Interview With Martin Scaia

Words by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Jody Beck.
Smoke and Anchor photo courtesy of Green Island Builders.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how Green Island Builders came to be. Shortly after high school, I started a certification stream for adventure travel. I moved to the Rockies to be closer to the mountain scene, spent a lot of time climbing in the desert, skiing, paddling and eventually split time working as a guide between Canada and the tropics. This lifestyle was fueled by tree planting and work on construction crews. I believe that my early building experiences and mentors were very formative to my current outlook. Early on, I had opportunities to build in the Discovery Island archipelago — Sonora, Read and Maurelle Islands. We would start with raw salvaged logs, mill them into lumber and build with this beautiful wood. We used what was there. I learned about practical building solutions and how to improvise with available materials. This is where I developed a simple, practical aesthetic. It was in these remote island communities that I also learned to paddle a kayak, sail a boat, fish, and forage the beaches. I developed a keen sense of place here. The experience of working with my hands, with raw materials and really getting to know a place has stuck with me and continues to inform how I interact with the world. After completing an undergrad in Earth Sciences, I worked with an environmental consulting firm as a “project scientist.” Even though this was predominantly field work, which I like, testing and mapping contaminated soils and water was incongruous with my previous experiences of moving through the landscape, working with my hands and being creative. I knew that I wanted to deepen my relationship to place, and share my experiences in the outdoors, so I did a graduate degree in Environmental Education and Communication. Green Island Builders naturally evolved out of these formative experiences, my social and environmental commitment to place and a desire to learn and share with others.

How does your commitment to the environment translate in your work as a builder? I am committed to practicality and simplicity in the work. I believe that the solutions to our current environmental issues will be solved in small, practical, everyday actions. When we locate ourselves in the environment, as an integral part of it, we feel empowered to take action at an individual level. We become part of the narrative. Central to this idea is that we see ourselves as active participants capable of making positive, simple changes.

Can you tell us about some of your commercial renovations that locals frequent regularly but may not know are Green Island Builder projects? We did the renovation for Nourish Kitchen and Cafe in James Bay — a beautiful space and a fantastic place to eat. The Moonrise Creative space in Fernwood was another creative project proving that a beautiful space has no relationship to budget. We built Smoke and Anchor on Fisherman’s Wharf out of two manky old floats. The result is a funky floating restaurant that fits the vernacular of the waterfront neighbourhood. Most recently, we renovated Migration Boutique on Government Street. The long and narrow dimensions of the retail space required some creative solutions for displaying merchandise while keeping an airy clean feel. Currently, we’ve just started a build at Island Community Mental Health in Vic West. This requires capturing an existing unused space and turning it into several offices and a common activity area. What trend in home building inspires you the most? I’d like to see more tiny homes being built beside existing urban homes. I see this kind of density as a practical solution to reducing commute times, making better use of city infrastructure, housing affordability, and helping the elderly stay in their own homes longer. I think it must be a result of spending so much time in a tent and small mountain cabins, but I’m drawn to small, functional spaces. Lucky for us, we are just about to start a tiny house project in Fairfield!

How does a boutique builder create a unique experience for a client? My focus is to create an intimate experience and tailored build for each client no matter the scale of the project. I create a system of organization for each project, match personalities and experience best suited to the project, and maintain constant communication with clients. My preference is to create an experience that directs the building process and ultimately, the finished project.

What are you currently working on? We have four main projects on the go: an interior renovation in an original Samuel Maclure home, another interior home renovation for Designer Collective, a new tiny house build in Fairfield, and an interior renovation at ICMH.

As a former outdoor adventurer, how do you charge your battery now that you live in the city with a busy family? What I enjoyed most about my time living
and working in wild spaces was the deep connection I felt to place by being fully present. The sense of connection I felt in those places was palpable because I was an active participant in creating a personal narrative. In the work that I do now, I feel that I’m creating a sense of place by participating in and actively shaping the landscape. This is now part of my personal narrative and I get a charge out of that.