To build our homeFive and a half acres of woods and rock in Pemberton, British Columbia.
2020 • 2019 • 2018 • 2017 • 2016
A family tableOne of our main motivations for building a house in the country was to reclaim the place for family that we both had growing up. A place to spend the weekends and holidays with extended family and friends: time together to eat, drink, and cultivate the feeling of hygge. We wanted this back for ourselves after nearly two decades of city life, and we wanted this for our children to make memories of their own.
For us, like many people, a lot of those memories are from sitting around a big table. At meals, doing puzzles, playing board games, preparing crafts, wrapping presents, and always talking.
In our home’s layout, this table is the heart. Open to the other spaces, most importantly not separated from the kitchen, and with line of sight to the landscape and the entry. We have a big space here, and intend to spend a lot of time in it. When we started looking for a table the architects proposed some options for a modern take on a harvest table:
However, I quickly realized this was the right project to take on with my Dad. He’s a master cabinet maker and furniture maker, and I grew up surrounded by furniture he designed and made. We wanted him to make something for the house. He recently completed a beautiful walnut dining table for his and Mom’s house in Halfmoon Bay that Jess and I love. We’ve convinced him to make one for us, and to let me help (and more importantly, learn).
We’re going to make a large 44” x 120” (10 foot) table that can accommodate up to 12 people (with two chairs on each end if needed). We’ll make it from white ash, partly sourced from a large old ash tree that was hit by lightning at the family home where I grew up. Dad has had this wood on hand since milling the remaining trunk of that tree nearly 20 years ago, and had shipped it out west to me for another project. Now we’ll use it to make a table for our new home, in a new place, for our own new extended family.
Windows are (mostly) in. All the clerestory windows and regular windows are in. Next will be the butt-joint glazed corner windows which are site-measured and installed rather than factory-made. Then the two big sliding doors in the kitchen (3-panel) and master (2-panel).
It has been a long, expensive process getting these windows made and installed to the requirements of the architects. The effect is so completely worth it. Expanses of glass bringing the outside landscape and light in and making the setting of the house the star of the show.
Everything’s moving forward. One and a half out of three fireplaces are in. Front entry deck is poured. Landscaping is underway. Hot tub is poured. Pool deck footings are in. Driveway is graded (including hammering the top off another giant buried boulder). Interior design is 80% there. As soon as the doors are in drywall can go ahead.
Ray holding it all together.
The hot tub is in place. After the deck is installed, the top of the edge will be at sitting height to encourage perching, feet in or out. Cedar decking will surround the hot tub while the pool will have a concrete surround.
The first landscape feature, descending to the lower garden and lawn.
The young bear who frequents the site.
The entry to my shop.
Fall colours and the big rock.
Building a custom, architecturally-designed house 2 1/2 hours’ drive away from a major city centre is a good thing to do if you are interested in practicing patience.
Mt. Currie from the foot of our driveway.
How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map
Old dirt road
Knee deep snow
Watching the fire as we grow
- Feist, Mushaboom
Progress since June:
- Building wrap on
- Electrical rough-ins complete
- Plumbing rough-ins complete
- Sprayfoam insulation complete
- Interior backframing complete
- Interior concrete floors poured
- Mechanical room and access stair complete
- Shop framed
- Windows delivered
- Exterior decks formed and ready to be poured
- Landscape designed
Phew! Sometime it feels like things are moving slowly, but when we look back month over month at all the work happening on site it’s amazing how fast all the pieces have actually come together. The crew is working to get the exteriors complete before winter and then will focus on the interior finishing through to the spring.
In the meantime we’ve been refining the interior design. We’re removed the desk from the library and instead dedicated the space to reading and media, with secondary use as a guest bedroom. The desk was asking the room to do one too many things and interfering with the overall layout, and we found a space in the existing guest room that is perfect for a small working area. We’ve also been finalizing furniture choices and selecting speaker placement for the hi-fi. My Dad and I have also decided to build a large dining table for the main space – 44” x 120”. Enough to seat a big family dinner!
