“I tend to wax poetic,” says Brian Hemingway. “I’m inclined to believe that a building wants to sit in the landscape in a sense of repose and harmony. The vegetation, the climate, the terrain: It all dictates a large part of what goes into the design.” In the case of a tranquil Vancouver Island home Hemingway designed for a Calgary-based couple along a forested ridge above the Saanich Inlet, poetry extends far beyond language into the reality of every aspect of the concept and design. “Our son went to boarding school 3 kilometers from the site,” says the wife. “That’s what first brought us to the island. We were attracted to the valley, the waters, the trees and the lovely geography of the place.” Not to mention the bald eagles, blue herons and deer that frequently visit.
With the goal of truly understanding the cycles and rhythm of the 14-acre property—how the natural light changes from season to season and its relationship to the ocean, for instance—the couple regularly spent time there in a 100-year-old farmhouse that now serves as a guest cottage (the land was once an active farm and orchard, which still yields produce such as apples, pears, plums and hazelnuts).
The connection to Hemingway came from the recommendation of a friend whose house he had designed. An initial meeting at Hemingway’s West Vancouver studio then led to his visit to Calgary for further consultation. “We sat in my husband’s office and talked about our vision, about using local materials, and how we wanted the house to not interfere with the forest but rather fit into it,” says the wife. “And Brian took out a pen and started drawing.” Hemingway was an ideal fit, because he has a self-proclaimed love affair with the West Coast environment and takes his cues from the land and physical surroundings. Watching Hemingway at work “was a magical part of the design process,” says the husband. “It was an exceptional opportunity to see the ideas we put forward come to life right in front of our eyes.”
With the design underway, sourcing the materials— Douglas-fir timbers from certified forest harvests on the island and San Juan slate from quarries within 100 kilometers of the site—fell to builder Brian Pollock. So did locating and coordinating the efforts of subcontractors and tradespeople. “Finding craftsmen who had experience with the amount of detailing Brian called for was challenging,” notes Pollock, who had previously partnered with Hemingway on several other homes. “We worked with local carpenters and masons, and brought glassworkers and roofers over from Vancouver.”
Some materials were repeated throughout the house, but with different finishes. Granite, for example, appears as honed slabs at the front entry, and it also shows up inside as flooring, countertops, backsplashes and fireplace mantels; to maintain consistency, eight blocks of the material were sourced from a single quarry in Brazil. San Juan slate faces the fireplaces and the outcroppings set within the landscape, and the horizontal lines of the exterior are reflected in custom millwork and cabinetry inside— cabinetry that employs a low-VOC veneer that was sourced from a single Vancouver Island log. “Every detail, every edge, every mullion in a window is organized and related to a grand scheme, like notes in a piece of music. It makes for consistency,” explains Hemingway, who is now a retired architect associate of the Architectural Institute of British Columbia.
From an organizational standpoint, the two-level post-and-beam structure was laid out in a linear fashion. Eschewing the traditional great room look, the main living level is long and features kitchen, living and dining areas that flow into one another, anchored by stacked- stone pillars and flanked by fir-framed sliding doors and clerestory windows with skylights soaring overhead. A separate guest wing may be locked off when not in use.
Thoughtful interior design work was accomplished through a friendship-turned-working relationship with designers GE Bradhering and Chris Harris, who both started New York design firm Industrial Road Associates before Harris left to become a partner at Chartwell Design Group in Chicago. “Brian’s homes are like pieces of furniture—beautiful to look at, even without a stick of anything in them,” says the husband. “Our house looks like a Japanese lantern at night when it’s lit. We wanted to appreciate the beauty of the house, not adorn it.”
Together, the owners and designers traveled to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, shopping for soft goods, textiles and furnishings. With them went a piece of stone from the property as their creative muse. “It had flecks of deep rusts, silver, grays, greens and gold; it drove our color direction,” recalls Harris. Bradhering also remembers the same inspiration. “It was truly a touchstone, reminding us to add comfort and calm to the home’s highly edited interiors,” he says. “The owners were very committed to creating a home that was complementary of the natural environment, both in terms of the architecture and the design. This stone was the prism through which all decisions were viewed.” The design mixes their overseas finds with high-end upholstery and case goods, as well as artwork by First Nations artists and other Canadian creatives like Dominique Gaucher; his Ahead painting hangs in the front entrance gallery just off of the living room.
In keeping with the owners’ vision, Dale Dziwenka was enlisted to sculpt the surrounding landscape, and design and construct the entry water feature. “The house was built over a slope, and the foundations were still above ground on one side,” he says. “Rather than add rock walls and typical landscaping, we took a naturalistic approach with outcroppings of stone in the 5- to 8-ton range to create the appearance of bedrock and connect the house to the forest again.” Those granite slabs at the home’s entry create a stylized, bridge-like effect over a stream. Around the other side, granite patios were built to extend the living and poolside space year-round. There are even open-terraced lawns surrounding the farmhouse that are used for family sports including volleyball and boccie.
During the final stages of construction, Hemingway enlisted his draftsman, Fred Scheer, to step in and see the project through to completion. Although it was not designed to achieve LEED certification, the finished product, with its locally sourced natural materials, geothermal heating system and energy-efficient lighting and appliances, yielded the same effect. “The design of this home achieved what I’m always trying to do,” Hemingway says, “philosophically and metaphorically.” Poetically, too.