BY DANIELLE POPE // PHOTOS BY JOSHUA LAWRENCE
When two Victoria homeowners made the choice to build a new home on their Oak Bay property, they anticipated some of the challenges: agreeing on size, layout and the design. What they hadn’t expected was having to make those choices more than once.
“That was the hardest part of the whole process — realizing all that work was going to need to change in order to preserve the property’s collection of Garry oaks. We have 26 to keep in mind,” says the homeowner.
A Dream Revised
As the couple learned, local design bylaws would prohibit the removal of many of the trees on this forested lot. With a long and narrow property line and a steep slope at the back, the owners weren’t sure they’d be able to reconfigure their vision.
Fortunately, architect Pamela Úbeda was able to redefine the possibility by downsizing the plans slightly (by 10 per cent), and flipping the house 180 degrees from the initial proposal.
“The original house was set farther back, but because the property is in a Garry oak forest with a huge arbutus tree in the middle, we were advised we had to go back to the drawing board,” says Úbeda, principal of Coast and Beam Architecture. “However, just flipping the floor plan managed to save 12 trees, which I was happy about. And, because we were only using 15 per cent of the buildable area rather than maxing out the lot, the design panel was pleased.”
Rooting into Possibility
Even with the restrictions, Úbeda was able to meet most of the couple’s wishes, designing a Vancouver-inspired, contemporary West Coast home of just over 8,000 square feet. The pair wanted a long, rectangular space where they could age in place, with a flat main level that connected the indoors to the outdoors. Because their family includes twin boys, they wanted space for the children to evolve — from school to college age and beyond. The outer three-storey drop was transformed into multiple terraces, with retaining walls changing the slopes into gardens.
Tim Agar, owner and principal of Horizon Pacific Contracting, was the contracting lead on the project. He says tree preservation was the theme throughout the build.
“When you start a project like this, you have to identify every tree on the site, bring in an arborist and cover each root system with plywood,” says Agar. “It can feel like you’re a bull in a china shop, but the end result is beautiful.”
Agar says trees weren’t the only complication for this build. Due to the open-concept style and immense size of the rooms, structural integrity was a focus. From a technical perspective, challenges arose from the floor-to-ceiling windows — one of the home’s most striking features — and from the concrete exterior, which could experience “thermal bridging” when naturally moist air condensates against the walls. The remedy was to create a concrete and wood layer, virtually building a house within a house.
“Many of these modern, clean houses look very simple, but they’re deceptively technical,” says Agar. “Modern architecture doesn’t prefer a lot of walls, but when you’re spanning over a great length, you have to switch to steel. That means planning everything in advance, like how you’ll integrate an HVAC system and electrical. You have to get inventive with your solutions.”
The homeowners say the end result is just what they had hoped for.
“One of the things we like best about this house is that you can walk out onto the backyard without taking any steps,” says the homeowner. “It’s one of the reasons we liked the lot to begin with: you’re close to parks to walk the dogs, it’s a 10-minute drive to town and it’s a place everyone can enjoy.”
Architect: Pamela Úbeda, Coast and Beam Architecture
Builder/Contractor: Horizon Pacific Contracting
Interior Designer: Sandy Nygaard, Nygaard Interior Design
Engineer: Munro Engineering
Millwork: Splinters Millworks
Counters: Colonial Countertops
Floors: Hourigan’s Flooring
Appliances: Trail Appliances
Light fixtures: McLaren Lighting
Windows: Starline Windows
Window coverings: Homeowner sourced
Fireplace: Good Grade Plumbing and Gas Co.
Electrical: Amped Electrical Contracting
Painting: Amira’s Painting
Landscaping: Golden Appeal Landscaping
Front Door: Oakridge Windows & Doors
Marble Feature Wall: Colonial Countertops