Here are some photos of the progress over the past few months.
Radiant piping laid under the floors, then poured, troweled, and polished. We are leaving the polished concrete bare in the living space, with area rugs in the living room and kitchen. Then the upper floor will be finished with hardwoord in the library, hall, and master, and carpet in the kids bedroom and guest bedroom.
Big rock. When excavating the pool deck, we found a massive 38,000 lb, 8’ tall boulder in the ground. We got a big crane in and have placed it at the corner of our pool deck. Should be a very unique feature of the outdoor experience at the house.
Outdoor living area framed and ready for concrete. This area will include the pool, hot tub, outdoor fireplace, and outdoor dining table.
Shop, framed! The second building on site is a 640 s.f. woodshop, with a north-facing horizontal window and a forested wood-chopping and storage area on the west end.
A fence and a garden
Building code sensibly requires a pool fence for safety. In a suburban setting, this would typically be installed around the pool deck or around the backyard. In our case, we didn’t want to enclose the pool deck as we wanted to be closer to the landscape, so we’d negotiated a fence at a bit of distance from the deck – the rectangular dashed line to the west and south of the house (North is to the right in this view):
We had defined a placement that would not be very visible from the house, as it is at a lower elevation than the pool deck. However, once we started working through the landscape plan it became apparent that having a fence on the slope would be a barrier to the garden and path layout we were imagining. This would have required multiple gates in order to walk around the garden off the deck.
After a lot of back and forth with the district, we were able to negotiate a much larger space to enclose with the fence. It now goes from the northwest corner of the house, out to the western lot line, along the road, and up the driveway on the east to the southeast corner of the house where the parking area is. This will mean we won’t see the fence at all from the house or pool deck, and we won’t be subdividing the garden with a fence. It also means a much bigger area for the kids that is enclosed – an anxiety-reducing measure in bear and cougar country!
This will constitute the “civilized” part of the lot, about 1/3 of the overall property. The rest will remain wild and more heavily forested.
A pool is poured
06.2019It’s been a few months and there’s been a lot going on, both on-site and in the design process. Here are some of the highlights.
We decided to include the shop construction in this phase. We’d initially planned to defer the shop (and its associated budget) until after the house was complete, but we realized that getting it done while the machines and crew are on site made more sense.
It’s sited on a flat area about 80’ up the slope from the house, surrounded by forest. We’ll use it for woodworking and gear storage. It’s 32’x20’ (640sf) with 12’ ceilings and has an area for chopping and storing firewood on the west end of the building.
Our pool contractor has started to build the pool. It’s 30’x14’ and fits into the L-shape created by the two main volumes of the house to the southwest. It gets lots of sun and we’ve chosen two sliding doors for the entries to the master and kitchen. Our hope is that the deck will feel like a continuous indoor-outdoor living space connected to the house.
When we first started designing the house, we were interested in having a green roof. Green roofs can help with cooling the house, help it blend into the landscape, and add a unique natural look. After a few iterations these were edited out and we kind of forgot about them.
After the house was framed in, we were on site checking things out. Jess noticed that two areas really lended themselves to small areas of green roof – one visible from the pool deck to the north of the raised kitchen volume, and one at the entrance to the house. The builders and architect agreed and we’re now bringing this part of the original idea back in.
We’ve rearranged the outdoor living space to include space for a long table. After the last iteration we realized that the space was optimized for sitting by the fire, but that we’d lost a space for outdoor eating. The centrally located chimney subdivided the space in a way that reduced flexibility for the layout. With the fire on the wall we gained back lots of floorspace for more dedicated areas for sitting, eating, and the hot tub. We also decided to raise the hot tub above ground so that it has a ledge for sitting, and the architects did a brilliant job adjoining the hot tub wall to the hearth. It’s going to be so cozy!
Here’s the previous design:
And the new design:
With plumbing and electrical rough-ins in progress, we’ve been finalizing placement and choice of some fixtures, and selecting finishes and materials for surfaces. Here are some variants of dining room lighting and the kitchen backsplash.
