Thinking about building a carriage house or garden suite? Discover the creative process through this Colwood couple’s undertaking to maximize the possibilities.
By Alex Van Tol | Photos by Joshua Lawrence
Deyanira and Brian Mendoza Dominguez are no strangers to living intentionally – so ending up in a custom garden suite is not surprising. Years ago the pair set their course as a couple with 10-, five- and one-year plans, which they review and revise every year as events unfold.
Working off this system, the couple downsized from their Vancouver condo to a basement suite and, in 2010, hit the road on their motorcycles. They travelled the continent for 26 months, camping and couch surfing everywhere from Alaska to Argentina to Cuba and Mexico, before returning to Victoria to set down roots.
They originally purchased a 1,500-square-foot townhouse and shared it with friends who were studying in Canada. But after their pals moved on, the two spare bedrooms bothered them.
“We have two rules we think about when buying,” says Brian. “Need and utility. If we have a three- bedroom house and we’re only using one bedroom, all of a sudden we’ve got a question: Is that valuable?”
So they sold it and bought a 1,000-square-foot bungalow in Colwood. But even that was too big. Deciding to make better use of the backyard than just mowing it, they resolved to build a garden suite — for themselves. As for the main house? That would be rented out.
A Blueprint for Success
The objective of the build was to live with no unused space while still feeling comfortable and being able to have guests over for dinner.
“One of the other objectives was for me to learn all the layers of building a house in Canada since I work in construction, and I am curious,” Deyanira says.
The pair have already built two buildings in Mexico — a single-family home and a triplex — but this project provided hands-on experience in Canada.
An engineer by training — she’s the chair of the Vancouver Island chapter of Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia — Deyanira designed the home meticulously with Brian’s input. The pair consulted Colwood at various stages in the process, starting with the proverbial sketch on a paper napkin. The municipality was helpful, and the couple feels that the end result was all the better for having had open, transparent communication about the project.
Elegant and simple, the garden suite — an “accessory dwelling” in Colwood-speak — took six months to build, from March to August 2017.
“This includes initiating, planning, executing, control and monitoring and closing,” says Deyanira.
All in the Details
Along with being the designer, Deyanira acted as project manager. The construction company she worked for at the time provided a carpenter and some equipment, and Brian, whose schedule was flexible since he was working on his PhD, contributed 50 per cent of the labour.
“I would come every evening to inspect, do some work myself, organize materials, clean up, ask questions and expect answers for the next day,” Deyanira says. She also took ten days off in the summer months to be more involved and to feed the workers. “I love doing that.”
Brian acted as owner, creating a clear division of roles that made conversations between themselves, as well as with the contractor, much smoother.
The cost of building — all the way down to the coffee cups — was accounted for well before shovels hit dirt. A planner by nature, Deyanira compares the process to a road map.
“If you don’t plan the road map, you don’t have an idea of where you are going and what you’re going to find at the end,” she says.
“The dollar value of things should be truly considered before you start. You don’t want to have to borrow because you weren’t capable of purchasing everything you need in the home.”
The Dominguezes’ plan was to be free of any debt from building the garden suite — and ultimately mortgage-free, too.
In the end, the home is lovely. A bed, closet, open kitchen and bathroom occupy about 400 square feet. In-floor heating offers warmth, while the high ceilings contribute a sense of openness. A 250-square-foot garage offers space for bikes, storage, a freezer and a work area, while a beautiful covered patio provides another 250 square feet of entertainment space, complete with heater and lights.
And it’s all part of the life plan: “We are constantly looking for opportunities to create a richer life,” Deyanira says, “but with less.”
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