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House Beautiful: Building on steep Arbutus Ridge lot yields three floors of ocean views

The build was so difficult, the crew had to use techniques from the turn of the century to get started

Daryl and Debbie Clegg had to be visionaries when it came to getting back into their favourite neighbourhood on Vancouver Island.

The couple lived in Arbutus Ridge, a gated community in the Cowichan Valley, from 2008 to 2015, but moved to build a larger home in Courtenay.

But just three years later, with a son in Victoria and a daughter in Duncan, as well as five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, they wanted to move back to the seaside community.

Unfortunately, none of the more than 640 homes in Arbutus Ridge were for sale. Instead, they ended up with a huge lot, with panoramic views of Salt Spring Island, Satellite Inlet and Mount Baker.

The only problem was that it was so steep, two contractors refused to build on the 12,500-square-foot lot, which had a 100-foot drop from the roadside to the end of the property line.

“If we had one we’ve had 10 people say to us we looked at the lot but they were saving it for us,” says Debbie Clegg.

Daryl, who retired in 2018 as the marketing director for Canada Life Insurance, adds it was one of the last lots sold in Arbutus Ridge, a community first established in 1988.

Debbie admits when they initially lived at Arbutus Ridge, they would walk past the land, which was behind security fencing, and ask how anyone could ever build there.

Fast forward just a few years, and the couple would find out the answer after discovering that Bob Thomson Construction, a Duncan custom-home builder, was willing to take on the challenge.

Thirteen months after the Cleggs bought the lot, after an extensive permit process, construction started in August 2019. The couple by then had sold their Courtenay home and were renting a house in Arbutus Ridge, which meant they could keep a close watch on the construction process.

“It was a horrendous build. Most people would have walked away,” says Daryl, adding the build was so difficult, the crew had to use techniques from the turn of the century to get started.

“The guys basically couldn’t get a backhoe in, so they were using a pick and shovel until they could get established,” he says.

Seeing the house, which cantilevers over a hillside, from the rear is the best way to grasp the challenges involved in building on such a steep lot. One can only imagine those early construction days as concrete was being poured for the foundation.

Ensuring the house could withstand an earthquake took 315 yards of concrete, more than three times the 100 yards of concrete used for a typical home, says Daryl.

Debbie smiles when she says they had to sell their second home in Palm Springs just to pay for the concrete.

“Our builder called it a bungalow in the sky,” says Daryl of the modern house they created, which looks unassuming and small from the front of the property but is actually 4,000 square feet.

The house has three levels, all with panoramic water views, with large outdoor decks on the top two levels.

The Clegg were able to move into their new home in December 2020, and now get to enjoy the ever-changing scenery outside on a daily basis.

One of Daryl’s favourite viewing spots is on the middle level from the outdoor covered hot tub.

“The hot tub is next level. They had to bring it in by crane from the bottom [of the property] before the railings went up. That was a huge ordeal,” he says.

“Everything was a huge ordeal,” adds Debbie.

But in the end, the couple say it was worth it, since every day feels like they are on holiday.

“It almost feels like we’re on a cruise ship,” says Daryl, who credits his wife for coming up with many design ideas and decorating the home.

The primary bedroom, with a large ensuite, was inspired by a bathroom Debbie first saw in a decorating magazine.

One of the main design touches is in the primary bedroom ensuite, which has a stone tile “rug” in front of the double sinks. The tile is the same one used in the shower and was left over, so was a last-minute idea that worked.

The stone work was done by Justin Walpole of Cowichan Valley Tiling.

Debbie chose all of the finishes in the house, and insisted the main rooms be painted white, which she says makes touchups easy.

“Debbie has a good eye,” says Daryl, who says he initially tried to convince her to use coloured paint, but is OK with losing that particular battle, now that he’s seen the final result.

Since the plan is to “age in place,” the couple, who have been married for more than 50 years, had an elevator installed to allow easy access between floors.

Another nice design touch was in the front entry, where the light oak flooring was laid in a herringbone pattern to make it stand out — an idea suggested by their flooring installer, Ted Battryn of Ted Battryn Floor Laying.

The house, like most modern homes, is open-concept, which makes the space a perfect entertainment area, with a kitchen along one wall that highlights how savings and splurges can combine.

One of the couple’s main savings was in the lighting, including the three pendant lights hanging over the kitchen island. Those lights, along with a starburst light in the entryway, were bought at 70 per cent off from a lighting company that went out of business.

“I was in weekly asking if they were going to reduce certain items,” says Daryl.

One of the main kitchen splurges was a blue stove, whose colour was duplicated in the kitchen island’s bottom cabinets. The colour was chosen to echo the water seascape just outside their windows.

The cabinetry was done by Jason Fifield of Heronwood Custom Cabinetry.

The fireplace in the living room is a main feature, second only to the views, and has white ledge stone that again incorporated another left-over building material. The corner for the stone wasn’t available, so wood trim that was left over was placed around the fireplace surround. It gives the fireplace a finished look, and seems intentional.

The couple speaks glowingly of everyone who worked on the project, from the builder to the sub-trades.

“Everyone was so passionate about their job. You know when they love what they do you are going to get the best,” Daryl says.

kpemberton@shaw.ca