on the lower level adjacent to his wife’s studio, is no less busy these days. The former chairman of the B.C. Public Service Commission, and vice-chairman of the Victoria Airport Authority, is currently chairing the board of the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C. (He spent most of his working life in the auto industry, owning and operating in partnership two new car dealerships in Nanaimo, for Toyota and Honda.)

He still works out regularly, despite his 85 years, and has long been a dedicated volunteer supporter of amateur athletics. In the last three decades, he has attended events in 38 communities throughout the province that have hosted B.C. Summer and Winter Games, Northern Games, Seniors’ Games and Games for the Disabled.

The energetic businessman loves all the changes he and Amisson have made to their home, especially the large mirrored wall in the dining room that adds a dynamic touch to the space.

“Excalabor Glass & Aluminum at Keating Cross Road did the mirrors, and watching the guys install this wall was really something.”

He explained that the couple bought a new dining suite to replace the older-style, darker hutch and dining table. “This glass table has made all the difference.” They now keep stemware in a small kitchen cabinet.

He loves being back in Brentwood Bay, where he used to swim and fish as a lad — “it was a kid’s paradise” — and notes they feel secure in the friendly community.

“We were ready for a more compact life,” he said, adding a major break-in took the gloss off their former Oak Bay home, prompting them to look for a safer-feeling environment.

And they don’t mind the distance from downtown. “We still go into town a fair amount, and we tend to drive along the country road and enjoy the scenery along the way,” he said.