On the Saanich Peninsula, a family transforms their treasured coastal cottage into a welcoming new home, while preserving 80 years of memories. 

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
Photo By: Joshua Lawrence.


When Debbie and David decided to build a new home on the Saanich Peninsula, they did it with careful consideration. The property had been in the family for 80 years, and Debbie’s grandfather had built the original home himself — complete with a waterfront pool and private dock. Since the 1940s, the Toronto-based family had used the land as a seasonal getaway. Then, 10 years ago, Debbie inherited it.

“This property has meant a lot to our family for a long time,” says Debbie. “The existing home did have several facelifts over the decades, but the foundation needed work and the old place was literally falling apart. My granddad nailed the location, but the cottage had served its time.”

The pair had a vision to rebuild a beautiful seaside home — something that wasn’t too big, but could welcome members of the family from all over. They wanted it to be charming, coastal and durable enough to accommodate grandkids coming in from the pool with wet feet.

“We wanted to build something that worked,” says Debbie.

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
Homeowners Debbie and David found creative ways to preserve the heritage of this beloved family vacation spot. Although the original home was replaced with a new build, the structure and outdoor features of the property were highlighted in new ways. Photo By: Geoff Hobson.

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
The home’s two storeys now feature picture windows to showcase the ocean view through new vantage points. The arbour, designed by Christopher Walker, creates a sense of entrance to the property, with a path guiding visitors down to the water. Photo By: Geoff Hobson.

Honouring Family Heritage

To get the process started, the couple drafted in the designers of Zebra Design Group and builder Christopher Walker from Christopher Developments.

“Being a family heritage site, it was important to honour that as much as possible. We kept the architecture more traditional, because we wanted it to feel like the house had been there for a while,” says Lorin Turner, principal interior designer at Zebra Design Group. “We used west coast and nautical inspiration without being too themey. That meant bright light and big ocean views, with navy blue in the island, sea glass in the backsplashes and keeping lines clean and classic.”

The family wanted this seasonal home to be polished, rather than folksy or rustic. With extended family spread over Canada, they wanted to create a place where everyone could reconnect and feel comfortable, Turner says. The home’s three bedrooms and four bathrooms allow plenty of space to do just that.

“It feels like its own private oasis when you go out there,” says Turner. “It’s a retreat to connect back to the west coast and really be together, year after year.”

The new build used the same footprint as the original home, but took it from a single-level, 1,800-square-foot cottage to a 3,700-square-foot, two-storey home, with an additional two-car garage. Due to its southern exposure and (at times) unrelenting sun, practical upgrades were a factor, and include air conditioning and an improved exterior space that would allow a seamless transition for enjoying the indoors and outdoors throughout the year.

“We wanted to create a sense of entrance, and needed a gate for safety with the pool, so the arbour that leads to the water became a natural entry point,” says Walker. “It’s very welcoming — you come around the corner and the view just opens up.”

As the builder, Walker played a significant role in transforming the exterior to include an oversized, covered terrace for enjoying meals outdoors, with a transitional space welcoming guests from seating area to fire feature to pool. New elements include an outdoor kitchen and integrated barbecue with built-in bar seating.

The patio itself showcases a subtle arch that mimics the coastline, making its curved wall a complex structure that contrasts to the black metal picket railing.

“The outdoors have always been very important here,” says David. “We needed windows that allow you to enjoy the garden, pool and ocean year-round, even when indoors. The trick was to design the place in a way that would take advantage of the beauty of the lot.”

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
Debbie was highly involved in the interior design of the home and wanted to create a traditional space that welcomed all members of the family. Photo By: Geoff Hobson.

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
A subtle west coast nautical theme is found throughout the house, with natural features from the worn-wood look in the kitchen chairs and wide-plank flooring, to navy in the kitchen island and a sea glass backsplash. Photo By: Geoff Hobson.

A Home for Generations

While the home itself is entirely new, there are “bits and pieces” that pay tribute to Debbie’s grandfather’s build, says David. The traditional fir front door was chosen to resemble the original; the den is in the same location in the new house; and a big stone fireplace used material sourced from Port Renfrew, as had been done before. The builders also preserved — and improved — the front terrace where the family had enjoyed many hours with cocktails over the years. 

The biggest link to the past, however, is the pool, which remains almost entirely original.

“When the District of North Saanich came by for approvals, they looked at the pool and asked, ‘Where did you get a permit to build a pool like this?’ It was non-conforming because it was so much larger than others in the area,” says David. “But it was built before the District of North Saanich existed. The kids had been swimming here since the ’50s. That pool is a source of memories for the entire family.”

With the District only established in 1965, the pool was literally grandfathered in, so the couple was able to keep the original structure. The only element updated was its concrete deck.

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
The entryway is one of Walker’s favourite aspects of this home, specifically the way it fills with light. Walker created the stairs and newel post to align with the traditional architecture. The area becomes one of the most welcoming features of the home, he says, when people turn the corner and the view opens up. Photo By: Geoff Hobson.

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
Lorin Turner from Zebra Design Group supported the interior design of this house, and aimed to enhance light and bright elements with a polish that would keep this family getaway from coming off as “folksy.” Photo By: Geoff Hobson.

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
Thanks to the combination of natural materials, layered textures and oversized windows, the whites and blues of this coastal space feel like they’ve always been there — just as the homeowners wished. Photo By: Geoff Hobson.

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
The outdoor features of this property are some of the most important to the homeowners, who preserved the unobstructed views of the patio with a low-set railing. Photo By: Jason Frank Photography.

Seaside Retreat for the Ages - YAM May/June City Issue 2023
Heritage gardens are found throughout the property, originally planted by Debbie’s grandmother. Photo By: Joshua Lawrence.

Special features like the meandering ocean path invite guests to stroll down to the water, and keep the experience accessible for all family members. Photo By: Joshua Lawrence.

The other through-line on the property is its gardens, including the heritage rose bushes originally planted by Debbie’s grandmother.

“I love to garden, so puttering in the garden is my happy place,” says Debbie. “My grandmother loved roses, so we dug up the roses from her original garden and replanted them. It’s beautiful to see them still growing.”

Some modifications have made the property even better, says Debbie, like being able to stare out the oversized picture windows on the second floor, watching grandkids play on the beach.

What would her grandparents think of the home today? David thinks after they got over the shock of modern life — the kitchen as a central feature and all the tech improvements — they’d likely be pleased.

“I think they’d love it,” says Debbie. “Just the fact that we’re still using it and have a fifth generation using it now, too, I think would mean the world to them.”

Resource List

Designer: Zebra Design Group
Builders: Christopher Developments
Framer: EKB Construction
Plumbing and mechanical: NB Plumbing & Heating / Majestic Mechanical
Electrician: Motherwell Electric
Light fixtures: Pine Lighting Victoria
Doors and hardware: Slegg Building Materials
Windows: EuroLine Windows
Tile and flooring: Island Floor Centre
Kitchen appliances: Trail Appliances
Countertops: FLOFORM Countertops
Plumbing fixtures: Victoria Speciality Hardware & Plumbing
Landscape design: Owners