To make the most of its unique waterfront site, this modern house features a striking rounded structure.
by David Lennam | Photos by Joshua Lawrence
Franc D’Ambrosio had been puzzling over the design of a new house for a couple of weeks, unable to arrive at a solution for a curious, almost triangle-shaped lot on a leafy cul-de-sac in the Uplands.
The founder of Victoria’s innovative D’Ambrosio architecture + urbanism (DAU) knew his client wanted to take full advantage of the waterfront property. D’Ambrosio took his thoughts into the garden and, sitting at his picnic table, arrived at the elusive “aha” moment. As he set his coffee down, he did so in a triangular shape on the table. The circle of the mug fit perfectly into the three sides and D’Ambrosio had a house Euclid would live in.
The homeowners* had already decided the lot appealed to them, unusual though it was. They were looking for a sheltered oceanfront location where they could be outside year round with the bonus of a “textured” view: framed ocean with a rocky cove, Mount Baker as a backdrop, sailboats bobbing in the bay and a wrap-around of greenery.
D’Ambrosio admits he had a little convincing to do to sell his circular house concept. His clients had looked at a half-circle house on Sidney Island, which they liked because it gave the entire structure an ocean perspective. But this was a step further.
“The guarantee I gave them was that none of the rooms would be circular and that all they would feel when they were in a particular room was like having a big bay window on one side.”
If a house is round, can there even be a front and back? The impressive polished concrete pavers seem to float across a circular pond leading to a front entranceway that allows a view right through to sailboats beyond.
The circle is, of course, a perfect form, the geometric shape of heavenly bodies, wholeness, infinity. There are no corners to hide in or be shoved into, and curving walls immediately bring flow and energy to a room. For many ancient cultures, the circle was the preferred shape for tombs, temples and shelter.
DAU’s philosophy, points out the firm’s senior interior designer Jacqueline Marinus, is to blur the line between interior design, landscape design and architecture, with spaces defined by how they’ll be experienced and utilized. The result, she says, is an intentional and cohesive esthetic.
There’s definitely a minimalist bent to the interior, with space and light in abundance and the suggestion of the circle in a gently curving kitchen counter and island. Orthogonal interior walls, some less than ceiling height, keep the energy of the rooms graceful and fluent, but establish a conforming sense that, despite being within a big circle, the perspective is never forced.
It’s really not just the shape of the house that’s circular, it’s the design. The exterior informs the interior. And each element of the interior is complementary to the next. It flows from Rusnak Gallant’s landscaping, through a main entranceway that frames an ocean view as you approach the house, into the foyer with ceilings topping 11 feet, and where that view dominates because of floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open onto a patio and back outside again.
The two-bedroom-plus-office, two-and-a-half-bath dwelling features 3,400 square feet over a main floor and basement. Flooring (featuring radiant heating) is polished concrete that spills out to form exterior patios and hardscape.
The main challenge for builder Rannala Freeborn Construction was framing inside the circular shell to create intricately detailed walls and ceilings.
“There are many different surface planes and shapes inside where alignments had to be absolutely perfect to get the desired effect,” says builder Troy Freeborn.
The best example might be the magnificent cedar front door, practically floating in glass. Designed by D’Ambrosio and his assistant Bruce Greenway, and built by Calibre Doors, it relies on some long, premium cedar with the same boards for the door and the spandrel panel above.
“The same-board theme is present throughout the project,” says Freeborn. “It’s especially interesting to see it when the cedar ceiling boards visually continue through the windows into the exterior soffits.”
When challenge presents opportunity
D’Ambrosio explains his two major design challenges. The first was to fit a house of a modest size into the lot and take advantage of the ocean views and the sunlight. The second was orientation — how to get those vistas without compromising natural light.
“As is the case on a lot of shoreline houses, the view is to the north and the sun comes from the south, so your outdoor space is not where the sun wants you to be,” he says. “It became a challenge to bring the sun from the south to the north.”
It may be the home’s most defining feature.
D’Ambrosio designed a kind of a skylight spine intersecting the circle that not only opens and closes to cool the house by exhausting hot air, but captures sunlight from the south and refracts it over the patio on the water side.“
When you light up glass from one end it illuminates the whole surface, and that’s how we transmitted that natural light through the house and reflected it down on the patio on the north side,” explains D’Ambrosio.
“Overall we wanted a home connected to the ocean, a landscaped environment and an emotional connection to nature from the entire house,” says the homeowner. “Franc did complete the circle.”
ARCHITECT: D’Ambrosio Architecture + Urbanism
INTERIOR DESIGNER: D’Ambrosio Architecture +Urbanism
BUILDER/CONTRACTOR: Rannala Freeborn Construction
MILLWORK: Douglas Grant Cabinetmakers
COUNTERS: Stone Age Marble
FLOORS: Vancouver Island Polished Concrete, Kyle’s Tiles
APPLIANCES: Coast Appliances
LIGHT FIXTURES: Graypants, Mooi
WINDOWS: Atlas Meridian Glassworks (Panoramah), Starline
WINDOW COVERINGS: Ruffell and Brown
FIREPLACE: Vancouver Island Marble, Wilk Stove
DOORS: Calibre Doors
ELECTRICAL: Alliance Electric
PAINTING: Inman Painting
LANDSCAPING: Rusnak Gallant
FURNITURE: Gabriel Ross, The House of Chester, Chester Fields, Design Within Reach
AREA RUG: Salari Fine Carpets
ART WORK IN DINING AREA: Jane Francis