A serendipitous conversation between strangers, Victoria designer, JC Scott and Calgary financial planner, Richard McKenster, not only led to a transformative design project, but a life-changing move out west. In this Asia-meets-Europe redesign, Scott created an urban Shangri-La within McKenster’s 900 square foot work-live space in Dragon Alley. Combining his eco-approach, a 35 year stretch in his own work-live space in Fan Tan Alley, and a touch of wizardry, Scott’s conversion captures the phrase ‘thoughtful living’ beautifully.
“McKenster walked into my design studio in Fan Tan Alley curious about the possibilities of living in Chinatown,” recalls Scott. McKenster had purchased one of the original Dragon Alley townhouses as an investment property several years ago. A financial planner from Calgary, he was considering a transition to Victoria, but was not yet convinced. It was this fateful conversation with Scott that inspired McKenster to make the move. But, as Scott chuckles, “he had this little place with a big vision: an office, temporary residence, potential revenue, and a complete upgrade.”
It was important to McKenster to stay true to the history of Dragon Alley and to capture the Zen feel. Scott made both structural and functional changes to satisfy this aesthetic. He created more privacy between levels and, as a bonus, more space. A gap between the first and second floor was enclosed and, to preserve light, Scott installed three extra large glass blocks in the floor. “Not only did we create more light but we added more square footage, ” says Scott.
Scott is no stranger to space-saving modalities. “It’s not so much how much space you have, but how you use it,” he notes. “I’ve spent a lot of time in Europe and on boats to realize you can actually do a lot with a little.” Just look to Scott’s history as a boat interior designer and what he refers to as, ‘sardining’, when clients ask for just one more fish in the tin. Applying these space-gaining sensibilities, Scott moved the hot water tank from under the stairs and created a three-piece bathroom with shower.
On the lower level a washer/dryer, kitchenette, as well as an Italian Resource Furniture flexible bed were added. In office mode, the unit functions as a bookcase but transforms seamlessly into a bed as necessary. “Resource Furniture may seem expensive initially but in terms of the added urban square footage it provides, it’s worth it.” Scott is a big believer in this transformer-style furniture and the Italian quality made it an easy decision to include in this project.
The ground floor functions as an office and client meeting area but it has a hidden Queen bed, a full bathroom with shower, and a kitchenette. Coconut flooring and FSC Rosewood panelling. Vancouver Island sourced Black Carmanah backsplash tiles.
The space under the stair that once held only a hot water tank, now has a vanity, toilet and the entire space is a shower. The gloss red wall unit contains a hidden Italian bed. Black Carmanah marble counter.
Shower controls are discrete, frosted glass privacy door, Black Carmanah threshold. White subway tile.
The under-stair bathroom features all waterproof fixtures like the illuminated mirror with a floor drain and wall mount toilet. Wall niches for soap and shampoo.
The middle, or living floor, has another bed for two, an electric fireplace, and shoji window screens in keeping with the Dragon Zen theme. Full kitchen, built-in European appliances. Poufs from WestCoast eco Home.
Grass lanterns over bamboo island bar enhance the Asian mood in this Chinatown townhouse.
ouch-on faucet and hidden appliances make this chef designed kitchen fully functional.
Glass blocks set into the cork plank floor allow natural light to reach the ground floor, bamboo countertop, wine storage. rosewood veneer.
Ergonomic bar stools from WestCoast eco Home.
The addition of a skylight over the stair and the new ‘white rain’ stair allows natural light to penetrate two floors down into the townhouse.
Replacing a wall with a new stair and railing fills the space with natural light in what was once a dark and enclosed space. Custom-designed stair with composite structural lumber treads.
The main bedroom has a light-filled ensuite and a transformer-style Italian bed. Glass barn door to save space. Cork plank flooring.
Glass blocks are reflected in the fully mirrored wall, both designed to maximize reflected natural light from the small window. The heated towel bar unit also functions as a room heater with the extra bars.
Recycled glass pebble accents, classic white subway tile, rain head shower, local Environite counters and traditional glass blocks make what was once small and dark feel spacious and filled with light.
Recycled glass is part of Environite by local eco-fabricators, Vittrium.
For Scott, the next realm of urban design is ecological sustainability. “Let’s transform an existing space into a more flexible space without having to build so much more new stuff. Let’s just fix what we’ve got.” McKenster’s vertical home is now an office, a home that can sleep up to 6 adults, and his permanent residence. Upon reflection Scott adds, “this particular project had the edge that I thrive on: challenging yet completely possible.” Scott has proven that a 900 square foot, three story plus roof townhouse could accommodate and exceed his client’s needs.