With its atrium of polished concrete floors, rich walnut millwork and antiqued steel beams, this Saanich home reimagines the elements and traditions of West Coast architecture. And don’t be fooled by its minimalist structure and the simplicity of its materials: the large open spaces and deep overhangs required advanced structural engineering and specialized construction methods.
In fact, looking at the process of building this home is an excellent lesson in how homeowners can achieve their goals on a custom project. “On a unique build like this, it’s really about building a quorum of consultants, along with the homeowners, who are going to act as a team on the project,” says builder Tim Agar of Horizon Pacific Contracting.
When the homeowners — a couple with five children and a vision for a light-filled, open-concept home — approached Agar, the fruitful collaboration was sparked.
“When the owners spoke with me early in the process, they were looking for recommendations for architects and designers,” Agar says. “We try to fit people with respect to the clients’ esthetic vision and an architect’s background — many consumers don’t know what genre each architect works within — and architects definitely have specializations.”
Agar introduced the couple to Pamela Ubeda of Coast + Beam Architecture, whose style he describes as fresh West Coast Contemporary. For Ubeda, this is not just an esthetic or style: it’s an approach.
“It’s about climate, it’s about light, and it’s a very site-specific architecture,” Ubeda says. “Three main elements are the flat rooflines — because we don’t have to worry about snow load — clerestory windows and skylights to maximize the light, as we don’t have those bright winter days — and the materiality — such as timber frame and the use of a lot of wood that separates it from other regional architecture.”
While this house contains some departures from conventional West Coast contemporary, including the exposed steel beams, polished concrete floors and board-formed concrete foundation — its roofline, windows and skylights are just a few of the elements that embody the esthetic.
The homeowners worked with Ubeda over several months to develop the plans, doing a lot of early-concept schematic design work to see how different forms worked on the property and related to the site. Agar was also involved in this process.
“Something we always try to do is shepherd the costing process along with the design process, so people don’t lose sight of where the financial targets are with a project,” Agar says. “Planning and understanding the costs of that planning are what give homeowners the security to proceed forward.”
According to Ubeda, this also allows the team to value engineer each component of the project and choose their priorities. “Setting up a team very early in the process, with the contractor, interior designer, architect, landscape architect and clients, and as many people as you can get on as early as possible, it just makes for a better project,” Ubeda says. “A client is then able to make decisions, like if the concrete is more important than that other element, if you have to offset the budget with certain things — because nobody can have it all in a project.”
Style and Structure
The homeowners wanted a high level of seismic upgrading with no posts to impede circulation, making the home quite complicated structurally. Kevin Pickwick, a structural engineer from the firm RJC, joined the team to find a solution that wouldn’t disrupt the esthetics. The answer? Two steel beams that flare out from the main entrance to the back of the house.
“We talked about doing those in wood, but they would have been two and a half feet deep, so we decided to move to steel, expose them and show that work being done,” Ubeda says. “The other opportunity that afforded was the skylights centred in those beams. The skylight was something that came in the conceptual design quite early. That’s where budget and team comes in: how can we keep the idea, but make it affordable? We ended up panelling it into four different skylights.”
The steel beams also allowed for the deep overhangs — other hidden beams cantilever off those exposed beams, providing support for the 13-foot overhangs, a key element of West Coast architecture, and forming the family-friendly outdoor living area.
Another essential team member was interior designer Sandy Nygaard, who was brought on as soon as Ubeda had finalized her design. “When you bring a designer in at an early stage, you get to feel the interior space,” Nygaard says. “The architecture starts the conversation and the designer just finishes it. They can start laying out your kitchen and bathroom, and placing your furniture. It’s fact-checking the space. Your interior designer might find you need to move a wall a foot or two, but in this case I did not.”
Nygaard did add a couple of changes to the foyer, removing a framed-in closet with double doors and replacing it with the custom millwork closet and bench seat. Agar credits the early collaboration and constant dialogue on budget for the ultimate success of this custom home whose construction costs were close to those of an on-spec house. “This home is a non-traditional home in every way, and has features upon features that aren’t typical, but we were still able to bring this home in at around $300 a square foot in terms of overall construction cost,” Agar says.
“This is over the $240 average of a traditional home but far less than $600 a square foot, which is what we often see people run to on custom homes due to lack of planning and collaboration.”
The final result? A functional and inviting family home that suits the needs of a large family while standing as a testament to the potential of modern residential construction. “It’s contemporary and it’s elegant but also warm and relaxed,” Nygaard says. “It’s West Coast with an edge.”