A New Chapter for Kensea

Built in 1926, this beachfront Oak Bay home has known very few owners over the course of its almost 100 years since its original build. The previous owner had resided in the six-bedroom home for over half a century before the current owners bought it and envisioned a new chapter for the Kitty Islet residence.

“Our house has a rich history and was named ‘Kensea’ in the 1930’s by the Kennedy family who lived here for many years. Obviously, Kensea references their surname but Ken is also Scottish for ‘know’ and so Kensea is ‘knowledge of the sea,’ an apt name for this home that has faced the elements for close to a century,” says the homeowner.


The couple turned to all three divisions of Zebra Group to reconfigure the floor plan, redesign the entire home and build their dream waterfront residence. “Principal Designer, Rus Collins, from Zebra Group modified the design so drastically you wouldn’t even recognize it” says the owner, who reduced the six bedrooms to four and created an open plan for contemporary living with all the primary living spaces on one floor.

When considering whether or not to deconstruct an original house and build new or renovate, builder and project manager, Martin Whitehead of Zebra Group emphasizes that there are several considerations that can impact your decision. “Zoning setbacks and allowable floor-space ratios grandfathered to an existing building can help offset the benefits to building a new home,” says Whitehead, who adds that neighborhoods seem to be much more receptive to restoring an older home rather than tearing down the original structure. “Renovating also allows you to integrate some of the original historical fabric while repurposing the functionality. It really is the best of both worlds,” states Whitehead.

In this case, the waterfront home was stripped right down to the studs which allowed for new electrical and mechanical systems to achieve the highest level of comfort and energy efficiency combined with solar ready infrastructure. Whitehead adds that, “we recycled the original structural framing components diverting many cubic meters of wood waste from the landfill.”


Collins modified the entire floor plan to capitalize on the sweeping views of Kitty Islet and created a more practical layout for modern living —ample storage opportunities, a walk-in pantry, a proper mudroom and beautifully spacious dressing rooms are just a few of the many modifications. “No rooms stayed the same,” said the couple, who listed the most significant changes as a new welcoming entrance, repositioned staircases, a major move for the kitchen from the back of the house (the road side of the home) to the front where they can now cook and enjoy the expansive ocean views.

The homeowner credits her friend, Jean Macpherson, with the home’s rustic English cottage design theme. Think: deVOL kitchens in England as their inspiration. Defined by the perfect balance of classic warm neutrals, a collected look with simple wooden furniture, vintage arm chairs and a generous scattering of treasured art and antiques, the rustic look offers that elegant simplicity with an unassuming feel.

Designer Lorin Turner from Zebra Group worked closely with the owners to provide them with detailed drawings and was the lead on sourcing the materials. “Turner is an expert in understanding the function of a space and has an incredible knowledge base of material inventory. We would go to her with our ideas and she would know exactly where to find it,” says the homeowner. She attributes the success of the renovation to working with all three divisions of Zebra Group, adding that it was their ability to communicate with one another and their timely planning and forethought at each stage.


Consistent flooring in rough wide plank oak, a neutral palette color scheme and harmonious finishes create a cohesive visual connection that adds to the smooth transitions between spaces. “We didn’t want the kitchen cabinetry to distract from the stunning ocean views and created a backdrop where the rustic crockery, copper cookware and artwork could be the stars of the space,” says Turner. Pure white quartz stone counters, lacquer painted white shaker cabinets and a fridge and stove in a matte white finish from Fisher and Paykel serve as a neutral canvas.

The pantry needed to be highly functional in the long, narrow space so Turner thoughtfully positioned the antique butcher block while the white painted vertical shiplap gave the small space depth and texture and maintained a bright and fresh look. “RG West Coast Woodworks did all the beautiful millwork,” adds Turner.


White paneled ceilings and wood beams embrace the coastal feel and keep the nine-foot ceilings in the open plan cozy. “We wanted to incorporate cottage aspects to avoid our home feeling pristine and new,” says the owner. With old English pine as the inspiration, the owner’s husband built some of the wood pieces from driftwood collected on his beach walks with their dog. The local cedar gets that authentic patinated look – looked like an old English country furniture but with a west coast feel.

Zebra Construction’s team was responsible for the framing and finishing, including the detailed glass and paneled wall of the mudroom. Designed by Jean, this detail is a favourite of the owner. “I love the high contract of the charcoal dividers and millwork with the white of the home’s interior. The design is reminiscent of a true mudroom you would find in an English manor,” says the owner.


The home’s lower floor includes a spacious media room, an additional bedroom, a wine room and a craft room with direct access to an outdoor patio.

The cast of industry pros at Zebra Group exceeded the couple’s expectations, harmonizing the interior with the waterfront views to shine natural west coast light on a rustic aesthetic that will stand the test of time. “We got exactly what we wanted in the new design,” states the couple, who add that the pièce de résistance is the outdoor shower, fire pit and hot tub incorporated into the design to warm them after their cold water ocean dips.