House Beautiful: Inspired building

When developer Terry Johal first set eyes on this striking waterfront lot in Victoria’s Fairfield neighbourhood, he decided to build a “land yacht” there.

The property seemed to cry out for a home with nautical flair, a house that featured elements of a high-end cruiser, and that’s precisely what he built with the help of designer Michael Nixon.

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As it happened, his creativity caught the fancy of many others, too, as the home was the big winner at this year’s CARE Awards, capturing six golds, including best project of the year and people’s choice. It also scooped best single-family custom home from 2,500 to 3,500 square feet, best interior residential from 2,800 to 4,000 square feet, best landscaping and best custom millwork in the same size category.

The latter was a joint effort and win with the help of South Shore Cabinetry, said Johal, who opted for white walls, white cabinetry, stark white appliances and cool white furniture combined with reflective stainless accents.

He also used warm highlights ranging from bold trim and space-efficient built-ins to entire feature walls in exotic, fine-textured sapele wood from tropical Africa. It comes from a tree in the same family as mahogany.

He chuckled to recall how the white appliances were chosen, after he was mistakenly shipped something similar for another project. “I saw them accidentally and sent them back on that job, but I also thought, ‘Wow, we could use them in another house sometime.’ I like the retro look.”

He paired them with white quartz countertops, which waterfalls over the edge of the island, and Roy Sandsmark of South Shore Cabinetry managed to colour-match all the cabinets perfectly.

For added glamour, Johal had an area on every main door routered out so a strip of stainless steel could be inserted, for a hit of sparkle and style.

The result is a home that’s shipshape and Bristol fashion with a unique window treatment in the living room that follows the maritime inclination.

The side of the house that faces the water features two windows that pitch out, like those of a large offshore vessel.

“The idea is to reduce glare,” said Johal, and, like the wheelhouse window of a tugboat or a ferry, it helps shed any rain and salt spray that slams into the house on stormy days.

The reverse slant is also an attractive architectural element that collects compliments and surprised ooohs and aaahs as people enter the room.

Designer Nixon said the property deserved special treatment.

“It is one of the most southerly residential properties in Greater Victoria and the only one, in all my years of designing, where the sidelines are absolutely dead north-south.

“That is very, very rare,” said Nixon, who has created a couple of thousand homes during his career as designer responsible for a major portion of the work in Broadmead’s 290 hectares as well as at Royal Bay and many other projects.

An old red brick house once stood on the lot, with a garage on the ocean side, which cut off the view, so it was a no-brainer to move the garages to the front. But he reduced their visual impact on the narrow 13.7-metre lot by angling them and the front entry, too.

The site was challenging because its confined envelope required the house to be long and narrow. “The last thing you want on a narrow lot is a double-wide garage at the front, facing the street,” Nixon said. “So I angled both garages and the front entrance in at a chevron slant.”

Viewed from above, the building is shaped like a gull’s wing, with the garage as the feathers, which gives the house an aerodynamically pleasing esthetic. From the waterside, the look is clean and conservative.

Another critical aspect of the design is the square footage, which he maxed out.

“We left nothing on the table, and it was a total puzzle because of the zoning and configuration challenges.

“There was not a smidgen of wasted space,” said Nixon.The house is just over nine metres at its widest and just over 3,000 square feet on three levels.

They eked out bonus space downstairs, as it was classified as basement, and added a theatre room, wine cellar, powder room and mechanical room.

No windows directly face the street, but a couple of narrow vertical ones are angled toward the drive to echo the garages. Nixon explained any other windows would have emphasized the narrow scale.

“The house looks bigger, and it’s a privacy and noise consideration, too.”

Spines on the metal roof were also cleverly designed to make the house appear larger.

Because the house is constantly in the wind and weather, Johal and Nixon used a metal roof and repeated the same material on exterior walls as a wide band of vertical metal that wraps the house, adding to the nautical composition.

Nixon also used shingles on the exterior: “Whenever you can put roofing material on a wall, it’s probably the most impervious thing you can do. You could take a fire hose to this house now. In this climate, in this location, the shingle is one of your best friends for durability.”

Inside, the home is sleek, functional and airy, in part thanks to a central staircase off the main hall that seems to float. “This stairway was a labour of love,” Johal said.

“We used three-inch slabs of wood, with metal and glass supports, and we worked very hard to match the floor identically. It took a lot of man-hours with grinders, paint and stain to match it to the wire brushed, white oak floors and mimic the same finish.”

The homeowners, originally from the Interior, are extensive travellers and semi-retired business people who are using the home for weekends, he said, adding they gave him carte blanche when it came to creating the building inside and out.

“All they wanted was to keep construction under one million.”

They came out to view it only once during the build, but both he and Nixon have designed and built for them before so it was a comfortable arrangement, Johal said.

“I’ve been really fortunate, and worked for a ton of wonderful clients, but this house was one of the most rewarding because I could express my style. This home is a real blend of contemporary, modern elements and warm, rustic features. It’s like what you see in Milan, with crisp cabinetry, high gloss finishes and wire-brushed white oak floors for the driftwood beach effect.

“The owners and I both like a minimalist look and like the idea of a yacht esthetic with high-end applications, luxury textures and simple colours.

“It’s a really livable home, nothing too formal, and they can check in and monitor the home from anywhere in the world through their automated system, which looks after security, cameras, lighting, audio, heat [et cetera].”

Johal said landscaper Pat Hicks knew they were dealing with the elements and used plants that would hold up to salt and wind and also be low maintenance.

“The owners also wanted their home to be very durable so outside we didn’t use your typical concrete patios or pavers,” Johal said. “We worked with real rock on the patios and around the landscape, to again give a feeling of solidity and strength.”

He brought in blasted rock to reinforce the foreshore and add seating nooks on the waterside.

“This house is built like a tank.”

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