– Words by Angela Cowan Photographs by Lia Crowe
On a quiet street just beyond the end of Oak Bay Avenue, a newly designated heritage home stands tall amid wild drifts of autumn leaves, its full-bodied rain-cloud-grey finish contrasting the oranges and reds. Lush swaths of salvia still in violet bloom stretch from one side of the gardens to the other among rhododendrons and sprawling ferns.
And except for a thin strip of grass parallel to the sidewalk, the front yard is dedicated to a thick and green rain garden, over which stretches a cobbled bridge leading to the home’s curving porch.
First built in 1911, the two-and-a-half-storey house is an attractive example of Dutch Colonial Revival style. The gambrel roof is reminiscent of traditional barn silhouettes, with a bell-cast flare at the eaves adding character, but there is also a sense of contemporary comfort, a balance between the old and the new that was very much intentional.
“We felt the inside had to respect the heritage on the outside, and at the end of the day, we really needed it to respect the house,” says homeowner Charlotte Bowman, who undertook a truly monumental transformation of the house several years ago.
Charlotte joined forces with the talent at Zebra Group, enlisting owner and principal designer Rus Collins to completely overhaul the interior layout. And he’s also the reason the house is now a heritage spot.
“The house was a legal non-conforming duplex, but 40 years or more ago a third suite was added in the attic,” he explains. “I suggested to Charlotte that we apply to Oak Bay Council to enter into a Heritage Revitalization Agreement to allow us to legalize the third suite, and in exchange Charlotte would formally designate the house as heritage.”
It was a huge undertaking, and listening to Charlotte and Martin Whitehead—head of construction at Zebra—the enormity of the work quickly becomes clear.
“It was stripped to the studs,” says Martin. “The exterior was about 80 per cent intact, but a lot of additions had been done over the years. The overall design had turned into a bit of a mash-up of architectural styles over the decades, and some of the elements hadn’t held up very well.”
He adds: “Once we stripped it out we could see what was here, and we took it right back to the 1911 design.”
“The goal was to emulate and highlight classical elements of the home’s original architecture, but to stay away from fussy, ornate details so that the space didn’t feel stuffy or overworked,” explains Lorin Turner, who leads the interior design arm of Zebra. “We wanted the space to be airy and to open each space as much was architecturally feasible.”
To that end, early 1900s-style features—such as the glassed-in library just off the front entrance, the two tiled fireplaces, the windows and the built-in window seats—were balanced by the open-concept living room and spacious kitchen.
A neutral palette of whites and greys runs through the house as well as a continuous wide-plank oak floor, creating an easy flow through the main floor. White subway tiles create a consistent backdrop through the kitchen and both bathrooms for the striking open shelving with its industrial-leaning pipe brackets.White cabinetry with black hardware and hinges invoke a farmhouse feel.
There is also a wonderful array of textures that keep the newness of the renovation from overwhelming its character, with the gorgeous black soapstone countertop perhaps my favourite.
The kitchen, while as open and spacious as any modern design, also preserves a timeless, early century feeling, and it’s difficult at first to pin down why. But looking around, it hits me.
The refrigerator, freezer and dishwasher are all hidden behind panelled cabinet doors and drawers, leaving only one visible appliance: an exquisite Lacanche oven, enamelled in a deep, serene blue that immediately brings to mind an oversized French estate’s kitchen.
“I love it!” says Charlotte, smiling. “It’s so fantastic. I knew I wanted a coloured enamelled stove.”
As we continue the tour, it becomes clear just how much of herself Charlotte put into the design, from the Lacanche stove to the thick padded cushions in the window seats, which she sourced through Etsy, and the incredible array of reclaimed and antique light fixtures, the swinging bookshelves that serve as the master suite’s doors, to the most impressive of all: the tiles surrounding the living room fireplace.
Reflecting slivers of the sun just peeking into the living room, the tiles are a smooth bluey-green colour that shifts depending on the light, and each one was handmade.
“My friend is a potter and helped me make the tiles for both fireplaces,” Charlotte explains, and then laughs at my wide-eyed expression.
“It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have such an emotional attachment to the house, but it was well worth it,” she says of the entire renovation. “This is the house I was born into, and that my daughter was born into.”
Now entirely rebuilt from floors to ceiling, the home is ready to welcome generations to come, and not just for Charlotte’s family. As well as undertaking the heritage designation, Charlotte worked with city council to legalize the second and third floor suites, renovating them with as much care as the main floor, and taking a small but significant step in an effort to provide safe and affordable rental housing for the community.
We’re able to pop upstairs with Charlotte’s tenant for a quick tour of the attic suite, and emerging from the stairs past the stained glass windows, it is like stepping into a New York loft. Angled ceilings, low half-moon windows, the exposed brick of the chimney—the space is cosy and bright and feels like you’re tucked high away in the clouds.
Coming back down, we duck around back of the house to see the landscaping, and I’m shocked when Charlotte tells me there was nothing on the property save the two oak trees by the road.
Bordered with Killarney strawberry trees full of their brilliant red fruits, a Bodinier beautyberry tree still dripping with clusters of purple berries and so many more plants, the backyard is a green paradise, and yet another testament to the enormous amount of work that went into transforming this property into a spectacular home.
Back at the front entrance, sunlight glints through the antique leaded window set in the door, scattering rainbow fragments up the walls. Charlotte goes to the wide built-in nook at the front window, and with the view of garden beyond it’s the perfect place for a relaxed afternoon of reading (or napping).
“It’s my favourite spot,” she says with a smile. “I sit here all the time. Lorin really hit it out of the park with this.”
Residential Design: Zebra Design (Rus Collins)
Interior Design: Zebra Interiors (Lorin Turner)
Construction & Interior Finishing: Zebra Construction (Martin Whitehead)
Heritage Consultant: John Dam & Associates Building Conservation Engineering (John Dam)
Interior Drywall: Definitive Drywall Inc.
Painting: CanTex Painting
Cabinetry and Millwork: RG West Coast Woodwork
Ceiling Beams: Zebra Construction
Flooring: Island Floor Centre
Tiling: Island Floor Centre
Doors: Caliber Doors
Artwork: Tofino Gallery of Contemporary Art (Leah McDiarmid)
Windows: Vintage Woodworks Inc.
Lighting: Waterglass Studios; Scott Landon Antiques
Plumbing Fixtures: Oceanview Mechanical
Countertops: Vancouver Island Soapstone and
Fireplace Hearth/Stonework: handmade tiles
by owner (Charlotte Bowman)
Appliances: Trail Appliances
Landscaping: Rusnak Gallant Ltd
Exterior Siding: Zebra Construction
Home Automation: Black Box Electric