Interview by Michelle Heslop. Photos by Janis Nicolay (except for before photos).
You hold a Masters in Architecture Degree from McGill University and made your way across the country to Vancouver and now across the strait to Victoria. What precipitated your move to the island? Do you still work on projects in Vancouver? I love the energy here. The community is creative and outdoorsy, every second vehicle on the road is a bike or an EV, and Victorians are so friendly and kind. It has been a dream to create a home for our two young boys here, and not to be understated, we get to be close to my parents who are very helpful with the kids.
I have always felt a strong connection to the coast. The properties here are inspirational and provide flexibility for creative expression. From irregular shaped lots, rolling topography, rock outcroppings, lush vegetation, views found in unexpected places, and a constant proximity to the ocean, there is so much to work with. As a lover of west coast modernism and all things midcentury, there is no better place to be.
Our work has been informed by each place we have travelled, lived and practiced. We plan to continue to do projects all over the Lower Mainland, Gulf Islands, Sunshine Coast, and of course, right here on Vancouver Island.
You were the first LEED-certified professional in Quebec in 2003 and have now designed 8 Passive Houses in British Columbia. Can you tell us about your holistic approach to architectural sustainability? We start by incorporating solar passive design principles. When placing windows and shading elements, we respond to the site and the angle of the sun at different times of the year. The goal is to balance an impactful design that captures critical views while letting the winter sun penetrate deep into the floor plate for heating and daylighting while shading the summer sun and promoting passive venting.
Next, we optimize the insulation in the envelope (walls, floor, roof, and windows) and obsess over the air-tightness details to ensure a constant flow of fresh outdoor air through open windows and the ventilation system, not through mildewy cracks and gaps in the walls, as is unfortunately the norm.
We go beyond passive to address climate change by favouring materials with a low-embodied carbon and GWP, materials like wood and cellulose. We avoid fossil fuel-based materials like vinyl and rigid insulation, which aren’t healthy for our clients nor the environment.
We focus on healthy materials. We favour materials which are salvaged, durable, low-maintenance, non-toxic, locally sourced, and with recycled or rapidly renewable content to name a few.
Congratulations on your Robert Ledingham Memorial Award for Western Living Magazine Designers of the Year 2020. Why do you think this was your year to win this coveted award? Thank you so much! It is a career highlight to be recognized, and what a thrill to win for our interior design work. The judges acknowledged a cohesion within the architecture and interiors in our homes, as well as a rigorous attention to detail. By driving both the architecture and interior design, we are able to create harmonious and considered spaces.
One SEED emphasizes the collaborative relationship with clients. What does this mean to you? Every project is unique because every client is unique. We love learning how our clients live, what they do for fun, to decompress, and what they see as their future needs. Then using those layers of information, as well as our experience designing homes for the last thirteen years, we create distinct spaces that are flexible, functional, and evocative.
Our collaborative process involves a constant feedback loop with our clients. We start with broad concepts and explore several options with them, then refine the design systematically adding detail. The process should be enjoyable and exciting, not overwhelming. At the end of the day, we want our clients to smile when they open the door or turn a corner, and for them to be able to see their unique style reflected in their home.
We are in awe of the before and after transformation photos of The Re-Generation House shown here. Can you tell us a bit about how you approached this renovation? What were the major upgrades? Re-Generation House is what you might call a ‘deep’ renovation project. We honoured what was working with the 1957 bungalow and reconsidered the architecture and interior spaces completely…to the point of removing the roof. We created depth on the elevations by wrapping roof planes and arranging the design around two primary rectangular shapes created from the folding roofs. The beauty of Re-Generation House is in the spaces between, spaces and moments that are created by the stacking and merging of the two volumes. Natural light floods the renovated home through oversized windows paired with new high ceilings.
With the building code changing, are we moving toward Passive Design being the standard? Definitely. Passive House is the best way to build, especially when paired with a holistic approach to sustainability and low embodied-carbon materials. As municipalities establish emissions targets, they are finding Passive House is a critical step in reaching those goals. A current ‘code level’ house, on the other hand, is simply the worst house you are legally allowed to build. Not something to strive for!
What are you currently working on? We are working on so many great projects at the moment. Construction has just started on Pontoon Cove Eco House, a modern ocean-front home in Esquimalt. Its minimalist design complements the stunning views across the water and unique topography. The back of the house dissolves with floor to ceiling windows and opens out onto an angular deck inspired by the rocky point below.
We also have a mid-century modern renovation in Cadboro Bay on the boards right now. A new roofline will create inside-outside flow and will highlight new modern details. We are currently wrapping up the design of Bird’s Wing Passivhaus and a modern duplex that incorporates four suites on a single residential lot, which was no small challenge.
Do you have a design element or feature that you bring to almost every project? A signature element or material so to speak? Each ONE SEED design tells its own story, but there are some common threads. The approach and entry experience set the tone for the architectural narrative. Where appropriate, a vaulted ceiling or unexpected angle in the design creates a moment of pause and expansion. We have been known to incorporate wood with intention, as it can be minimalist or rustic, but always brings a warmth and softness to a home. Wherever possible, we foster a connection with the outdoors. We blur the line between architecture and interiors, between inside and outside.