BY ATHENA McKENZIE | PHOTOS BY JOSHUA LAWRENCE
“We’re complete opposites,” Tasha* says. Her sister-in-law, Melissa, has just explained how she wanted her side of their family duplex to feel rustic and established — like the family had been there forever.
“We didn’t want it to look like we had just done a reno,” Melissa says. “We wanted people to come in and feel like we had been here for a while, not have it all shiny and modern.”
In contrast to Melissa’s more eclectic and rural ambience, Tasha describes her space’s esthetic as very modern farmhouse, with lots and lots of white. “Everything is white,” Tasha says. “We spent 20 minutes choosing paint colours, while they spent three weeks.”
“More like six months,” Melissa counters. “We were on a first-name basis with the Benjamin Moore people. We had a stack of sample boards. We’d hang them along the wall and see how it looked at different times of day.”
Together with their partners, the two recently completed a joint renovation on their 1950s duplex, where Tasha and her husband, Conrad, live on one side, and Melissa, her husband, Cain, and their two children live on the other.
The two couples bought the duplex in 2012, after Tasha and Conrad moved to Victoria from Vancouver. Conrad had grown up in Victoria and his sister, Melissa, was also looking for a home. Given the prices on single-family homes, they jumped at a chance to jointly purchase the duplex when a friend decided to put it on the market.
Before the renovation, each side was a mirror-image. “It was a 1950s layout and was so compact and compartmentalized,” Tasha says. “The layout was not functional. There was an odd little room, a small kitchen, a big living room and two small bedrooms.”
Each couple upped the livable space by finishing the basement but the upstairs space still didn’t work, especially given Melissa and Cain’s growing family with the births of their two children.
“We had been looking at moving on,” Tasha says. “But if we sell, we have to sell together. Plus, we needed to decide if we would each buy something different — and the market was going up. Ultimately, we decided to renovate and create the layout we wanted, so we can be here for another ten years, plus.”
As a non-conforming duplex, there were various challenges that faced the project. The building was purpose-built as a duplex in the 1950s, but in the 1970s the municipality of Oak Bay reconfigured the zoning areas, so the duplex now sits on a single-family home lot.
“We had to jump through hoops to get this renovation approved, because of the non-conforming status,” says Cody Arsens of Carsa Construction, the contractor who spearheaded the project.
With the renovations, nothing could be changed on the outside, including any additions, so each side had to stick within its existing 1,000-square-foot space. Even with only internal changes, it took 14 weeks to get the building permit approved.
The space was then gutted back to the studs. Arsens added a 25-foot-by-16-inch support beam to each side, so inside supporting walls could be removed.
“The beam came through a window,” Arsens says. “It required several workmen to put it up and then we had to restructure the whole roof.”
The team also furrowed all the exterior walls, to make them thicker and to bring them up to current code. A forced air system was added and Arsens created a conditioned space in the attic so the heating equipment is out of sight.
Being a duplex, the workman would finish a step on one side and then have to repeat the entire process on the other side.
“There were a lot of hours in this project — it was a big one,” Arsens says. “But everything came together quite nicely. It’s a very unique project to do a duplex this way, with all the differences in the styles of each side, and the outside is the same.”
On Melissa’s side, unique touches that exemplify its Arts-and-Crafts feel include shiplap from Peerless Forest Products, which is found on the walls in the bathroom and on the ceiling in the bedroom. A rustic fireplace and a deep blue finish on the kitchen’s Shaker-style cabinets make the open living space feel cozy and inviting.
“It feels like we live in a cottage,” Melissa says. “If we lived somewhere a bit more rural, I would have gone all out.”
“We tried to balance our personal rustic style with the neighbourhood we are in and the 1950s home exterior that we were working with,” explains her husband, Cain.
The modern interior of Tasha’s side extends into the white and grey master ensuite, which includes a stunning free-standing air-jetted tub. Described as a “labour of love,” installing the tub required running the plumbing through the master-bedroom’s closet, along with all the electrical wiring. “It was a challenge, but it’s my favourite ensuite I’ve ever done,” Arsens says.
All About Family
With its blend of communal living and private space, the newly renovated duplex is an ideal setup for these two families. Both Tasha and Melissa and their husbands are pushing Oak Bay to legalize the 70 existing duplexes in the municipality, as it would mean more family housing — especially when opposed to converting the spaces to single-family homes, which is what the current zoning would favour.
“The next battle will be our veggie stand,” says Melissa, with a laugh.
*Last names withheld for privacy.
Builder: Carsa Construction
Interior Design: Owners and Ivyhouse Design (on Tasha’s side)
Millwork: Victoria Custom Cabinetry
Windows: Westeck Windows and Doors
Flooring: Island Floor Centre
Tiling: Decora and Hourigan’s
Framing and construction materials: Home Lumber & Building Supplies
Countertops: Colonial Countertops
Finishing carpentry: Amberwood Floors & Fine Finishing
Electrical contractor: CBS Electrical Contractors
Plumbing: Youell Plumbing
Bathroom fixtures: Kitchen and Bath Classics; Splashes Bath & Kitchen
Kitchen Appliances: Coast Appliances
Wood accents: (fireplace, both sides/ceilings/walls): Peerless Forest Products
Fireplace: Heat Savers Fireplace & Patio Co.