House Beautiful: Gallery of glorious decor ideas

What: Let’s Talk Design

Where: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

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When: June 5-7

Tickets: $20 per lecture or four for $60 (before June 5) online at or at the Moss Street gallery. A limited number of student tickets for $15 are available. Each ticket includes one gallery admission until June 5.


Have you ever wondered where to source a locally made dining table? Or longed to do a kitchen reno but not known where to start? Or wanted to create a granny suite, but wondered if that would be a wise investment? Well ponder no more.

Leading design professionals will delve into these topics and more starting Thursday, at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s popular three-day Let’s Talk Design event.

Organized by the Gallery Associates, the series of four interactive presentations will feature 10 leading local designers offering expert insights and advice about the fine art of interior style and function. Each of the two-hour sessions will offer tips, trends and wisdom, and also will include opportunities for questions:


• The event begins Thursday with a panel discussion from 7 to 9 p.m. on West Coast Design Today, featuring four innovative specialists and moderated by designer Ann Squires Ferguson. It will look at our signature Vancouver Island style, how it evolved, where it’s going and what it means to be truly sustainable.

This opening-day discussion was conceived to celebrate World Environment Day as well as to kick off the event.

Panelists will include rammed earth construction pioneer Meror Krayenhoff, who has been named best homebuilder in B.C.; landscape architect Bianca Bodley, who creates sensational garden environments; renowned eco-designer JC Scott, who will draw on his extensive knowledge of sustainable materials and products; and furniture builder John Lore, owner of Live Edge Design, and an expert in innovative combinations of materials.


• On Friday, from 7 to 9 p.m. there will be a discussion of Smart Homes for Life with Jodi McKeown Foster and David Coulson (see related stories, pages E5 and E6).

If you love your house and want to stay there forever, or are planning a new purpose-built house for retirement, this is a talk you won’t want to miss because these two are connoisseurs of beautiful and functional spaces to last a lifetime. They will explain how to revitalize home environments, making them more sustainable, functional, stylish and adaptable to changing needs.


• Saturday’s talk, from 10 a.m. to noon, is titled The Cook and the Kitchen, and it’s about hot looks and cool technology for the heart of the home, featuring designer Leanne McKeachie and chef Dan Hayes of the London Chef.

Hayes knows how to style food and stir up excitement in a pot, while McKeachie makes kitchen decor sizzle. Together they will impart some tasty ideas for kitchens whether they are used primarily for food preparation, eating, socializing — or all three — with tips on added efficiency, organization and innovation.

McKeachie, who says design is largely about problem solving, brings a decade of experience to the event. Hayes trained under some of the U.K.’s most renowned chefs and with his wife, Micayla, runs a busy dining room, café, pantry, cooking school and catering business on Fort Street.


• On Saturday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. there will be an interactive discussion on the topic, Nest or Invest, with designer Kyla Bidgood (see related story, page E6) and real estate expert Christina Stack, who used to co-own the modern furniture store Only Human.

The duo will look at whether homes should be designed as financial investments or as reflections of personal taste and lifestyle.

When investing in upgrades or renovations, do you want to please the masses and appeal to future buyers, or cater to a taste that’s uniquely your own? This session will explore both perspectives

“People are encouraged to purchase their tickets for Lets Talk Design early, as this popular fundraiser will sell out quickly,” said event co-chair Angela Buckingham, who noted there are just 75 tickets for each presentation.



1. Kyla Bidgood: Nest or nest egg?


Is a house an investment or a nest, or both?

It’s a thorny question for those who are decorating or renovating, and wondering how wild to go and wondering if a highly personalized decor will work against them when it comes to resale.

Will that pea green countertop turn people off? Or can you live with a huge walk-in shower for a few years, when you’d much rather soak in a bath.

Designer Kyla Bidgood believes a home is much more than an investment, and even a first-time buyer who plans to move on soon should make it their own — within reason.

She doesn’t believe in a generic look, with everything so neutral it appeals to the masses.

“Is that going to bring you joy when you are living there?”

She and real estate agent Christina Stack will debate the pros and cons during their talk at the art gallery, while referring to a new spec home in the Oaklands area.

“This home is not designed for one specific family, although family living was kept in mind. It has still been personalized with an appreciation of design integrated into the architecture,” said Bidgood.

She created an underlying theme of mid-century modern, but with “new nostalgic” touches she feels have broad appeal.

“We included some boldish statements, such as the strong vertical stripe in the staircase railings, the walnut floors, extensive millwork, cabinets, all in a classic combination of white, black and brown.”

The high contrast look emphasizes the grains of wood and marble. “It’s all about subtle repetition.”

She injected an artistic element in the kitchen island with a highly patterned marble wave top from Stone Age, while the back counter is neutral porcelain, a completely non-porous surface that doesn’t burn, stain or scratch — so the kitchen is not too busy. Open shelves were designed to showcase finer cookware and glasses.

She added a dramatic touch in the bathrooms with vanities clad in the same wood as the floor, and similar panels up the sides of ceiling-high mirrors. Recessed drawer pulls add a tailored touch.

“People can be very afraid to do things out of the box, but we want to make a space our own. A perfect home is an accumulation of memories, of the different people you have been in your life. So create a space that tells a story of who you are.”

She said the builder of this home was keen to use sustainable and local products, and was very welcoming and open to new ideas. It was built by Strong Properties, with sales and marketing handled by Nick Wise at Newport Realty.


2. David Coulson: Building to last


Aging in place is a challenge, especially when a home is even older than you are, but David Coulson has done a sensitive reno to this classic cabin that used to belong to James Dunsmuir.

