A former hotel condo is transformed into a modern waterfront dream home.
By Danielle Pope | Photos by Ema Peter
When Sylvie Rochette arrived at the two-storey penthouse suite listed in a former Victoria hotel, it wasn’t her first time in the suite. As Rochette puts it, half of Victoria likely attended at least one party there in the last 40 years.
The suite was, in fact, one of the most famous gathering spots in the city for celebrations and, in its prime, was frequented by local and international notables. It was the very suite that Sam Bawlf, developer of the building, had kept for himself since the structure went up in the 1980s — and it was reputed for its unparalleled eagle’s-nest views of the city.
Situated between the Gorge and the Inner Harbour, its rooftop terrace was the premium place for experiencing Victoria’s Canada Day, Symphony Splash and New Year’s Eve events. The two-level, 2,300-square-foot unit was on rotation for everything from bachelor parties to executive fundraisers.
Views Across the Water
When Rochette discovered the suite, it was the only one in the building for sale — and it wasn’t heavily marketed because the building was undergoing a glazing and balcony renovation so was literally shrink wrapped. Though Rochette couldn’t even see the views through plasticized windows, she knew its potential.
“It was just awful when I walked in, but I had been to parties here before, and I knew I wanted it,” says Rochette, who is the founder and president of Epicure. “I wanted a place where I could avoid the commute after dinner parties, and I enjoyed being on the water.”
It might sound like an easy sell, but Rochette had to overlook wrinkled gold carpets, dated popcorn ceilings, heavy Tudor- style spindles and valances and a big, dark oak staircase. It all had to go.
“When Sylvie called me she said, ‘You might think I’m crazy, but I’ve really got something here,’” says designer Bruce Wilkin, who worked with Rochette on her previous home in Deep Cove. “The most remarkable thing about this condo is its jaw-dropping, panoramic views. You look out across the Gorge, the Empress and the ocean and you look down into water. There’s no other place in the city like it.”
Glass & Light
To turn the pinwheel-shaped suite into something that could work for Rochette, however, Wilkin had to recover the space’s natural light and strip the interior to the studs. The kitchen would double in size as the centrepiece of the home, and small sitting nooks would be reabsorbed into the design to create a spacious living and dining area on the first level.
The second level’s three bedrooms would transform into an office, guest room and master, though the master’s thin closet would be expanded into a full walk-in closet (complete with windows) and ensuite.
Glass and lightness would become the theme throughout the house, including the glass-paneled staircase, complete with Bocci lights cascading like bubbles through the centre. In the bath, custom Garry oak panelling created a heritage wall feature, saved from a fallen tree from Rochette’s former home. One of the most challenging parts of the project came from an oversized art piece by Rande Cook. Too big to fit through the building’s doors, it had to be craned through top-story windows.
While Wilkin had some set building parameters to work with, the team was able to add a disguised HVAC and air conditioning system, water purification system, full-scale washer and dryer, kitchen appliances — including an in-counter steamer for cooking ease — and white lacquered cabinets with durable porcelain countertops for heavy use.
“There is still so much space for people to gather around, to visit, to celebrate — and it’s luminous,” says Rochette. “At night, the suite comes alive with all the Inner Harbour lights, and we love our sunny little breakfast table in the morning. It’s a space that feels like you can come and go as you want, and that’s perfect.”