Acorn pendant lamp by Atle Tveit.
Counter variations with concrete and tile. We’ve opted for the first, simpler option, and will use the vertical grey tile in the powder room.
04.2019 – Site Visit
03.2019 – Framing & RoofingRay and his crew at Western Craft have been busy framing the house in. We’ve had some cold snaps but have luckily avoided too much snow and managed to keep the project up and running through the winter. Since January we’ve seen it go from the first vertical sticks, to framed-in rooms, to exterior sheathing, and now to roof trusses.
The roof has been really interesting to see come to life. It’s the most unusual part of our house design, with four raised volumes – three of them with large banks of clerestory windows in the living room, kitchen, and study:
Inside each volume, the ceiling is sloped from 14-16’ at the top of the windows down to 8’. This means the trusses are installed with the long edge on the slope of the ceiling:
The intent is to create elevated areas filled with light (and views of the cliff face to the north) in the public areas and lower more intimate spaces in the dining room and private bedrooms, with large windows and ground-level views to the surrounding scenery (Mt. Currie & the Garibaldi range to the south and the forest to the north).
Once the roof is complete the next step is windows and doors and then “lock-up” (when the exterior building envelope is sealed and windows and doors are installed). At that point the construction will really kick into high gear as the crew will take on:
- pouring the pool foundation and building the deck
- pouring the shop foundation and building the shop
- beginning interior plumbing, electrical and floors in the house
- finishing the exterior of the house
Latest schedule has all this wrapping up by late fall/early winter. It’s going to be a busy year.
03.2019 – Interiors & AppliancesWhile framing has been ongoing we’ve been working with the architects on the interiors. This includes millwork details, fireplace design, placement of window operators, which doors should have locks, where light switches and outlets should be, and finalizing our appliance package. This is all important, interesting, and time-consuming! Thank goodness we work with design+build architects who are guiding us along the way. There are so many things to consider and get right in a custom home, and every one of them has the tradeoffs of cost, quality, and impact on other parts of the project.
In terms of interior design we are currently focused on the built aspects of the house (as opposed to decorative elements). We have decided to invest in key pieces of built-in millwork in the kitchen, study and living room. In the study we have a wall-length unit that includes bookcases, TV, and file storage drawers. This is then joined to a long desk on the adjoining wall. This space will be used as a home office, library, and media room, and can be converted to an extra guest bedroom when needed.
In the living room there’s a built-in bookcase that may also be the spot for the hi-fi (though that might go on the back of the fireplace on the dining room sideboard).
In the kitchen we’ve opted for a 48” pro range with double oven and a column fridge/freezer. We both have big families and love to cook and entertain. We want this house for ourselves but when we daydream about it we imagine the times when we’ll be able to have big groups of friends and family over to stay. I think we’ll be happy for the capacity on those holiday long weekends.
01.2019 RenderingsWe’ve been iterating on lots of details over the past few months. The exterior dimensions have been locked in since the foundation was poured, so our focus has been on the interiors as well as some landscape and grading considerations. These are the latest models that account for all the decisions we’ve made so far.
Site overview This view shows the built area of the property. There’s a few hundred feet of sparse forest and grassy area on the lower slope down to the road. The bulk of the property is above the built area and is heavily forested with steep sections of rock.
Exterior living area has a fireplace, hot tub, and trellis-covered seating.
The fence is required by code for the pool, and also a way to keep large animals out of the immediate house area and garden.
The interior floorplan is ~2600 sq. ft. The exterior deck is ~1600 sq. ft.
The northeast room is intended for mixed use. It has a sliding wooden door that will be open most of the time for use as a library and media room. When closed it can convert to a spare bedroom (with pullout couch) or a study.
The kitchen opens onto the pool deck via a sliding door. There’s a towel room and powder at the west end, and a walk-in pantry at the east end.
Kitchen and dining
The kitchen, dining, and living room are all part of a large open concept space on a slightly lower elevation from the private level of the house. A linear kitchen, long island and bar seating face a woodstove hearth and bench and seating with a view to the Garibaldi mountain range.