House Beautiful: Stylish refresh for Songhees condo

Home-renovation stories are rarely without their dark moments — delays, frustrations, regrets. So it’s delightful to hear a homeowner whose experience was purely positive.

When Leaf, who asked that her last name not be used, came to Victoria in 2015, she was feeling a little fragile. Her husband had passed away only a year or two earlier, and she had felt very alone in their big house in the Cascade mountains.

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Having grown up in Vancouver, she decided it would be comforting to return to the West Coast. She knew she wanted to travel, so a condo made most sense.

After viewing a handful of possible homes, Leaf and her daughter went to look at a 10-year-old building in the Songhees. Being an enthusiastic cook, Leaf looked first at the kitchen and was focused on faucets and appliances when she heard her daughter gasp: “Mom — this is what you’re looking for!”

When she joined her daughter on the spacious deck overlooking the Inner Harbour, Leaf had to agree the two-bedroom was exactly the home she needed.

The south wall of the condo is all glass, giving a panoramic view over the harbour and James Bay. She looked straight down to the water and could watch the float planes land and the Coho ferry chugging slowly in and out. When the thick glass doors are closed, though, the sound is muted to insignificance.

The condo is almost 1,400 square feet, incorporating two bedrooms with ensuites, a light-filled living room, a dining room big enough to entertain eight in comfort, a kitchen big enough to provide a meal for them, and a powder room off the entrance.

When Leaf decided to buy the place, she knew she’d have to make some changes right away. The original design didn’t include a dining room, but it did have a home office, separated from the living area by Japanese-style translucent walls with a sliding door. Leaf didn’t need an office, but she did want a nice dining room.

She could see that over the next few years, she’d want to change a few things, so she bit the bullet and decided to do the whole thing at once, before she moved in. She brought a mattress and a few bits and pieces so she could camp out in the condo and get a feel for the place. It gave her an idea of how she’d want to use the space.

Someone had recommended interior designer and home stager Cathy Travis. When Travis saw the scope of Leaf’s plans, however, she realized the job was beyond her skillset, so she advised Leaf to consult contractor Terry Johal.

Johal Developments usually takes on bigger projects, such as the construction of an entire house from the ground up. But when he saw the condo, Johal agreed that it deserved an update with the same visual impact as the view. He was keen to take on the task. In the end, the project won him a gold CARE award from the Victoria Residential Builders Association for best condo unit.

After he and Leaf decided built-ins would work best, Johal called in Roy Sandsmark from South Shore Cabinetry, a collaborator on many previous projects. After looking around the apartment, he came up with some digital sketches of what he thought would work.

“It was amazing,” Leaf said. “We were all on the same page. I don’t think we deviated at all from his initial design,” or at least not in any significant way.

It’s usual when ripping your home down to the studs to be exhausted by the scores of small decisions that must be made. That wasn’t Leaf’s experience: “Terry and I picked out all the finishes in half a day,” she said.

The plans were hatched and designs drawn up as the year drew to a close. Then, in January of 2016, the guys with the crowbars arrived and demolition began. “Terry’s crew was fabulous,” Leaf said. “They had to spend a lot of time getting people up and down elevators.”

Those glass-walled elevators, and the elegant walkways giving residents and their guests views of the water gardens below, are not the most convenient for a crew of builders with a lot of ripped-up materials to take away and piles of new materials to bring in.

There were no muttered complaints, though. “They were all delightful,” Leaf said, praising Johal, Sandsmark and the tradesmen they brought into the job.

The curved shape of the Shutters buildings makes life interesting for cabinet makers and tile layers accustomed to working with right angles. Walls meet at angles that are a bit more or a bit less than the usual 90 degrees.

When laying new flooring, Johal realized that, at one point or another, it would look as though the planks had been laid out of alignment. He got around that by laying them on the bias, so they didn’t have to align or run perpendicular to any of the walls.

The basic design of the condo was good, so Johal didn’t have to move any interior walls.

Sandsmark went with the same look in the cabinets throughout the condo. The wenge wood, with its tight grain, in the kitchen cabinets appears again in the living-room bookcases and display shelves, and in the bedroom night tables, bed bases and fixtures in the walk-in closets.

Those cabinets and shelving units had to be very strong. Leaf likes art and she likes pieces with heft. The three bronze sculptures beside the fireplace are heavy, and Leaf and Travis had to struggle together to push them into position.

Leaf’s favourite piece is a stylized Native headdress, made from polished lawnmower blades, saw chain and shears, the work of Salt Spring artist Peter McFarlane. She credits Michael Warren from Madrona Gallery with finding it for her. Like the bronzes, the piece weighs about 50 pounds, and Sandsmark had to create an unusually thick glass shelf that was strong enough to support it while giving it the prominence they all felt it deserved.

Other standout pieces include a bear disc by Don Yeomans and a tower of polished rock created by Roland Gaetan.

“I got them all in local galleries,” Leaf said, explaining that just about everything in the condo was bought within about a square mile in Victoria. The deck furniture came from Capital Iron; the motorized blinds are from Saffron; the light fixtures came from McLaren Lighting and lots of things came from Chintz.

The kitchen isn’t something Leaf expected to love. She has never cared for galley kitchens, but opening this one up wasn’t an easy option because one side is on the apartment wall and the other backs onto the laundry facilities and the hall closet, all of which are encased in wenge wood like the rest of the cabinetry.

For the laundry and coat closets, Roy dispensed with the usual bifold doors by installing a system like the sliding side doors in a minivan — the door is pulled away from its position, then slides quietly over its neighbour. It means you can open only one door at a time, but who keeps their coat cupboard door open when they’re doing laundry?

The kitchen has new Miele appliances, with the dishwasher and fridge hidden behind wooden fronts. The gas stove stands out with its hefty knobs. There was a small wine fridge before, but now Leaf has a larger model, moved into the dining room, with different temperatures for her red wines, her spirits and aperitifs, and a cool section for white wine and ginger ale.

It’s an ideal home for a woman who likes to entertain visiting family and old friends, and her many new friends in Victoria. And all those friends will be as delighted with the decor as the stunning view of the harbour.

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