the inside

We know, we know. Some folks have been asking for interior photos for a long time. We had to spiffy up our house for some other things over the past two days so we decided it was time to take some photos and share them. Here they are at long last!

entry

upstairs

living

dining

upstairs

kitchen

bedroom

We LOVE living in our home!

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Architectural decisions

With the details of the roof coming into form now, the architectural details are now becoming obvious to folks passing by. I realize I haven’t really written about why we chose an architect and it’s not something I want to miss, so here goes!

Sept 29 - east dormer!

I grew up in “the house that Fred built”, a single storey rancher on a quarter acre near, but not quite in sight of, the ocean. It’s the only home I knew for most of my life and I quite like it. It’s far from perfect but it’s certainly much more homey than any modern spec home.

upstairs dormer view windows

By the time I was a teenager the three bedroom house started to feel a bit crowded for 3 girls, their parents and a handful of the neighbourhood kids. My parents tossed about the idea of moving to a bigger house or adding on to the existing house, but instead we just managed the squeeze for the last few years that we were all at home. That’s not to say we didn’t long for some sort of “away” space, but the thing is, we were able to make do and the squeeze didn’t last that long anyway. It’s also nice that my folks have been able to remain in and enjoy our childhood home as empty nesters.

The house hasn’t gotten any bigger but there have been some great changes over the years. While I was still at home sky lights were added in the living room and kitchen and they enhanced the quality of the space immensely. Later on my folks removed the mish mash of flooring types in much of the main living spaces and brought in radiant heat under one type of tile.

My mom’s desire to improve the house introduced me to the concept of away spaces, the sequence of spaces and the importance of natural light and “right-sized” rooms. My favourite book quickly became Sarah Susanka’s “The Not So Big House“.

Over the years I added to my home design library and spent a lot of my spare time sifting through old Sunset cottage catalogues and websites for cottage kits. Eventually I started taking plans I liked from Ross Chapin Architects and Tumbleweed Tiny House Company and started tweaking them in the hopes that one day I’d be able to build. I was really inspired by the beauty and functionality of smaller homes like those mentioned above and this one from “Good House, Cheap House“.

Some of my interest in housing definitely comes from my dad’s side. When I was little he made me a wooden loft bed that was the envy of all my friends and both his sister and his mother designed the homes I visited in my childhood (although I didn’t know it at the time). In the last decade I’ve filled pages and pages with drafts for homes on vacant lots or for tiny houses that could be moved anywhere and they all feature plenty of beautiful wood.

house book sketch 3

house book sketch 4

When we finally got our lot a year ago I started madly drafting up ways designs for our future home. It would take a whole day to get the details but I just couldn’t seem to get the light or the flow I knew I wanted in the space. We both recognized something was missing so we started asking around for help.

Main floor - green plan V3

So often we’d hear recommendations for local house designers but they weren’t speaking our language. To us they just designed big spaces with truss roofs, huge fish bowl windows and some nice wood finishing. We’d already lived in a house that felt big and cavernous and knew we liked the quality of the space that could be created in the corners under a hand-framed roof. In fact, a few of our friends had already built homes with those features.

By studying housing forms on every road trip and taking in lectures on pocket neighbourhood design, we’d also come to appreciate the importance of landscaping and creating layers between the street and the living space.

Ross Chapin pocket neighbourhood WA

house book sketch 5

We also knew enough to know that we wanted a smaller home with a worthy entry, some sort of away space, stairs that went around a corner and weren’t too steep, and main floor living. Our list of requirements was far from short and to complicate things further, our building site was rather unique.

Our lot is an unusually small one for our town and on either side are much bigger lots with old ranchers. As you know by now, there are also some pretty nice views and we wanted to capitalize on those as well.

I think the years of looking at architecturally designed homes in books taught me the sorts of benefits that can be found in working with an architect so I started looking and it didn’t take much to convince Kevin that that was the way to go either.

We contacted many, met with a few and then we found our guy. Funnily enough, I had just read about his little suite a few months earlier and had wondered if someone from Bowen Island would ever work on a project over here. It didn’t take long to go from finding the answer was yes, to learning that our project was just the kind of project he could get excited about. James at JWT Architecture has been so down to earth and easy to work with and we love seeing how his conceptualization of our desires is turning out.

House - front view

dusted!

This was a busy week for us where very little happened on site other than the wood being delivered. What beautiful wood it is!

