By Kate Cino
Leading up to the AGGV’s annual House Tour on September 24, YAM visits one of Victoria’s most artful homes, renovated specifically to showcase the owners’ impressive collection, which includes iconic pieces by David Blackwood and Douglas Coupland.
Since 1953, the Gallery Associates have supported the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) with an annual House Tour. On September 24, guests will visit five stylish local homes, each with a unique flair and a working artist on site. One of the featured homes belongs to a Victoria couple, Carla and Michael Perry, who refurbished a modest bungalow into a lively live-in art gallery.
The house is specially designed to hold the couple’s stellar collection, each alcove and wall space reveals another eye-popping treasure. Moving around is effortless in this one-storey home, with wide hallways, designed for aging in place.
The original structure was a 900-square-foot bungalow designed by well-known architect Percy Leonard James in the early 1940s. It is set back from the road on a deep lot with a back lane.
“We had our eye on this place for many years as a retirement opportunity,” says Carla. When the house became available, she and Michael sold their nearby home and moved in.
After one year of living in the house, and negotiating an awkward 1980s addition, they decided a major fix was in order. They worked with Todd Martin, designer for Knot in a Box, and after finalizing the plans, the couple moved out and the one-year construction project began.
DESIGNED FOR ART AND LIVING
“We gave Todd Martin our essential list for the 1,400-square-foot addition,” says Carla, “and he grappled with a few contradictions.”
Martin turned out to be a good listener. To find solutions, he sat with the couple for many hours, looking at three-dimensional drawing plans on his computer. From the finished 3D model, blueprints were produced and building began. “Technology is wonderful,” says Martin. “It allows people to enter the space at eye level and experience the effects of various adjustments.”
The Perrys required large wall spaces for artwork, plus they needed an abundance of natural light. Martin used clerestory windows on both external and internal walls. These narrow windows above eye level bring in angled light in winter but protect from direct summer sun. The artwork also required expert illumination. The warm LED spots recessed in the ceiling are all on dimmers.
“We did many walk-throughs with the electrician, working out placements,” says Martin. The front foyer is a narrow entryway that holds key works from the collection, so that area required special attention. The owners had all the electrical outlets lowered to three feet above floor level. This clever adaptation prevented the switch plates from taking up valuable hanging space — and made them wheelchair accessible.
THE ART AND THE STORIES
Pat Preston, chair of the Gallery Associates’ communications/marketing committee at the AGGV, is delighted to include the Perry residence on their major fundraiser.
“I marvel at the level of care that went into this remodelling,” Pat says. “They made a home for themselves and their artwork.”
The Perrys’ amazing art collection reflects years of mutual effort. The love of collecting began for the couple while they were travelling, and going to galleries and museums became a priority in their life. Having similar tastes in art helped focus their decisions. “When we started collecting, we made a rule,” says Carla. “We both have to love it.”
They favour Canadian art, both historic and modern. Many pieces feature strong colour and figural works with narrative content. “[The artworks] really are like our children,” Michael says. “They all come with unique stories, and it’s hard for us to part with them.” He enjoys doing research on interesting artists, meeting them and hearing details about their creative process.
One of his favourite artworks is a colourful collage, Palouse Patterns, by Ruth Sawatsky (1936-2012). He purchased the artwork in Tsawassen, then acquired two more pieces while visiting the artist’s studio. Shapes, patterns and interesting textures bring the works to life.
“She is not a famous artist,” he says, “but I get a lot of pleasure from viewing these pieces.”
A TOUR DE FORCE
Starting the tour in the living room, the cozy atmosphere of the original dwelling lingers. The heritage-style windows, upgraded fireplace, built-in bookshelves and cove ceilings say “curl up and read.”
Don’t miss the paint-covered vintage globe by Douglas Coupland from his Trash Vortex series. You’ll find it tucked on the front window ledge among potted plants. Several luscious paintings by Joe Plaskett (1918-2014) offer sensual warmth to this area. In contrast, a painting called Fix’n up the House by Cree artist Allen Sapp (1928-2015) shows Prairie people battling harsh conditions.
Entering the great room, there is a glorious burst of colour and energy from a painting by Anishinaabe artist Norval Morrisseau (1931-2007). The open-concept great room is 1,400 square feet and combines an eat-in kitchen, dining table and seating area with fireplace. The owners were successful in creating a smooth transition from the charm of the original bungalow to the symmetrical balance of the new addition.
“We wanted this room to reflect our casual lifestyle,” says Carla, “and be welcoming to friends, grandchildren and dogs.”
Andy Dixon’s Group of Seven painting creates another bright oasis on the same wall. Dixon, a prolific painter with an anti-establishment edge, is very hot on the contemporary scene. The work reinterprets a historical photo of the Group of Seven seated together. (A framed copy of the original black-and-white photo sits nearby.) Delightfully irreverent and exquisitely rendered, the painting sings with fauve colours and gestural brushwork. “It’s our conversation piece,” says Carla. “We both admire the social commentary and talents of Andy Dixon.”
Over the fireplace in the great room is a four-by-six-foot painting by Newfoundlander David Blackwood. Carla’s maternal grandparents were from Newfoundland, and her heart went out to this iconic marine drama. Monumental whale flukes splash against a stormy sky. The raging sea and fiery horizon, slightly askew, speak of unfathomable forces of nature and life-and-death struggles.
“David is a great storyteller,” says Carla. “We sat together and I gave him the last name of my grandparents. Right away, he connected them with a town and began reminiscing about the inhabitants.”
Another Blackwood painting, Night View from Fonte Vecchia, hangs in an alcove in the hallway. The watercolour recounts an Italian holiday in 2011. Emerald-green leaves and floating pink flowers fill the picture frame with delicate hues. A twilight landscape viewed through an open window shows a Tuscany hill town and cypress trees. On the table (in the watercolour) there is an art book about Italian artist Cimabue (1240-1302).
Carla managed to track down a coffee-table book on Cimabue and has it carefully placed on a table beneath the Blackwood watercolour. Attention to detail brings art to life in this home.
The master bedroom features an oversize painting, Room for Mystics No. 7 Energy Generator, by award-winning artist Sandra Meigs. Striking energetic spirals on a yellow ground give a lively zest to this 2016 painting. “Every morning, this artwork fills me with light and hope and good energy,” says Carla. Visitors on the House Tour will not see this painting, as it will be in Toronto, included in Meigs’ solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, opening in October 2017.
What will hang in place of the Meigs’ painting? Something equally impressive, no doubt.
LOOK INSIDE THE HOME
ATTEND THE AGGV’S ANNUAL HOUSE TOUR ON SEPTEMBER 24
From an ultra-contemporary custom home with a display of striking nature photography to a bungalow that has been transformed into a work of modern architecture replete with the homeowners’ eclectic art collection, five unique properties await you on the 2017 AGGV Home Tour. This year, all the houses on the tour are in Oak Bay, making it an easygoing afternoon of enjoying art and beautiful homes. And don’t miss the featured local artist working at each location. Tickets are $35 and will be available on September 1 at the gallery’s front desk and online at aggv.ca/events.