By Danielle Pope
A savvy design and construction team transforms a home suffering from decades of mismatched renos into a modern masterpiece of exceptional grandeur.
Merle Alexander knew he’d found his dream home the moment he stepped into the “great room” of the house in the Arbutus area of Victoria. With its 18-foot ceilings, arched windows, spectacular views and lustrous natural light, it was as breathtaking as it was enormous.
Of course, the house had its flaws. It was a representation of every decade since it was built in 1928. It had bedrooms conceived in the 90s, vinyl linoleum in a 70s kitchen and bathrooms painted in aqua tones of the 60s. It took some convincing for Alexander’s partner, Tamara Napoleon, to see the same vision he had, but eventually the two would turn this historical melting pot into their own legacy home — a home as timeless as it is beautiful — in which to grow their family.
“Even then, we were planning for another child, so we wanted a home with a robust master bedroom and at least two other rooms,” Alexander says. “When we found this house, we wanted to honour the original architecture while making it work for our family.”
OPENING UP THE HOME’S POTENTIAL
Using a stylish mix of black-and-white motifs and classic tile throughout the house, the couple did just that. First, though, a large-scale overhaul was necessary to streamline the home for modern-family living. In the original structure, a strange hallway cut through one bathroom, which opened into a small den before leading through to a bedroom.
Chris Strong, principal at Strong Construction Group, says it took some reimagining to make the space come together. His greatest accomplishment was the revised kitchen and dining area, created by opening a closed-off eating room and galley-style kitchen.
“The sum of those small rooms combined was about the same as the great room, but it transformed the entire house,” Strong says. “It felt like the area gained hundreds of square feet and gave you free rein to move.”
Despite the restructuring, there was a great deal of original beauty in the house — from the shapely windows to the natural oak flooring. While most Victorian homes of the era held to a traditional standard, the original owners of the Arbutus house contracted an architect from San Francisco, bringing in design and style not commonly seen here. At a leisurely 5,500 square feet, including the basement, it was quite the “summer cottage” for the first family.
“The main living area has become my favourite,” Napoleon says. “Our chairs face the ocean and yard — towering maples and arbutus trees frame the water, and Japanese maples enclose the patio. When the fireplace is glowing it’s a beautiful room, and it’s the one we use most.”
A NEW HOME VISION
Through the years, the home shapeshifted with each new owner’s insight, right down to faux-candle light fixtures adorning the walls. Yet the great room kept its striking features, with exposed beams and wood-sashed windows. To help it come alive again, Strong’s team freshened the plaster walls, repainted the natural detail in the moulding and refurbished the fireplace back to its centrepiece stature.
“Every room had its own bit of history, and our goal was to bring a sense of cohesion and function to each area,” says Kyla Bidgood, principal of Bidgood + Co. Interiors. “We wanted to make the home look the way it was always meant to look — and I think we achieved that.”
Leading the redesign, Bidgood’s team enhanced even the subtler details of the house to build an almost imperceptible repetition throughout each space. The team added an archway to the living area, brought in Edison bulbs and modern light sconces, placed subway tiles in the powder room and even recreated the arch of the great room within some tile patterns throughout the house.
“In order to build a home that lasts through time, you have to focus on what’s really important,” says Bidgood. “The quality of your materials, the colours you choose, the mix of traditional and modern elements and the personal touches — that’s what makes a home a treasure for generations to come.”
INSIDE THE HOME