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Lofty mission accomplished

Floating elements add airy touch to award-winning family home designed with the environment in mind

floating stairway, hovering cabinets, soaring windows and aerial hallway are just some of the uplifting features in this unique Ten Mile Point home.

Small wonder the house took home two golds at the recent CARE Awards - Construction Achievements and Renovations of Excellence - one for best single-family detached custom home and the other for best new or renovated kitchen.

A Second-generation contractor Terry Johal simply calls the house "a really cool place," which is no surprise, considering the trendy young team that built it just 18 months ago.

Johal was 34 at the time, the designer was 32 and the owners were 36 and 37. "They come from a European background and wanted a contemporary, but warm, house that took in this beautiful setting," said Johal, who started his own company in 2001 and has built about 50 custom homes.

The owners also wanted their five-bedroom, five-bathroom home to be built green. So the 5,700-square-foot waterfront house has Energy Star windows, radiant floor heat, an energy recovery ventilation system and low-emission paint. Plumbed for future solar, it is also a "smart" house, which means everything from lighting to music, alarms and heating can be controlled by smart phone from anywhere in the world.

Johal explained the owners' choice of front door was a turning point in the home's evolution. "It is very dramatic - about 12 feet high, in black walnut with geometric stainless inserts - and it set the theme for the house. We carried the design through as a basis for the interior. There is a lot of yin yang, negative-positive, round and square."

t took 14 months to achieve this scope of work but it was a great experience because the owners gave us the freedom to experiment with so many features," Johal said.

'I The most challenging was the floating staircase, which is supported by a steel spine hidden in the wall.

"I'm most proud of that," said the builder, who didn't hire an interior designer for the job. "It was a true collaboration between me and the owners," though he did steer them in the direction of Kyle Leggett of Java Design, who came up with the architecture.

Leggett began his career as a mechanical engineer but got into residential design early. "Ever since I can remember, I've loved designing houses and after I finished school, I was offered a job at Victoria Truss [a roof truss manufacturing facility], where I started designing roof systems and structures for houses. I learned the ropes, got to meet all the builders, then jumped into building design."

In this project, the clients didn't start with a firm idea of what they wanted, he said, "so they left a lot of the design and control up to me, and I just started playing."

"It was nice to lay out a catwalk, have the freedom to do a two-storey living room and design a very wide, linear house with all the key rooms facing the water."

The result is a contemporary open space with many handsome details, such as stainless-steel strips on doors, stairs and the kitchen island, contrasted with black walnut millwork.

Innovations include a pocket playroom, cleverly hidden off the kitchen. "I have kids the same age as the owners, so I know how you want them close, but not too close," Leggett said.

The owners also wanted two master-bedroom suites, one on the main and one upstairs.

"A lot of people have parents stay with them, or other guests, and it's a little more private downstairs." The extra suite gives the owners the option of living on one floor.

Another bright idea was to add an exercise room in the upstairs master suite, rather than downstairs.

"It's usually done last and has the worst placement in the house," Leggett said. "But this couple thought they would use it and enjoy it more upstairs, close at hand, with a great view."

The home's lighting is equally imaginative. Designed by Steve McNeil of Bright Design - "I was the old kid on the block at 38" - it continues the geometric theme with glowing globes and softly lit rectangles.

"We used a fantastic spherical glass-bubble chandelier in the living room, with pendants hanging up to 15 feet. That's our money shot, looking right through them to the ocean," said McNeil of the Bocci fixture, made in Vancouver.

Large waterfront windows can be challenging at night, when they look like big, black holes without distant lights or passing ships to focus on. So it's important to place lights outside, said the certified lighting specialist.

"You need a sense of depth created by a lit path, a garden light, an up-light into a tree. By getting light to the farthest point from the house, you add a sense of depth. It makes a room feel larger, gives you more living space."

The dining room is lit by pendants that hang from a walnut canopy and by light spheres with recessed, invisible bases built into the cabinetry.

Steel and blue fixtures of wavy glass hang in the kitchen, and the master ensuite features Italian flat glass fixtures, hand-shaped into waves.

The upstairs master bedroom, which measures 700 square feet, has floating cabinets in the ensuite with recessed lighting to heighten the hovering effect. Vessel basins are solid granite and the tub is encased in quartz.

"It's the first time we've ever done an under-mounted tub," said Johal.

He noted that concerns about the near-sea-level lot required a great deal of engineering - and the sacrifice of a basement or crawlspace. "A great call by the owner."

Johal removed a lot of soft fill, replaced it with blasted engineered rock, built up an eight-foot foundation and installed a huge curtain drain around the perimeter of the property.

"We didn't want to take any chances, so we raised it and filled the foundation," said the owner, who asked not to be identified.

Her ensuite has the best view in the house, she said. "I wish I could spend more time there."

She loves the kitchen, too: "I'm not a chef but I like to cook, and it will be a nice place to entertain, down the road, when we have the time."

But her favourite feature is the floating staircase.

"It was a bit of a challenge - complicated and expensive - but I love it. If it were up to me, I wouldn't even have a handrail, but Terry explained we would not get an occupancy permit if we did that."

The owners said building the house was an exciting experience. "At first, we were a bit freaked out and wondered what we were getting ourselves into. ... You hear such horror stories, and people ask: 'Are you still married?'

"But it was not like that. There were a lot of decisions and choices, and we did go over budget," but that was not a shock because the extra expenses were the result of specific improvements.

She believes one of the reasons for their success was the youthful enthusiasm of everyone involved.

"Everybody was about the same age - we were on the same page."

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