“It has such a Ralph Lauren feeling, with beautiful, old, blackened logs. I’ve never come across a better example here. To see log patina like that you have to go down into Colorado — but the home needed a lot of work to suit the newly retired couple who want to live there forever,” said Coulson.

The project began with an attitude of compassion and understanding for the old building that had sagged a little, needed some propping in the basement and some excavation to make it safe and sound.

“Some of the logs had been carelessly butchered over the years so we got in there and re-stained and refinished them in an organic, German beeswax to give them that rich heritage lustre.

“We brought the whole building into the 21st century with all kinds of modern updates,” said Coulson, who used to work in theatre design, made Hollywood film sets and now loves restoring historic buildings, as well as designing new.

“The entire residence is now highly accessible from one end to the other, inside and out, with four sets of French doors, a dining room addition and guest suite that is entered at grade.

“We also installed the most extensive set of drawer cabinetry I’ve ever done in a kitchen. The whole lower section is done in a nice warm, nutty-coloured alder, with easy pull out drawers.”

Coulson said it was a challenge restoring the Cowichan River cabin that dates back to the late 1800s or early 1900s.

It was originally built by an avid fly fisherman who retired from the British army and wrote for sporting magazines. His articles helped the area became a renowned fishing destination.

In 1919, the cottage was bought by James Dunsmuir, former Lieutenant-Governor, premier of B.C. and builder of Hatley Castle. After his death, the home was kept in the family until the late 1930s.

To what was originally a small cabin, Dunsmuir added a three-metre wide, wrap around, covered porch on all sides, which was later enclosed on two sides.

The home changed hands several times and one of the owners, who was an electrician, upgraded the wiring, added central heating and excavated a basement by hand.

The current owners, Carrol and Mike, bought the property in 1996 and hired Coulson in 2005 to do the renos.

Their goal was to modernize but keep the character of the house and bring out original aspects that had been hidden for almost a century. They added V-groove ceilings to match the existing ones, wide mouldings, created a new master suite within the existing footprint, and built an addition for kitchen and dining rooms.

They exposed many of the log walls, which had been enclosed since the Dunsmuir days.

“The result is spectacular,” said Carrol. “When we took over the house it was fairly basic and had little or no insulation … fine in summer but pretty uncomfortable in winter. But now we are very happy here.”

Mike added they found some 1913 newspapers stuffed in the walls and just for fun, where they recovered the walls in some places, they left them in place for future renovators to discover.

The original logs were about 24 inches in diameter and Mike loves the new interior look.

“David is very sensitive about keeping the character intact and encouraged us to leave the logs exposed as artifacts. It has been very time consuming and very expensive, but we knew what we were getting into and we wanted the quality.”

Coulson’s gallery talk will also focus on Vancouver Island’s first certified SAFERhome project, which he recently completed in Duncan.

That unique home is designed to enhance lifestyles both now and in the future.



3. Jodi McKeown Foster: Looking to the future


Statistics show that by 2032, almost half of us will be 65 or older, and that means changing lifestyles and a demand for new style homes.

But just because people want to age in place doesn’t mean a home has to look geriatric, says Jodi McKeown Foster, who worked in design in St. John’s, Toronto, New York and Vancouver before moving to Victoria four years ago.

She has a diverse background in design, planning and project management, and her gallery presentation will feature an overview of chic design combined with smart building techniques that can result in a long-term home that is not only functional, stylish and livable but also saves money, reduces risk of injury at home and adapts to changing needs.

Her talk will also illustrate how people can be better prepared as clients.

A recent home she designed in Saltair, just north of Chemainus, illustrates all these points and proves a home designed for aging in place doesn’t have to look institutional.

“Thoughtful consideration in this house was given to level entries, three-foot wide doors, generous aisles and hallways, and possible conversion of the present main floor den into a future master bedroom, complete with walk-in closet and ensuite,” said Foster.

The owners, still in their 50s, wanted luxury and style, not an environment that suggested old age, so there isn’t a shower bench nor grab bars in the bathroom, although walls are reinforced so they can be added later.

The owners also wanted to entertain in their new custom home, built by Bruce Muir of Elmsworth Construction, because they love to host musical events. So they wanted large spaces where furniture could be easily moved around.

“A lot of people don’t really know what they want, but these two had done a lot of research about how they wanted to live. They were super prepared. They knew what they wanted and hired me to pull it all together,

“An incredible amount of thought was given to connecting interior to exterior spaces, with consideration of views, light and function.”

The retired couple also have an “incredible art collection” so they needed wall space, and Foster is all for that.

She likes walls and uses them to create retreat areas where owners can escape from the blazing sun on a hot day. “You need variation to create interest and dynamic tension, otherwise all that window space doesn’t look so fantastic.”

Foster, is very much into esthetics, having worked in Toronto and New York for Estée Lauder and Lancome, doing in-house store and spa design for many years.

“I only came into residential recently, when one of the owners of a big corporation asked me to do his residence. That led to working with his friends, and business grew by word of mouth.

“Residential is very different from commercial. It’s very intimate and you get involved with people’s lives.”

In the Saltair home she created a kitchen that is ultra easy to manoeuvre around, with wide aisles and low storage, two entrances into the great room and a two-way stone fireplace.

“There is a high probability that we will all be in a wheelchair or use a walker at some point.

“You don’t have to be old to break a knee or hip, or be visited by an elderly parent or a child who broke a leg on a playing field.”

She said many people have bought into the “Peter Pan home” with lots of stairs, multi level changes, high cupboards and shelves, where only the able bodied can live well.

“And even though our aging population will stay quite active well into retirement, these kinds of homes are open to greater chance of injury.”

Amped up lighting is another aspect she has paid attention to, providing it at different levels throughout the house.

“The goal is to live safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age or income, and be able to remain in a familiar environment.”


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