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Hot properties: Traditional meets contemporary

A brand-new build with built-in history

Steps above the beating heart of the ocean in Ten Mile Point sits a house that’s part rambling garden, part wildlife haven, part book-lover’s paradise – and completely inviting.

Hidden down a steep grade and behind a gatehouse, it sits on a grey stone foundation topped with a warm cedar shingle exterior. A multi-level cedar-shake roof with plenty of peaks and dormers evokes a sense of grandeur and a tinge of old world that’s reinforced by the scraggly old apple trees and rough stone walkways. But there are also bright spaces, smooth lines and light tones that balance the sense of age, so that the overall effect edges into a new aesthetic that’s becoming increasingly popular.

“I wouldn’t call it traditional, but it’s also not contemporary,” says Brian Morris, the architect for the home. “Some people are calling it ‘transitional.’ It’s almost like a simplified traditional aesthetic.”

Abundant natural light and natural materials also topped the list of the priorities in this Victoria-area home. Vince Klassen photo

For Brian, who first met the homeowners when he helmed a major renovation of their previous Arts and Crafts-style house more than 20 years ago, it was a treat to work from the ground up and design something that fit their lives and lifestyle perfectly.

“They’re quite passionate about their garden and their connection to nature,” he says. “They wanted to be down by the water, but also connected to their garden visually, and be able to step out and be out in it.”

Abundant natural light and natural materials also topped the list of their priorities, as did plenty of wall space for art. And that transitional aesthetic continues from the moment you walk through the door.

Spreading out from the entryway are walls and walls of shiplap, painted a full-bodied cream and framed with wide, white trim. Combined with wider plank oak flooring and the natural wood beams that traverse the ceilings in nearly every room, the immediate vibe is of a cosy, oceanfront traditional home.

The abundant use of natural materials adds to a sense of age in this custom Victoria home. Vincent Klassen photo

But balancing that vibe are the nine-foot ceilings, the cathedral opening over the dining area, the soft grey and simple cabinetry in the kitchen and the clean lines of a more modern build. Rows of skylights bring an incredible amount of light in, brightening the open spaces, while the use of stone and wood throughout grounds it in both a visual and tactile sense.

As the homeowner walks me around, I learn there’s another reason the house already feels so well lived in: much of the wood used in the build was reclaimed. Those oak floors, with their interesting grains and varied shades, are from Ontario, and the mantel over the fireplace and the rough and cracked beams used throughout the house are first-growth fir, reclaimed from Vancouver’s first courthouse and its first jail.

The layout and design itself were also built around the homeowners’ own histories, much in the way a tailored suit is made to perfectly fit a unique body.

There’s a ground-floor music studio with ample room for piano, guitars and keyboard and beadboard lining the ceiling to provide sound dampening. A personal office upstairs houses an ingenious built-in Pilates closet that keeps everything tidy but convenient. Built-in bookshelves are tucked into nooks and in-between places everywhere. Extra-wide windowsills become tiny galleries, showing off tchotchkes and treasures from travels and friends.

The small library upstairs is a literal piece of heaven, with a stunning stained-glass window inset into the wall overlooking the stairs. Made by a friend years ago for their previous home, the piece features twisting pine branches peppered with pockets of hand-etched needles. Even the handrail going upstairs is an exact replica of the one in their previous home – since the old one had fit their hands so perfectly. This may have been a brand-new construction, but it’s got history built in.

Vincent Klassen photo

The abundant use of natural materials complements and adds to that sense of age. Richly stained rough-sawn fir doors, and travertine tiles used in the mudroom and as a countertop in the laundry room, have a slightly weathered, aged feeling. And then there are the handmade mosaic tiles in one of the ground-floor bathrooms that came from a small-scale artisan.

The stone fireplace – a masterpiece by stonemason John King, who also took on the Herculean task of all the stonework outside – pulls the already homey and welcoming living room together. More than just high-quality materials, these features also speak to an intentionality in the building process. Wherever possible, the owners worked with small companies or individual artisans, choosing handmade and slow-built over fast or trendy, working with interior designer Mari Kushino, who brought her invaluable expertise and guidance to the process.

Contractor Hugh Owen and his team brought an exceptional level of care and attention to detail as well to the build.

“He does one house at a time and he’s on the job site all day long, so he becomes the house,” says Brian.

That attention to detail is visible at even the smallest levels, like the grain of the shiplap – lined up to flow through each board – or the soft linen Roman blinds that bring a wonderful texture and continuity through the entire home. But it’s also on a much larger scale, going back to the drafting process itself.

“The brain is always looking for patterns or reasons for things to come together. It’s always seeking order,” says Brian. “So, when you can pay attention to that in the design, it creates a very calming environment.”

Everything from how the centre of the rooms line up with each other, to where the lights are installed, to the height of switches and outlets, it all came together in a cohesive and smooth whole, so that no matter how you walk through the home or where you look, you have a place to land. And that includes the views out into the yard and beyond.

Vincent Klassen photo

Looking out through the wall of windows that runs the length of the back of the house, there’s one of the most incredible views in all of Victoria. Framed by the windows, it’s a study in the rule of thirds.

“There are three different layers,” explains Brian. “You’ve got these gorgeous mature trees in the short view, and in the middle view you can see Oak Bay and Cadboro Bay, and the sailboats and the lights at night. And then there’s the distant view of the mountains, all the way down to the Olympics.”

Brian worked with garden designer Jonathan Craggs to craft the exterior with as much care as the interior, creating focal points – mature trees, a pocket of coastline, a winding stone path – through just about every window in the house.

“I had sketched out where I wanted terraces and outdoor seating, and then Jonathan worked with that and made it way better,” says Brian, laughing.

It took almost four years from the first sketches on paper to the final touches, the entire process infused with care and deliberation. Shepherded by such expert hands, the house emerged as a home to stand for years, gently weathering and aging into its best self.

Vincent Klassen photo


Architect: Brian Morris Architect

Interior Design: Mari Kushino Design and Brian Morris Architect

Landscape Design: Jonathan Craggs Garden Design

Structural Engineer: Hoel Engineering

Contractor: Hugh Owen Contracting

Windows & Exterior Doors: Prestige Joinery

Cabinetry: Douglas Grant Cabinetmakers

Heating: Capital City Refrigeration

Plumbing & Heating: Magnum Plumbing & Heating

HVAC: J.B. Sheet Metal

Electrical: Abbott Electric

Masonry: King John’s Masonry

Roofing: Shelby Roofing

Drywall: Definitive Drywall

Painting: Tony’s Painting & Decorating

Flooring: Plank & Saw and RM Floors

Tile: Ivan G Tiles

Countertops: Matrix Marble and Stone

Hard/Soft Landscape: Bricklok

Stream: Shibusa Pond and Landscape

Plumbing Fixtures: Victoria Speciality Hardware

Interior Doors: Calibre Doors

Lighting Fixtures: Pine Lighting

Shower Doors & Mirrors: Excalibur Glass

Appliances: Trail Appliances

Window Coverings: Ruffell and Brown

This feature first appeared in the February 2023 edition of Boulevard Victoria magazine.