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House Beautiful: Historic gem hidden in lush foliage, tall evergreens of south Oak Bay

Far above the humming traffic and bustle of bikers and power walkers, a house perches on a rock, surrounded by tall evergreens, mossy outcrops and a magnificent 360-degree view from a rooftop widow’s walk.

Far above the humming traffic and bustle of bikers and power walkers, a house perches on a rock, surrounded by tall evergreens, mossy outcrops and a magnificent 360-degree view from a rooftop widow’s walk.

Screened from the street by dense foliage, the south Oak Bay home is located at the top of a small cul-de-sac, where a narrow private driveway leads up to the crest of a small hill.

It’s a romantic landscape, lavishly overgrown, ultra-private and perfect for owners Bernie and Charlene Beck, who enjoy the camouflaged location. In fact, when the two met more than two decades ago, they were working undercover for the RCMP.

Charlene was a specialist in crimes against children and forensic child interviews. She is now a special constable with the Gaming, Policy and Enforcement Branch.

Bernie retired as commander of federal crimes in the commercial crime section and worked for many years in joint forces operations in Canada, the United States, the U.K. and South America, targeting international financial and organized crime.

He is now executive vice-president of a financial technology company, past president of the Union Club and sits on several boards, including Pacific Opera.

They both adore their new house — “We’re here for life,” said Charlene — but say the aging structure and garden were far more work than they anticipated. When the house was built in 1947, it stood alone against the skyline on its rocky outcrop, but today the home and hill are surrounded by eight decades of development and rampant greenery.

“We are having to re-landscape for the third time,” said Alberta-born Bernie with a chuckle. “Everything grows so quickly here.”

Ontario-born Charlene agreed, noting the garden is beyond pruning, especially the gigantic Leyland cypress hedge, planted long before they moved to the Island and bought the property in 2006.

When they first started looking for a home here, Bernie had already moved to the Island for work and was living in a condo. “There wasn’t much available on the market at the time.”

One day they saw this 6,000-square-foot, three-storey home, which had been up for sale for quite some time and needed masses of work.

“It was much larger than we had intended because no one had wanted to take it on … we got lucky,” he said

Previous owners had done some major renovating, but stopped halfway through.

They had used high-quality materials and gone the extra mile with improvements, said the Becks, installing new windows throughout the home, and water sprinklers in every room that are designed to come on independently.

“They also put in a drainage system that is second to none,” said Bernie. “This house will never flood.”

But there was still plenty of demanding work ahead, including a facelift for the entire ground floor, which was basically an unfinished basement even though it’s above grade. The main living floors were the two storeys above, with a front entrance up a stone staircase from the courtyard.

The Becks gutted the ground level and added new wiring, heat, drywall, paint and thick wall-to-wall carpet. It now holds two spare bedrooms, a second laundry room, bath and exercise rooms, and a large rec room with a billiard table.

Bernie doesn’t play billiards but Charlene used to play in tournaments: “Let’s just say, I never had to buy a drink in a bar,” she joked, adding the talent came in handy for working undercover.

The back of the house needed a tremendous amount of work, including a new staircase, as the old one was falling apart, and a “big hole” that gaped in the basement. Renovations took five years, in stages.

“It was mostly a love-hate relationship in those early years,” said Charlene. “We hated the fact it was a ton of work — you never really anticipate how much.

“But we love the house, the location, the big rooms, the huge dining room” — along with old-fashioned touches like the fact that each bedroom has its own original sink.

They created a new master suite and upgraded all the heating, as the home was previously warmed mostly by the living-room fireplace. They also created a charming family room off the kitchen, with a fireplace around which they created a wall of built-in bookcases with cupboards below.

Every step of the way, they made sure to enhance and preserve the Tudor feel and general era of the home, which has seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, long broad hallways, three staircases, a small “parlour” and an impressive living and dining room that is more than 15 metres long.

The latter has been the scene of numerous special events and fundraisers the Becks have hosted for their daughter’s school and also Pacific Opera, including a sit-down dinner for 50 once and a party for 130.

The renovation journey has had a few happy surprises along the way, too.

On the day they moved in, an exuberant Bernie tossed his daughter in the air and her hand dislodged a piece of glass in the foyer’s domed rose window, which sent pieces shattering to the floor.

“I started looking for a stained-glass repair man and found an elderly craftsman,” said Charlene. “He came to look and I asked if he might be able to fix it. He said yes, and explained he had made the original.”

Later, when they hired a carpenter to build a new mantel in the lower rec room — a tricky job because they wanted it sculpted and moulded to flow into the uneven rock surround — he nodded sagely and said he could definitely recreate the same look as upstairs. He had built that one, too.

The Becks’ home has been ready for Christmas for weeks now, and their daughter Dawn, 16, an accomplished student , has been practising carols.

“We like to keep our Christmas traditions simple, something I learned from my mom,” said Charlene. “So that when you walk in, you know it’s Christmas and time for celebration, but it’s not in-your-face crazy.”

She likes using natural decorations, plants and sentimental decorations made by her mother or gifted from friends.

The family usually invites guests for a big Christmas dinner to enjoy piano playing and storytelling, but these last two years have been quiet.