House Beautiful: Dreams were built of wood and stone
STORY BY GRANIA LITWIN / PHOTOGRAPH BY: DEBRA BRASH, VICTORIA TIMES COLONIST
Sheri Fraser knew what appliances she wanted in her kitchen long before she and her husband ever started building their new Beach Drive home.
She also had a pretty good idea of how her kitchen was going to look and function.
“I found a picture of a kitchen and ripped it out … as inspiration,” said Sheri, who noted they had never built a house but had renovated previous homes.
Before she and her husband, John, gave a thought to hiring an architectural designer or builder, they had decided to work with Victoria interior designer Sandy Nygaard, whose clean, uncluttered lines and understated chic appealed to them.
“We’d used Sandy in previous renovations and she had us pegged,” said Sheri with a laugh. “She just gets it. She creates the flow, the style. She’s wonderful.”
Nygaard said it helps when clients know their own minds and have clear vision and well-defined aspirations. “It’s wonderful — a huge help.”
When the Frasers found their ideal property on Beach Drive, their first move was to tear down an existing older home. Over 14 months, their new house took shape with the help of Zebra Design Group’s Rus Collins and the building team at Abstract.
The kitchen was critical for Sheri, who wanted a big island that would double as a kitchen table. “It’s where we eat dinner most nights,” so it has a generous overhang, and tall comfortable chairs — not backless stools for temporary perching.
“Sandy was our saviour and came up with lots of great ideas,” she said — such as installing an inconspicuous television over the desk area, putting pewter-coloured mesh on some of the cupboard door fronts as an alternative to glass and adding extra windows.
She also eked out every molecule of extra space.
“We have so much storage in the house, it’s ridiculous,” Sheri said.
One of Nygaard’s little touches was to create a jewel-box pantry that isn’t simply a series of shelves and cupboards, but more a kitchen in miniature, with matching small counters covered in marble.
Sheri wanted her prep area and big sink by the window, not on the island as in her last house, where it always looked messy. Cuttings and clutter are kept off to the side, so it doesn’t become a focal point in the room. The island chairs are covered in a handsome buffed nubuck.
The living room and entry have soaring ceilings — more than 20 feet high — and scooped-barrel treatments on either side, adding an exclamation mark of interest over windows and doors.
Carpenters from Hobson Woodworks did almost all the millwork in the 5,200-square-foot Uplands house — including stair bannisters, wainscoting, interior trim, wall panelling, windowsills, pillars and an arched colonnade that divides the living room from the entry and supports a long balcony above.
“We spent about 1,300 man hours because there was quite a bit of detail required to pull off the look Sandy was going for — traditional with a bit of contemporary edge,” said Hobson owner Geoff Hobson.
“We clad the pillars out, adding layers and layers of intricacy to make them pop in 3-D. Sandy gave us the renderings. We met on site with carpenters and ran with it. The difference between a plain pillar and one of these is night and day,” he said, noting it is satisfying to take a plain, structural post and make it “extraordinary.”
“I love that colonnade. … It’s one of my favourite aspects of any house we’ve done … with that nice tight sightline that your eye takes in all at once.”
He said the house was a satisfying project, because his heart is in finish carpentry.
“I really like trim-heavy houses.”
“Modern lines come in and out of fashion, but most carpenters will tell you they have their heart in this kind of thing,” said Hobson, a 35-year-old finishing carpenter, who recently opened a cabinet facility on the West Shore with 14 carpenters.
He specializes in high-end cabinetry and millwork — everything from suspended staircases to pine cabinetry and custom moulding: “Since opening, it’s been full steam ahead. We were booked two to three months out before we even opened the door.”
Sheri and John appreciate the detailed craftsmanship that went into the extensive millwork in their three-storey house.
“I’m not a fancy or ornate person,” said Sheri, “but I really love the interiors that Sandy designed, and the fact that it has been so well done. This house is so comfortable.”
John enjoys the media room and his library office on the main floor.
Located opposite each other, at the end of the colonnade, they are both entered through double glass doors off the hall, which means they can open up into one large area for entertaining.
“We could have done French doors, or frosted doors, but that would have looked too traditional,” said Sandy, who chose large panes of clear glass instead. She selected a shade of dark brown-grey paint in both rooms, too, to link them and add a snug ambience, “so people tuck in.”
Dark wood was used in both rooms, for cabinets and shelving, and in the media room, a massive 80-inch television fades completely into the dark wall. “It’s a really simple trick to build it into a dark background,” said Nygaard, who added the home is a combination of contemporary and traditional styles.
“We have all the traditional aspects to it, but they are done with a clear contemporary line.”
Nygaard works for many architects and home designers who send her digital plans to work from. She often moves things around, changes a focal point here or there, puts in an extra window or makes suggestions to flow, layout and lighting.
The living room and entry were tough to light, Nygaard said.
“There was no obvious place to hang a chandelier because of the soaring ceiling, yet it is a grand entry and needed something dramatic.”
She solved the problem by hanging not one but three glittering spheres that hover over the upper balcony like planets spinning in a series of solar systems.
“This was another one of her moments,” said Sheri, referring to lights in the living room on either side of the fireplace.
“We saw something like them in Restoration Hardware, but they weren’t quite right so Sandy made these.”
The designer took some metal pickets intended for an interior stairwell and had custom shades made for them. The unique vertical lamps were fabricated at Fantasy Metal Crafting and now hang on either side of the fire, adding a tawny glow.
“You need a team to make a house really great,” said Nygaard, who believes in bringing in designers outside the architectural firm or structural design company, so there is a fertile interplay of ideas.