Aug 11 sanding posts and beams

Today we finally had the chance to go out and start making it look pretty. In the small pile that we started on today we’ve got a beam that goes over the inside of the entry way, exterior corner posts and two skinny little posts that define the transition between our entry and living room. Later in the day we started on the deck posts.

When our sanding equipment wasn’t blaring we chatted about the difference between structural and architectural lumber. It turns out that with the exception of my first posts (the ones between the entry and living room), all the wood represented varying degrees of the two elements. Those “little” posts (relatively speaking) are purely architectural and something we requested. Others like the post for the SE corner of the house are clearly structural as windows abut them on two sides, but there’s also an architectural element that connects them with the overall language of our house. Then there are beams that support our covered deck. They are huge! While they perform a structural task their sizing is without question architectural.

Aug 11 sanding posts and beams

We were just about to pack up and take a break for lunch when the grey clouds that had been building all morning gave way to precipitation. Fortunately we’d prepared a space indoors and only a few drops landed on our wood before we had it safely stowed away.

Aug 11 dusted!

The rain didn’t last so after taking care of the usual weekend errands we went out again to finish what we’d started and take a crack at sealing the wood that will be visible on the inside.

We’re using a water-based “Professional” (lower VOC’s than the regular grade) varathane for that but the debate on what to use on the exterior wood continues. That reminds me that I should take a picture of the growing selection of stain samples that are littering our side yard!

Kindred Spirits

Small… built with natural materials… designed to maximize sunlight and views… efficient use of water and energy… permeable landscape… good indoor air quality… low utility costs… a place to live through retirement…

Those are some of the priorities that have shaped the design of our home and when we talk to other folks in our demographic here in town, we find that these are the sorts of things other people want to.  The challenge is finding homes with such features or having the funds to make such a dream reality.

As much as I may lament the years where I felt stuck in Alberta, they’re a big reason we are able to shape this part of our dreams right now.

Last Sunday we were out for a neighbourhood walk as darkness was beginning to descend and we stopped to spend some extra time looking at the roof and windows on one of the most intriguing homes in our neighbourhood, trying to figure out how similar details are going to look on our home.  Strangely neither of us can remember what stage of development the house was at when we first came across it, but I think it’s three story form and unorthodox placement on the lot was pretty clearly established already.  It’s been nearly three years now and it’s been so interesting to see their garden grow and mature.

Unbeknownst to us, our looking and pointing was catching the attention of the owners who called us up to check things out.  It was an invitation we couldn’t refuse.  It turns out these gentle souls are connected to other folks in our social circle and they had very similar ideals to us when it came to designing their home.

It got even more surprising when we realized we’ve both used architects from Bowen Island, specified the same size of fridge, and opted for a main bath instead of an ensuite.  Indoor air quality is important to them too so they’ve used lots of wood trim and low VOC finishes, run an HRV and opted not to have a natural gas hook up.  I don’t believe there was a tv in sight either:)

With all the things we have in common you might expect our houses to look a lot alike but the reality is that they couldn’t be more different!  Where we’ve opted for a lot of traditional details and a low, somewhat sprawling form; their home towers 3 storeys above the ground and has all sorts of interesting angles and details.  And where mobility is something I worry will trouble me, they designed their home for their retirement with lots of stairs, presumably to help keep them fit and agile.

It’s so cool to see the different ways that we’ve interpreted such similar values.  And that not only are their other folks here wanting the same things, there are actually other people doing it too!

Slightly Snug

Slightly snug?  What’s that you ask?

We think it’s a good way to describe our future home.  Not too small, and hopefully not too big either.  A space that feels more cozy than cavernous.

While we like the idea of really living small, as in a Tumbleweed Tiny House on wheels or the larger B-53, it’s not quite practical for the way we live.  We quite like the lack of stuff that can accumulate in the 500 sf space we currently live in but we’re always battling for space to do our work and store our gear.  Most of our work is done at home and our professions seem to necessitate room for storing and spreading out significant collections of paper.  We also like to spend a lot of time outside and that means sport-specific gear.  I’m also a crafter and we do a LOT of cooking.

We’re  fortunate to live in a part of the world where people like to come and visit us and we regularly host a good sized group of friends.  In our current place we can host up to 11 other  people for food and socializing but that means no room for getting around the table.   It’s also a bit tough when friends or family do come to stay.  Fortunately the futon in the living room hasn’t kept our eager friends from coming to stay.

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