House Beautiful: Renovation went down to the foundation

When Ann Godin and Phillip Bourque moved here from Calgary two years ago, everyone assumed they were coming to Victoria to retire.

But these two are still actively engaged in busy careers — she, as an international translator, and he, as an architect specializing in both multiple-unit complexes and single-family residences.

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They came for the lifestyle, climate, year-round gardening and because Bourque wanted to create a West Coast home to perfectly suit their needs at this age and stage of life.

“We rented for over a year while we looked for the right lot,” said Godin, explaining they planned to add onto an older house, or find a vacant lot.

“We saw many lovely streets and different areas in Victoria,” but the ideal property eluded them and finally they decided to demolish an old house and build afresh.

“The funny thing is, after having lived in Calgary for 30 years, we ended up on a street that more or less looks just like Calgary,” she said.

They wanted a warm location, not too close to the ocean, with southwest exposure, and they found it in the Estevan area — a 10-minute walk to Oak Bay Village, the beach, shops, restaurants — and a good place for riding their bikes.

Their 75-foot-wide property is broader than others nearby, “almost like a lot and a half,” and has plenty of room for gardening.

But there were several design challenges.

Bourque decided to stick with the bones of the old house, retaining the foundation, the fireplace and chimney, as well as the front steps and exterior studs. t like a lot and a half,” and has plenty of room for gardening.

But there were several design challenges.

Bourque decided to stick with the bones of the old house, retaining the foundation, the fireplace and chimney, as well as the front steps and exterior studs.

“The biggest challenge, when you are keeping something of the old and not starting from scratch, is trying to adapt to what is on site, and what is best about the site. You also have to be very aware of the presence of the old house,” which continues to live on, in a sense.

He retained the raised bungalow form, “which is ubiquitous around here,” because it maximizes the basement, rather than starting at grade and creating a new two-storey house, with a lower and darker basement.

Mindful of the neighbours too, they didn’t want to build higher and block the sun.

They kept to the original footprint, but added 600 square feet on both main and basement floors, taking the house from 2,300 square feet to 3,500.

Light was important after living in Calgary, the sunniest city in Canada with 2,396 hours of bright sun each year, about 200 hours more than here. And his use of natural light led to the most striking architectural element in the house: a large hallway with soaring clerestory windows.

“Everything feeds off this central spine,” said the Halifax-born Bourque, who integrated a series of “heroic gables” into the roofline.

Why are they heroic?

“Because they’re big, and give texture to the face of the house, a sort of grandeur whereas before the cottage roof was more subdued.” The form works well with the exterior style and creates a dramatic space inside which soars five metres and saturates the whole upper floor with natural light.

They used HardieShingle siding outside and a former outdoor staircase at the back was closed in. “I added a wall of windows so you don’t feel you’re going down into a basement,” said Bourque. The new lower area includes a media room, studio, bathroom and bedroom, while upstairs are a new office, master bedroom, ensuite and walk-in closet with laundry.

The area immediately beneath the stairs has been repurposed as a wine cellar, and the old dining area atop the stairs has become a favourite relaxing corner, with bookcase, file storage, armchair and open-topped wall for greater airflow and light glow.

In the living room, they simply painted the fireplace and added a new mantel and shelves in West Coast alder, making no attempt to camouflage the television. “Why hide it?” he asked pragmatically. “It’s part of how we live — which is the same reason we don’t ask people to take their shoes off when they come into our home.”

The kitchen is uber-important to this couple, as the Montreal-born Godin is a serious chef.

“It’s not just lip service,” she joked, adding the room is intended for socializing, too, hence the monster, four-metre-long island where people can perch while she invents.

The cabinets have a lacquered grey finish and countertops are white marble, from Matrix Marble, which they love because it ages beautifully, like 1,000-year-old statues in Italy.

Said Godin: “It doesn’t stain, it etches, and we embrace that. We like the fact it’s local, organic, not fabricated like quartz, and is both modern and classical. The veining is soft, unlike Carrera marble, and develops a unique patina.”

They wanted a contemporary kitchen with a simple grey, white and stainless steel palette, cabinets-to-the-ceiling, and no pendant lights — since Bourque is six-foot-two.

A covered porch now creates a transition between kitchen and garden, and they opted for metal valances and shades on the porch rather than the kitchen windows. While lending a semi-industrial vibe to the outdoor space, the screens (from Ruffell & Brown Interiors) offer privacy in the kitchen, allowing light through but not enclosing the kitchen.

“The porch has become our summer living room,” said Godin, who noted the shades are durable, fastened on each end so they won’t flap, and help cut the wind.

The master bathroom is always the toughest room to design, said Bourque, “because there is so much to get into it and you want to see a pleasant tableau as you walk by.”

Here they used marble again, for all flat surfaces, and installed a floating vanity with wall-to-wall mirror above. A single sink allows for more counter space.

On the main living level the owners installed engineered double-smoked, German oak floors with a white oil finish, from European Flooring.” (See the story on page E5.)

Outside, they developed a “modern-rustic” look with 200 shrubs and trees, an irrigation system, swimming pool with automatic cover, a small orchard of fruit trees, raised vegetable beds, and palm trees from South Carolina.

Inside and out, the home has a sophisticated yet youthful ambience and Godin agreed saying: “We don’t want to have an old house full of old stuff.” Instead, she decorates with a lively infusion of oranges, blues and yellows.

“Ever house needs a little sunflower in it.”

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