A remarkable cantilevered home brings dramatic architecture to bayside living.
BY DANIELLE POPE | PHOTOS BY JODY BECK
When Tim Agar first met Xinwen Liu, she came to his office with an interpreter. She spoke very little English and was struggling to find a designer who could translate her vision for a coastal home into a reality for her family.
“One of the first steps was teaching her the words she needed to know about construction and the process,” says Agar, principal of Horizon Pacific Contracting. “We were actually able to collaborate very quickly. The challenges she was having were happening because other people kept trying to tell her what she needed rather than listening. She knew exactly what she wanted.”
To look at Liu’s home today, it’s easy to see why the build was complicated to explain. The house all but dangles over the water’s edge on a sharp coastal bluff. While both the architecture and the views are some of the home’s most outstanding features, it was complex to get to this end result.
Situated on the most easterly point of Vancouver Island, the landscape educated this build. One of only the first challenges the builders were met with was sand, 40 feet deep, which had to be carefully removed — all while preserving neighbouring structures — until they found bedrock.
“It’s really hard to capture the drama of this home, even in photos. It’s a location-first house, and a terrible site to put a building on, but it’s incredible now that it’s finished,” says Agar. “The home hangs 60 feet off the bay, cantilevered on the precipice of the bank. This is the definition of, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ ”
From the street, passersby are met with a modest, modern roofline. From the driveway, it would be impossible to predict that the house drops down another two storeys below — right over the ocean. The exterior is finished entirely in black, with minimalist themes: no trim, no detailing, just the sleek, organic shape of the architecture.
“When you come in through the front door, the first thing you see is wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s as though there is no structure; it’s just glass and ocean,” says Agar. “The whole house is built around the feel of that first moment.”
That’s exactly what Liu pictured when she first saw the property. The ocean was always meant to be a pillar of the build, and not just because of the visuals.
“We had been searching for a house for a while, and the things I kept in mind were location and view,” says Liu, who arrived in Victoria in 2011 from Beijing. “This property sits at the highest point in the entire bay, with a unique view and a sandy beach that emerges when the tide is low. In feng shui, water is a symbol of wealth, and so is the bay. The sea keeps flowing back into the bay, which means plenty of treasure and luck keep pouring in.”
Liu was so taken with the property she put in an offer without even looking at the home situated there at the time.
“We got the keys and moved in right away without furniture — only a bed,” she says. “We lived in this old house for a year because I wanted to personally experience the changes of seasons, and sunrise and sunset throughout the year to feel how to maximize the best viewpoints from every corner.”
With the help of Agar, and Michael Moody of MJM Architect, Liu’s vision started taking shape. She had one main goal: to bring the landscape indoors.
The 3,500-square-foot house is bathed in natural light, from strategic skylights to sliding glass doors. The build features a distinctly minimalist approach throughout its structure, with simple lines, high ceilings and few walls to support an expansive open space. Polished concrete flooring, exposed steel beams and moody tones turn the house into a quiet backdrop for the ocean panorama. Even the furnishings adopt Liu’s less-is-more design concept. Yet the architecture holds striking features — like the self-suspended, enclosed steel mesh staircase, creating its own optical illusion, or the concrete monolith plinth which hangs in the stairwell, adorned with a subtle hand-painted cultural image.
One level down is a movie theatre, first primary and second primary bedroom. The first primary includes a walk-in closet Agar boasts is bigger than most bedrooms, and the ensuite includes functional display elements, like an architectural egg bathtub with a fireplace nesting above.
“The main sleeping compartment is quite remarkable, because it hangs a few feet over the ocean,” says Agar. “You feel like you could step out of bed and right into the water.”
With such determined design, Agar says getting everything exact took “a combo of arm waving, Google images and everything in between,” but the result was worth it.
“The most impressive part of this build, for me, is the interface between the interior living space and the outdoors,” says Agar. “Because of the floor-to-ceiling glass and how much of the home is hanging over the bay, it feels like you’re inside and outside at the same time, like you’re almost a part of the ocean.”
Liu says she tries not to make any comparisons with her previous life in Beijing, but her family enjoys the slow lifestyle associated with their Island home.
“This house is like my child, and when you grow up with it, you realize it’s perfect in your heart, even if it’s not,” she says. “I’m sitting in the dining area looking out the window at the blue ocean and people walking on the beach. I have to say, this is the same landscape I had in mind when I was designing this house … I’ve made it happen and brought it to my family to feel this together. What could be better than that?”
“I can feel the energy delivered by nature in every corner of the house,” says Liu.
From the beach looking towards the property, it’s easy to see why. With an unadulterated view of the sea, thanks to the almost entirely glass side of the house and the relative privacy granted by neighbouring trees, the property is everything Liu was looking for in a home.
Architect: Michael Moody, MJM Architect
Builders and framer: Horizon Pacific Contracting
Plumbing and mechanical: MXP Ltd
Automation: Insight Automation International
Heating: RedBlue Heating and Refrigeration
Electrician: Amped Electrical Contracting
Light fixtures: Amped Electrical Contracting
Cabinets and woodwork: Splinters Millworks
Doors and hardware: Slegg Building Materials, Oakridge Windows & Doors
Windows: Complete Windows
Roofing: Top Line Roofing
Tile: Island Floor Centre
Kitchen appliances: Trail Appliances
Countertops: Colonial Countertops
Plumbing fixtures: MXP Ltd
Stairs: Zapco Welding and Fabricating
Hand-painted flowers: Nicolas Callow
Flooring: Island Floor Centre
Landscape design: Greenspace Designs
Landscaping: Golden Appeal
Pavers: City Brick Contracting
Garage doors: Harbour Door Services
Insulation: Alpine Insulation
Drywall: Swiftsure Drywall
Interior painting: Amira’s Painting
Stucco: Logue & Bridges