Making their own home sweet home

Close collaboration among homeowners, designer and builder yields complement to the West End

"An architect's most useful tools are an eraser at the drafting board and a wrecking bar at the site."

- Frank Lloyd Wright, architect (1867-1959)

Having grown up in the West End, Andrea McCurrach always wanted to move back to the downtown neighbourhood with her own family.

When they bought the bungalow at 77 Clarke St. a couple years ago, the McCurrachs knew they'd found a place they would be happy to call home as their children grew. Not much moss had gathered until then. They were kind of the rolling stones of renovation for a decade.

"We've been married 18 years and this is the 10 thhouse we've lived in," Andrea said. They renovated several of those - their first big job was a little, old house on Nicola Street - and built one, the Juniper home in which they last resided.

"It was just sort of circumstance. We obviously seemed to like the process." It was the learning experience she found most rewarding, not surprising for someone trained as a teacher. "We knew nothing when we started."

With the Clarke Street property, though, they've opted to put down roots. They savour the proximity to downtown, the fruit trees, the birdsong in the morning, the wildlife - more of it than in Juniper - and the bells of Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Yes, the location was perfect, but not the vintage bungalow. Two family members have asthma, which can be irritated by dust in aging abodes, so they opted to tear down the old place and start from scratch. This was, in a sense, the culmination of all that acquired knowledge, though it was far from a DIY project.

The McCurrachs hired home designer James Haasdyk of Kelowna's Oasis Design to build them a contemporary-style home since he'd designed their last project. General contractor Sandra Casol followed through, orchestrating a challenging project - retaining the mature cherry trees and vintage river-stone retaining walls - on budget and in less time than projected.

A measure of the achievement is apparent at first glance - a contemporary design with clean lines, incorporating wood, stucco and a stone facade. Only eight months after completion, the property is beautifully landscaped, almost as though the house had been there all along. It was a far cry from the frustrations some new-builds encounter.

"It really was a collaboration between James, Sandra and ourselves. It really was a rewarding and positive experience."

The way the home perches on the hillside, with two wood-laminate columns on the front step defining its curbside appearance, makes it appear larger than it is. It's just under 3,000 square feet with 1,500 on the main floor. Extra-wide overhangs on a low-sloping roof, extensive use of natural materials and the open plan within suggest a noteworthy architectural influence.

"Our designer and I really like Frank Lloyd Wright," she explained.

Recognized as the greatest American architect of all time, Wright (1867-1959) was a leader of the Prairie School movement. Starting more than a century ago, he designed homes so that they blended into the surrounding landscape in sharp contrast to the imposing Victorian and Edwardian homes typical of the period.

Haasdyk achieved a graceful synthesis of traditional and contemporary.

"We didn't want it to look like 2011; we knew we wanted features from different eras."

What is remarkable is that, unllke many new-builds on existing lots, the McCurrach's home occupies a slightly smaller footprint than its predecessor, a matter of some pride for Andrea. She was sensitive to the established neighbourhood and its heritage values, and wanted to incorporate healthy, environmentally conscious values into the home. Instead of building up, they dug down deeper for the foundation.

"We didn't want a big, looming house from the street."

There is no particleboard in the home and all paint used has a high VOC (volatile organic compound) value. There is no carpeting, only a few throw rugs over the Italian tile.

The clean, modern lines and wood accents extend indoors. A living room at the rear of the home features picture windows, affording views out onto the rear garden, which rises toward Columbia Street.

"We usually call it a playroom because kids play in here," added their eight-year-old daughter, Lauren, just so there was no confusion.

There's a gas fireplace, entertainment centre and hideaway computer work station so they can readily supervise the children.

A large, rectangular kitchen extending to the front of the house features quarter-cut walnut cabinetry. It leads out onto a shaded front patio, a cozy summer dining and social area.

Downstairs in a daylight basement, the kids' extra-large bedrooms feature 10-foot ceilings and more of those large, picture windows. The basement door serves as their main entry off the driveway and incorporates a unique feature - a cloak room with individual cubby holes for each family member and an adjacent closet for drying winter ski equipment. They're avid skiers.

Ahh, the joys of a home built to your own liking.

"They're going to roll me out of here," Andrea said. "We love the location. We were so excited to find this. We love the greenness of the West End."

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