BY ATHENA MCKENZIE | PHOTOS BY JOSHUA LAWRENCE
It would be fair to call it love at first sight: Lorraine Tao and Doug Thoms were celebrating their one-year anniversary with a road trip around Vancouver Island when they first saw the property that would eventually be their home.
“From our room at Sooke Harbour House, the patio looked out across the harbour to where we live now essentially,” Tao says. “We’re from Toronto, and I remember sitting there, saying, ‘It’s so romantic and beautiful,’ with its undeveloped rocky shore.”
Serendipity had a role to play too. Months later, back in Ontario, the couple happened across an ad in the The Globe and Mail for the very land that had captured their imagination.
“We knew we’d better go have a look,” Thoms says. “It was perfect timing financially, and we were thinking long term about where we wanted to live our lives. We knew we wanted it to be on the ocean.”
That didn’t mean jumping into the purchase. The couple returned to the Island and looked at other properties, extending their search to French Beach and Metchosin. But an afternoon spent exploring the East Sooke lot and its beach sold them on its potential.
“There was nothing really comparable in our opinion,” Tao says. “Its natural beauty and its striking distance to Victoria — a great little city with lots of amenities, including an international airport — and the short distance to amazing hiking and surfing. It’s just perfectly situated here.”
Initially, building a home on the property was going to be a “down-the-road” part of the couple’s 10-year plan. But within two years of purchasing, they knew they wanted to move up their West Coast dream life, so they started researching architects. After two days interviewing potential partners in Vancouver, the couple settled on David Battersby and Heather Howat of BattersbyHowat Architects — the first firm they met and with whom they hit it off instantly.
“The fun thing about this project was that they had a very romantic idea of living on the West Coast, with the big fireplace and living off the land “Battersby says.
It was important to the homeowners that the house have an architectural look with well-thought out lines, careful angles and beautiful reveals.
“We were marinating in Dwell magazine and are just big fans of architecture — especially modern architecture and design,” Thoms says.
“They came to us knowing our esthetic,” Battersby says. “We’re always looking to do something as quiet as we can from an architectural standpoint — not too imposing and difficult. Those are the kinds of things that define our projects and the approach to their house as well.”
Given the property’s location on a steeply graded piece of oceanfront land, there were various challenges, including the lot shape, its easements and drainage and the watershed. The home also needed to be resilient in the face of winter storms.
“It’s a complicated little lot because it’s kind of dog-legged, it’s got a bunch of easements and it’s also a bit wedged-shaped,” Thoms says. “It presented an interesting problem, but David [Battersby] saw what we wanted almost immediately. He did a drawing on a piece of tracing paper, and now it’s the house that we live in, which is pretty amazing to us still.”
A View to Nature
The three-bedroom, three-bathroom home boasts breathtaking views of Juan De Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains from all the main rooms, including the professional-grade kitchen.
“We used the garage and the body of the house as a sort of shield to fence off the view from the approach to the house, so it only becomes apparent when you come through the house,” Battersby says. “There’s a big reveal when you get inside.”
While both Tao and Thoms work from home, they consider it a retreat from the world. Thoms is the cook in the family and the kitchen is his favourite spot, its layout allowing him to be a part of the action in the great room as he puts together meals. The great room is also Tao’s first choice.
“It is so bright and the view of the ocean is right there,” she says. “You look out the other window, and it is all forested, and it’s just a great environment to work in. It feels so bright. We have nooks everywhere that give you positive feelings.”
That sensibility is built into the very design of the home, which Battersby choreographed from the entry sequence.
“I like the idea that you shed your worldly self when you enter into a house,” he says. “I really love that kind of experience, and this is something that we always try to think about: How does that play out in terms of your experience in the space? And I think in this house it plays out really nicely.”
Architect: BattersbyHowat Architects
Builder: Bill Hustler Construction