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House Beautiful: 'Back Drop House' sets stage for mid-century modern living

A split-level, 1955 Victoria house gets a stylish makeover that includes an addition that drops down three steps.

‘I feel like I’m in an art gallery cooking school. This makes me so happy just to say that,” says the culinary-loving homeowner of his family’s new kitchen in their updated, mid-century home.

The split-level Victoria house, built in 1955, underwent a renovation and got a new addition that changed its look and feel. It’s a project the principal of the architectural firm, ONE SEED Architecture + Interiors calls Back Drop House.

Architect Allison Holden-Pope explains the house literally “drops down” three steps and the addition ties in with the existing house. Like a theatre, it indeed “has a sense of an art gallery cooking school or backdrop of performance.”

Now instead of cooking, living and dining in closed off spaces, that totalled 550 sq. ft. on the main floor, the family enjoys a large dining room and impressive entryway after renovating the house’s original footprint. Vaulted 3.6-metre ceilings in the addition at the back of the home give it a voluminous feel.

The sunken living room and kitchen are a seamless addition to the house, providing an additional 650 sq. ft.

Large glass accordion doors and windows open up the back of the house and its garden.

Besides being devoted cooks, the homeowners are also passionate gardeners and have been working on creating an outdoor oasis, since buying the house in 2018.

“The concept of bridging the front to back and inside to outside was a driving force in the design of Back Drop House,” says Holden-Pope.

The garden, while beautiful, now competes with a stunning kitchen and living space with a colour palette inspired by a West Coast beach, with dark rocks, sun and light blue skies.

The custom cabinetry, by David H. Moore Cabinetry, is a light oak and for interest has a charred wood upper cabinet over a kitchen work space.

Known as shou sugi ban, the Japanese wood-burning technique was also used on the large front entry closet that forms an artistic backdrop on the side facing the dining room.

Under the charred wood kitchen cabinets, a subway tile backsplash is light blue in colour to mimic water. The homeowners were so intent on getting just the right artisan tile, from the U.S.-based company Fireclay Tile, that they changed their minds five times before making their final decision.

The flooring in the open concept kitchen/living room is heated, polished concrete flooring, and by having its surface diamond ground it has the look of terrazzo flooring. The flooring in the upper main area is white oak.

“I’m a very devoted cook so the opportunity to design a dream kitchen was very appealing to me. It’s quite remarkable to have this kitchen,” adds the homeowner.

The stylish kitchen has all the bells and whistles a professional cook would appreciate. The cooktop faces out to the living space, with a pop-up fan that rises from the kitchen island so as not to hamper sight lines. There’s floor-to-ceiling cabinetry storage along part of the back wall, containing a double oven and stainless steel fridge.

Using potlights instead of pendants keeps the kitchen look streamlined.

There’s also a smaller floor-to-ceiling cabinet to hold all of the wife’s baking equipment and cooking appliances. She’s an award-winning baker, having recently taken top prize at a local baking competition for her biscotti.

The design-savvy couple, who have a 14-year-old daughter, bought the house primarily to be close to family. At the time, they were moving from Nanaimo and couldn’t have gotten closer — their next door neighbours are the wives’ parents.

To make it easier for the two families to go back and forth, they eliminated the fence between the properties making the two large lots feel more like an urban park, thanks to the extensive landscaping the couple has done since moving in. They also put in a substantial organic vegetable garden.

“We love the neighbourhood, it’s very quiet and close to schools and beaches,” he says.

“In fact, my grandmother-in-law used to own the house a few dozen years ago but it changed hands many times since then. It’s nice to have it back in the family,” he says.

The couple, who appreciate mid-century modern design and have an enviable collection of Danish mid-century modern furniture, looked for an architect with a similar modernist aesthetic and who would also focus on sustainability and energy efficiency.

ONE SEED Architecture + Interiors firm has been specializing in west coast modern architecture, bringing in elements of Scandinavian, Japanese and Nordic design, for the past 16 years. The small firm also prefers to do projects that are sustainable and energy efficient.

“[My wife] showed me a magazine with Allison’s work in it and we bookmarked it and said that’s who we want to talk to because it reflected so much of what we wanted to see in our house as well,” says the homeowner.

He adds he also appreciated how Holden-Pope has a reputation for getting the external envelope right.

“It’s so important for longevity, especially on the west coast where you can have envelope failure and water entry, and ever increasing climate issues. Particularly when you have a wall of windows you don’t want to find you have water pooling at the end of the season,” he says.

The homeowner adds while their initial design had solar panels, for budgeting reasons, they did not do them initially but hope to add them in the near future.

Holden-Pope says the design was truly a collaboration between her firm and the clients.

“Whenever picking a project, we look at whether it is sustainable and do they share a similar modernist esthetic,” she says.

And while she admits that some residential projects don’t need to have an architect, there’s value to having the right architectural firm guide the project from start to finish. The homeowners agreed.

“There were some very tricky bits to this project, which was how to connect this new space to the existing house in terms of materials, in terms of design, in terms of the lines. I think it would have been tricky to do without an architect,” he says.

Holden-Pope says an example of ensuring continuity through materials can be seen in a perfectly aligned bank of hemlock ceiling, in the front entry, that continues the line of the soffit outside. It runs to a tall window at the end of the corridor framing a view of the backyard. At one side of the window, the flooring transitions to a concrete bench, creating a peek-a-boo view of the living room and its three-sided fireplace. By recessing the fireplace into the concrete bench, with custom millwork underneath part of it, the result is a floating effect and a connection between the two upper and lower living spaces.

There are also large concrete pavers that lead up to the house that continue the pathway connecting the outdoors to the interior space and a canopy, with the hemlock soffit underneath.

The dining area and the open entry at the front of the home is divided by the large, deep closet, which the homeowners appreciate for its functionality,

“Having this humongous closet at the front entrance has really been life-changing. The back is a millwork shoe rack and we have enough storage for seasonal storage,” he says.

“It’s become our black monolith. We’ve resisted putting any art on it since the closet is the art.”

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