How a Narrow Vancouver Island Lot Became a Modern 4,500-Square-Foot Family Home
A challenging waterfront site on Cadboro Bay is tamed for a Scandinavian-influenced house built to withstand an active family of five.
If all houses are portraits, as the architect Annabelle Selldorf observed recently, consider this one a portrait of a West Coast lacrosse family. There’s the home gym, the outdoor practice space, the sunken hot tub, the locker room-style mud room—all set in a minimalist, modern, unmistakably coastal structure that can handle daily use by two amateur athletes, their parents, a younger brother and a black Labrador.
In fact, the home’s very existence is owed to the national sport.
Kari Ericksen and Tom Wilson were raising their family in Edmonton when their twin 16-year-old sons, Griffin and Skyler, were accepted into an elite lacrosse program at the Claremont Sports Institute for Excellence on Vancouver Island. A lengthy relocation process ensued, and after months of house hunting the couple learned of a waterfront site for sale on Cadboro Bay, an affluent area northeast of Victoria that was well located to the boys’ future school. The site had been subdivided from a neighbouring property and had sat on the market for three years, overgrown and accumulating cast-off junk. Despite its obvious appeal—unbroken views of a bay known for its ideal sailing conditions and private access to a sandy beach below—it would be a challenging project. “It must have scared people off,” says Ericksen.
For starters, the lot was narrow for the expansive 4,500-square-foot house and two-car garage the family envisioned. The topography would also have to be reckoned with, as it dropped off sharply from street level to the shoreline. And the timeline was tight. They needed the house ready in less than a year, in time for the start of the school year. Undaunted, the couple purchased it sight unseen and began working on a plan with Chris Foyd, a Canadian-educated Danish registered architect and co-principal of 519 Design and Build. Foyd’s experience building modern homes locally and in Europe appealed to Ericksen’s Scandinavian background and minimalist sensibility. Kimberly Bradley of Edmonton’s Murphy Stewart Design Associates was enlisted to work with Foyd on the interior design and to help keep everyone on schedule.
Foyd countered the site challenges with what he calls “a theme of screens.” The dramatic slope of the site was mitigated through the use of stepped transitions and architectural screening in various forms, including cedar fence panels laid in a horizontal orientation, giving a precise terraced look to the newly planted—and almost entirely edible—landscape, designed by local company Demitasse. Inside, three floors are organized similarly around privacy and sightlines, with windows situated carefully to frame views of the yard and the bay.
Though the house feels open and continuous, each level has a different intention. The lower level, accessed by a floating, under-lit staircase, is designed primarily for the twins. Two bedrooms and a combined home gym and media room overlook the water, and a simply finished bathroom is painted with chalkboard paint. “It will be interesting to see what goes up on there when the boys start throwing parties,” says Ericksen.
On the main floor, Foyd balances practical needs with the couple’s desire for spare, modernist architecture. At the front of the house, off the garage and side entrances, there’s a large mud room outfitted with simple cubbies to house all manner of gear for the boys and the dog, as well as an adjoining laundry room stationed to halt incoming sports gear at the door. Ericksen also carved out her own ante-mud room under the stairs leading up to the garage so she could store her own running and cycling gear separately—her “serenity in the chaos,” she calls it. “The rest of the mud room can look like a complete disaster zone. [The boys] will still pile their hoodies on the bench amongst the backpacks and leftover lunches. My little walk-in closet has a place for everything in its place. If I have time to go for a run or a ride, I need to be out the door quickly and to do that I need to be able to find all my stuff quickly and easily.”
With the quotidian details sorted, Foyd turned his attention to the open great room that makes up the public area of the main floor. By limiting the finishes to rift-cut white oak, dramatically veined statuario marble and polished radiant-heated concrete flooring, he created a calm space that almost recedes into the views beyond. The only enclosed room on this level is the den, which was fitted with a gas fireplace and a wall of storage with pop-art coloured panels in orange and green to display Wilson’s collection of model cars.
In the living area, deep orange Togo seating is paired with two rare Winnipeg chairs designed by architect James Donahue and his students in the mid-20th century, which Ericksen inherited from her grandmother and reupholstered. In fact, Canadian design features throughout the home: in the dining area, a rift-cut white oak Iconoclast table by Edmonton’s Izm sits below a sculptural 28a series chandelier by Vancouver’s Bocci. And, suspended in the front entrance, a custom-designed Bocci 28.11 series light—a constellation of green, orange, and clear colourless globes—is visible from the street.
For the top floor of the house, Foyd centred the open landing in front of a double-height window overlooking the bay, and created a chasm, separating the master suite from the rest of the floor. To maximize space in the modestly sized master bedroom, Bradley had a storage bed designed and built by Jason Good Custom Cabinets. (They also collaboratively designed all of the custom cabinetry and built-ins in the house, along with 519 and Murphy Stewart.) A moveable panel in the headboard opens up a view to the ocean from the cast-iron tub on the other side of the wall.
The family’s house is that rare new-build that ran smoothly and kept to its tight 11-month schedule—a feat that everyone involved credits to general contractor Al Southall and his crew. In fact, the only surprise during construction was ultimately serendipitous: during excavation, sandy soil on the west side of the site gave way and a concrete retaining wall had to be installed. For some homeowners, the long, five-foot-wide alley created by the new wall and the side of the house would be considered dead space, but for lacrosse players, it’s an ideal spot to toss and catch a lacrosse ball—and was the only sort of space the twins had asked their parents to include in the house plans from the very beginning. Says Ericksen: “That bounce is the soundtrack of my life.”