BY DAVID LENNAM | PHOTOS BY LEANNA RATHKELLY
In the beginning, Paul Brunner just wanted to turn his old farmhouse — in the middle of a Cowichan Valley winery — into a better version of an old farmhouse. The owner of Blue Grouse Estate Winery wanted to maintain the Grouse House’s sense of history and didn’t expect that would mean gutting it, removing the third storey, and then reassembling it brand new.
“The original idea was to update the house with as little change as possible,” says Brunner. But, with a wry smile, he admits that these sorts of projects have a way of expanding.
The roof was removed, along with the entire upper floor — everything but the foundation walls, the subfloor, and the chimney, confirms builder Tom Humber of Humber Custom Carpentry. “Usually you’re poking a dormer in here or there or a bay window,” Humber says. “But in this case it was a major change.”
Removing that third floor allowed for a dramatic cathedral ceiling on the main, with exposed — and very barn-like — natural wood structural trusses, all sanded and varnished. Without walls to block the view, the airiness gives the effect of stepping into the vineyard itself.
It’s something Brunner is particularly proud of. “Had we put the upper floor on the house, we wouldn’t have the same impact from the front door to the big windows at the front of the house.”
Humber agrees. “When you walk into [the house] you get a huge feeling of space, like walking into a cathedral. If it were just dirty old trusses it would look like a barn in there.”
Built in the 1960s, the waney-edged cedar lap-sided Grouse House was residence for the Kiltz family, the winery founders who turned the basement into a tasting room in the early ’90s.
It sits almost overtop the vineyard, surrounded by grapes, snugged into a Mediterranean microclimate where summer temperatures reach past 35 degrees. It’s only steps down from the winery’s rather magnificent new tasting room, which was designed by architect Joe Chauncey of Seattle’s Boxwood. Chauncey consulted on the vaulted ceiling trusses in the residence and other tied elements — the buildings play off each other with a generous use of fir, similar oversized blue grouse-coloured entrance doors (the colour of the bird’s tail feathers), and numerous French doors open to expansive decks.
The tasting room and Grouse House equally invite in the surrounding landscape — rows of grapevines, a forest and gentle hills — with abundant windows, high ceilings and unobstructed views.
It’s all very South of France, inside and out, which was according to plan. “We wanted French country design,” says Brunner. “It’s simple design, and that’s what my wife likes.”
Designer Jodi McKeown Foster, of jodi foster design + planning, says it’s about seeing through the architecture, having your gaze continue right through the interior to the outside.
“The view is framed by the shape. It’s quite rustic, but lovingly furnished, not over-decorated or over-designed.”
Foster, who led the design of the residence with colleague Carly Neal, says her clients wanted to feel like they were living in a farmhouse that had been there forever, “but refined … just not precious.”
“They wanted their friends and guests to be able to walk through with their gumboots on because they’d just been down in the vineyard.”
Although the Grouse House covers 4,300 sq. ft. with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a wine cellar, the high-ceilinged great room, plus another lounge on the lower floor, it’s surprisingly intimate. The great room has been given three distinct sitting areas, each cozy, each comfortably furnished. “You don’t feel like you’re in this great [big] room,” says Brunner.
The two downstairs bedrooms share a lounge/kitchen and, through more French doors, an ample patio. It’s an idyllic private retreat for visiting family members or “bed and bottle” guests, and can be sectioned off from upstairs by a large, sliding barn door at the foot of the stairs.
These rooms feature nine-foot-plus ceilings, which Brunner loves, but confesses was a bit of a lucky accident.
“The floor in the basement of the original house wasn’t level, so we were either going to have a low ceiling or would have to raise the original subfloor on the main floor. We chose to raise the floor, and the benefit is those high ceilings downstairs so you don’t get any sense of being in a basement.”
The entire house was designed for full access by the mobility challenged, including a ramped front entrance and fully accessible powder room on the main floor, as well as age-in-place considerations, like a zero threshold shower, in the master ensuite.
It was also designed to multi-task. The main level can be used as both residence and for winery social events.
Brunner and his wife, Cristina, are fond of their home’s uncluttered décor and restrained elegance, but it’s the tranquil seclusion that trumps all. “I really, really like the privacy,” says Brunner. “At night it’s a concert of birds and frogs. You get out on that deck in July or August at midnight and you see every star.”
Neal likes to think of the design as West Coast farmhouse, “A peeled back, simplified, refined version of a farmhouse.”
Brunner laughs about originally wanting a 100-year-old farmhouse and getting an up-to-date farmhouse, “that will look just the way we wanted in about 100 years.”
Consulting Architect: Joe Chauncey, Boxwood
HOUSE Designers: Jodi McKeown Foster and Carly Neal, jodi foster interior design + planning
General Contracting: Humber Custom Carpentry
Electrical: 3D Electrical
Plumbing: J. S. Plumbing & Heating
StoneMason: Joe Holland
Millwork: Custom designed by jodi foster design + planning, fabricated by Cowichan Woodwork Ltd.
Windows: Milgard Windows and Doors
Hickory floors: Heirloom Floors
Plumbing Fixtures: Splashes, Victoria Specialty Hardware
Custom concrete (fireplace elements): Liquid Stone Studios