House Beautiful: First home right on cue

Some people have a pool table in their rec room and occasionally pick up a cue when friends drop by for a relaxed evening.

But two Victoria homeowners have a more serious view of the game — they recently designed an entire house around their passion for play.

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They spend hours a day shooting pool, have sunk millions of balls and are constantly working to perfect bank shots, jump shots, cannon shots, or the fine art of “putting English on the ball,” a kind of high-speed spin. They play on three competition-level tables, two nine-foot ones and one seven, while an overhead video camera rolls so they can play back über-clever moves on a giant screen, study the angles and repeat them when it counts.

Their pool room is the size of some cottages — about 1,000 square feet — and comprises almost a quarter of their home. It’s hardly surprising that these two are North American amateur champions who teach and give demonstrations at their home when not criss-crossing the continent competing.

“Our pool room is referred to by our peers as the shark tank,” said Ann, who is reluctant to use her real name, “because, of course, very strong pool players are generally called sharks.”

She was bitten by the pool “shark” at age 20, while her husband, Will (also not his real name) caught the bug at 14. It seems only fitting that they met in a “pool-oriented situation,” as she delicately describes it.

The two make regular pilgrimages to places like Las Vegas, often coming home winners from among 8,000 or more avid players who gather there annually. They are both two-time Canadian champions and U.S. Open and advanced Scotch doubles champions — meaning they also take part in team play, alternating shots.

“We’ve only had two holidays since we were married,” said Ann. “One was our honeymoon, the other was nine years ago. … Mostly we are travelling to tournaments and seeing the insides of pool halls in places like Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Reno, Seattle, Minnesota, Vegas, Portland …”

And because they were constantly travelling, they previously lived in an apartment — so this is their first home.

“Throughout all our travels and all those years staying in different hotels, we developed a lot of ideas about what we would like to have in our own home, and the final plans came together once we found this property,” she said.

The result is a house that is a blend of casual and sporty and formal elegance, filled with many antiques, family heirlooms, Oriental artworks in carved bone, ivory and cork, and Ann’s extensive collection of crystal. “At last I have a home to display it in.”

At first, they thought of renovating the 1,600-square-foot rancher that stood on the half-acre Saanich property, but changed their minds after conferring with Strandlund Brothers Construction and designer Erle Andrucko.

General contractor Randy Strandlund, who met the couple 20 years ago over a game of pool, explained the two decided not to be constrained by the original home’s floor plan, although they did reuse all of its foundation — and added another 3,000 square feet for their new one-level home.

“They settled on a West Coast style because there were lots of trees on the property and it seemed to make sense,” said Strandlund, who noted their wish list was initially pretty simple: two offices, a guest bedroom, master bedroom with sunroom attached, and a massive pool room.

But after that, it just grew and grew, he said, adding the final project ended up costing double the estimate, due to add-ons, such as rockwork around the base of the house, additional paving, patio areas and an enormous water feature.

“It grew all right — exponentially,” said Ann with a smile.

Originally, the ceilings were going to be eight feet, but they bumped them to nine and decided to widen the bedroom hall by two feet to allow for antiques. They also made the front door larger and created a glass window above, to mimic the entry canopy.

Strandlund, who has been building new homes and doing renos for 40 years, has a family-oriented business. His wife, Lori, helped with interior design. His brother’s Pacific Rim Exteriors did the siding and rockwork, while his son and stepson worked on demolition, painting and carpentry.

He said this project’s biggest element was the pool room, and its construction called for detailed collaboration.

“Will is a standout player, a meticulous guy who is very clear on what he wants and loves the warmth of woodwork. He figured out the ceiling pattern one night on his computer and we duplicated all the angles and geometrics in clear cedar.”

The owners love their kitchen, great room and master suite, with its attached sunroom filled with plants, Tiffany lamps and views onto the garden — but the pool room is their obvious focus.

“Initially, we were just going to have one nine-foot table and one seven-foot, but it suddenly struck us, what if we both needed to practise on the nine-foot table?” Ann said. So they bought two.

“Both the nines are landmark tables,” she added. One was played on during the 2011 Mosconi Cup and the other is a U.S. Open 10-ball championship table as well as the U.S. one-pocket championship table from 2012. Both are autographed by the players and the referees and have higher-than-normal pockets, which makes it harder to sink balls.

Now that they have retired from work, the owners still plan to continue competing and teaching and Ann hopes to spend some time in the garden.

Not Will. When he’s not playing pool, he’s pondering a chessboard or doing custom cue repairs in a variety of exotic wood.

He admits the pool room was his baby and he plays there every day. “I never get bored. I have a natural inclination and am attracted to puzzles. I believe some people are just wired a certain way. I love pool because it’s a perfect balance of mental and physical skill.”

He also loves his dramatic, custom-patterned wooden ceiling — “It reminds me of lots of halls I have played in and I think it’s a great look” — and the special modifications he made to the table lights, so they shine two to three times brighter than normal.

His favourite movie is The Hustler, about a pool player, naturally, and pictures from it and other pool-related films decorate the hall.

And of course, they both take videos of themselves playing, too, so if they have a “really good run, anything spectacular, we can analyze it and practise that strategy.” He included a bar in the room, too, but stresses, “I never got into drinking. You can’t if you want to stay at the top of your game.”

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