Compromise Got This Vancouver Island Couple Their Dream Family Home
It’s 1,300 square feet of clever decision-making.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 6:14 AM
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There was only one thing Sara and Adam Gilmer couldn’t agree on when building their Victoria, British Columbia home: speakers. “There were tears once,” recalls Adam, who was gung-ho on a top-notch stereo system. The quality of sound wasn’t the issue (that was spectacular)—it was that Sara thought the four boxes, each mounted in a corner of the main living space, looked like security cameras. The compromise? Adam spray-painted the brackets white so they blended into the ceiling. “If that’s the one thing we have a giant fight about, I’m happy,” says Sara, laughing.
Fortunately, negotiation and finding a happy medium is part of their everyday, as parents to 5-year-old Oscar and 3-year-old Frida. And pretty much everything else, from deciding on an open-concept footprint to budgeting for the drapery (it’s actually just painter’s drop cloth) to cladding the exterior in steel, was a seamless, collaborative effort. “We didn’t know how it was going to go, how it would feel to design something together, but it was really cool,” says Sara, an intern architect, who considers her taste pared back but also warm. Adam, on the other hand, is more of a pure minimalist, and he had plenty to bring to the table—including, literally, tables. He’s the cofounder of Caramba Furniture, a newly launched company that creates everything from small space–friendly desks to slim consoles made out of sustainably sourced plywood. “Very simple and understated design is where we both align,” says Sara. With the help of local firm Strong Construction, the couple came together to create a place they and their two kids can call home.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk in the front door is how neat it is. That’s because everything from surplus pantry goods and surfboards to camping gear and laundry machines is located in a discreet closet on the main level. “It’s a very intentional storage space,” explains Sara. The zone even doubles as Adam’s WFH setup right now. “It’s my favorite thing about the house really. We’re not constantly cramming stuff into corners here,” she adds.
As the main cook in the house, Adam had the most say over the kitchen. “It’s sort of an interpretation of all the different kitchens we’ve had throughout the years,” he explains. The lack of upper cupboards and seamless drywalled range hood makes the space feel like an extension of the living room. “It minimizes the ‘kitchen-ness,’” as Sara puts it. The extra-wide peninsula also was a must-have, that way Oscar and Frida can be drawing, playing, or snacking right across from Adam as he pulls ingredients from the fridge. “They can join in and help,” he says.
While the poured-in-place concrete floors might be a drawback for some (swapping them out would require a jackhammer), the Gilmers have no plans to move in the future, so they were comfortable committing to the permanent feature. “We just loved the aesthetic,” says Adam, noting the sculptural look of the stairs–turned–dining bench, for which the pair had a seat cushion custom-made out of marine-grade PVC fabric (it’s eco- and kid-friendly). The easy-to-mop flooring also allows the house to function as an indoor-outdoor one. Often, when the weather permits, they’ll leave the big bifold doors leading out to the enclosed patio area open. “We use every square inch we can get our hands on,” says Sara.
When it came to the staircase, the couple had two options: go with a standard handrail, which would potentially look awkward with the dining setup below, or put up a wall. The problem with the latter was that it would block all the natural light streaming in from the window in the stairwell—the largest in the house. Cue the metal screen. The perforated material filters light while also creating a sense of separation and a sturdy spot to support little hands. In the event that someone wanders downstairs for a glass of water in the middle of the night, the Gilmers incorporated soft sensor lighting underneath the custom metal stair railing as a guide.
There are two bathrooms in the home: one upstairs that has a shower and one downstairs with a tub. “You have to pick one or the other; you don’t get both,” says Sara. Their thinking? It helped maximize the spaciousness of the main bathroom on the second level. To really make the most of the space, they opted for a linear drain, floating vanity, and curbless glass wall.
With roughly 1,300 square feet to work with, due to zoning constraints, the duo decided to maximize the shared living areas on the first level with 10-foot-high ceilings, and minimize the private spaces upstairs.“It’s more intimate,” says Sara of the low, slanted roofline. “It’s cozy for sleeping. It signals pj’s time.”
The sloped ceilings may have made furniture placement a bit tricky, but it all paid off, and a built-in closet in the main bedroom wasn’t hard to achieve. At night the couple can look up at the stars through a dreamy skylight. “Our heads are right under the metal roof, so when it rains it’s just the coziest sound,” says Sara. Behind the headboard, they added recessed LED strips for ambient lighting—a feature they also incorporated inside the wardrobe.
All of the pendant fixtures in the home, with the exception of those over the kitchen peninsula, are $30 globe lanterns the pair picked up in Chinatown and attached to basic hanging bulbs. Another noteworthy hack: They cut Baltic birch plywood into strips and then beveled and stained them to look like regular wood floors upstairs.
Adam saved an offcut from the stairway partition and used it to create a lofted hideout in Frida and Oscar’s shared bedroom. “They can go up there and read books and play—just be kids,” says Sara. It’s one of the many nooks and crannies Adam and the contractor were able to carve out during the construction process.
The benefit of living nearby when you’re building from the ground up (the couple also has a second, smaller cottage that was original to the property) is that you get to be there when pressing decisions are being made. “I’d walk over every day with both kids and have a chat with the builder,” recalls Adam. Everything from the ladder in the children’s room to a Harry Potter–worthy cubby at the top of the stair landing started as little edits. “I was right there, all day,” he says. Flexibility and improvisation is what parenting is all about, after all.
Photography by Jon McMorran
Our favorite local vintage shop: Chesterfields Furniture. We got our Gus modern chairs and Blu Dot mesh chairs there.
Where we buy our plants and gardening supplies: All our ferns are from a logging road near where we surf.
The object in our home that gets the most use: A Radwagon cargo bike—it’s the ultimate kid transporter.
Our biggest splurge: Our bifold doors were worth every penny. As soon as the sun is out, the door is open.
Our best save: Curtains made out of painter’s drop cloth and paper lantern light fixtures.
Who to Know
The nicest contractor we’ve ever met: Strong Construction.
The electrician who can do no wrong: Chris Capson.
Hardest-working plumber in the business: Craig Inglis. (He’s a former rugby player who looks like Mr. Clean, therefore we call him “Craigy Baby” to make him more approachable.)
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