Location was everything for this professional couple planning to migrate across the Georgia Strait from Vancouver to Victoria. As former Victorians, they were familiar with the city and knew precisely where they wanted to reside, right down to their choice street. Straddling Fairfield and Oak Bay, the walkable beach community really does have it all: generous tree-lined lots, good schools, shops and best of all, a few steps to one of the city’s most beautiful bays. When a house came up for sale in the spring of 2013, the couple took the leap and envisioned a modern beach house for the property’s teardown.
Longtime friend, Rus Collins of Zebra Group, was tasked with designing the family of four a west coast interpretation of a modern aesthetic that would fulfill the couple’s penchant for midcentury modern design. The challenge would be to create a home that would fit the neighbourhood’s synthesis of century-old character homes and angular contemporary dwellings. Designed for work and play, the result is 3300-square-feet of modern architecture where west coast contemporary materials intersect with “less is more” modernist design principles.
“After one meeting with Rus we pretty much nailed the design,” says the homeowner. Having previously renovated a 30-year-old beach house in Kitsilano, the couple was confident in their design “must-haves” and hoped to recreate their former beach community vibe. “We knew that we wanted a modern design, but true midcentury designs are not ideal in our damp climate so we built a midcentury west coast beach house. After living in Vancouver for many years, natural light was at the top of our wishlist and we happily have more than enough.”
Collins designed a tiered flat roofline that would speak to the site’s context and created what the design world is calling a “mullet home” — a facetious 80’s hair reference referring to business formal in the front and all party in the back. The architectural mullet movement, with its unassuming facade and main living area oriented to the back, positions privacy and a dialogue with the landscape at the heart of the design. The graded roofline creates a perception of movement, an intuitive transition as you proceed from the entryway to the open concept living space.
Collins adds that “during our initial consult, a sense of connection emerged as a leading design concept. They wanted to remain sensitive to the home’s landscape and create an open-plan layout that would foster connection for their family and in particular, a relationship to the outdoors.” Informed by her years of working in spa environments, the owner wanted to fashion a space that emanated a calming, zen-like tranquility.
Once the design plans were established, the homeowner passed the plans over to her brother-in-law, builder/developer, Rob Mickelberry, of Prodigy Developments and the family of four unorthodoxly boarded a plane to Bali for five months. A radical strategy for most homeowners at the outset of a custom build, but the couple fairly predicted the outcome and the project was completed on schedule and within budget.
Inside, striking 18-foot ceilings in the entrance greet guests with a surge of unparalleled natural light. The spacious entrance guides you into the house with glimpses of greenery in the back yard. Tempering the vaulted ceilings, a few steps down into the main living area creates a homey feel of being embraced in your own private sanctuary where the focus is on family and the home’s connection to the outdoors.
“With such a deep lot, we wanted to focus on the south part of the property that faced the back yard and create a laid-back open plan that would be ready for entertaining,” says Collins. A soothing neutral palette of gallery whites, greys and natural wood provide a calming canvas to let the landscape sing and allow the couple’s midcentury furnishings to take the spotlight.
The capacious dining area with an authentic Scandinavian dining set invites lively dinner parties while the warmth of the tv-free living area with Marquis Solace series fireplace beckons a post-dinner tête-à-tête. Easy to maintain polished concrete floors on the main paired with bleached white oak flooring throughout the rest of the home maintain the home’s breezy organic feel.
Sleek and subtle, floor-to-ceiling flat-panel cabinets in white provide ample storage to keep counters clutter free. The hardworking five-by-eight-foot walnut island seats four and has a grounding effect in the airy space.
Designing a home with an efficient use of space is central to Collins’ design ethos. Carefully crafting a scaled down aesthetic without sacrificing on style, Collins’ goal is to use every square inch of space in a logical way. “Building houses is expensive and I know from experience that an efficient design with a cohesive flow can save money. We do everything for a reason and when it’s finished you’ll know why. A home that feels right lives well,” says Collins. Speaking to this, the living area is the ideal size for intimate gatherings and for this family of four to hang out and play some music.
“Once I know my clients, I try to create an overall feeling with unique features that have an interesting appeal. For this family, I designed a bridge or walkway on the upper floor that connects the children’s bedrooms with the master suite. Two skylights above the walkway infuse both floors with an abundance of natural light.”
Enhancing the home’s serene ambience, the terrace off the principal bedroom is like the family’s own covert treehouse set amid the treetops.
A 600-square-foot detached work studio in the back boosts the home’s functionality and can easily be transformed into a guest accommodation in the future. To add interest to the yard and conceal the kids’ play equipment, Collins added berms that would eventually obstruct sight lines to the studio and create a sense of calm from the home.
High on the habitability scale, Collins’ design responds to the lifestyle of the family and really captures the spirit of the location. “This home is all personality, it really reflects the fun-loving people that they are and their core values; it has a zen-like atmosphere and provides balance for their busy lifestyle.”