House Beautiful: Foxes’ den lets couple connect

Former Calgarians enjoy getting close to nature and their community in their new Cowichan Valley Home

April 11, 2013
By Grania Litwin – TIMES COLONIST
Unlike some couples, Andrew and Christa Fox never fantasized about building their own home.
“The idea just unfolded,” recalled Christa, who explained they came to that conclusion after months of house hunting, following their decision to retire to the West Coast.

 The kitchen island is a handsome china cabinet. Above it are delicate pendant lights. "It doesn't matter how beautiful a home is, if you don't have good lighting, it won't look great," said designer Wendy Wilson, who used recessed lighting, wall sconces, pendants and multi-level lighting to set the mood. Photograph by: Debra Brash

The kitchen island is a handsome china cabinet. Above it are delicate pendant lights. “It doesn’t matter how beautiful a home is, if you don’t have good lighting, it won’t look great,” said designer Wendy Wilson, who used recessed lighting, wall sconces, pendants and multi-level lighting to set the mood.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

The former Calgarians looked at old homes and new homes, and even considered doing major renovations, since Andrew had been in commercial construction all his life, but decided against it after adding up all the costs.

Although it’s not uncommon to hear about couples going through all kinds of battles as they build a home, Christa said they never experienced that. “It was a very, very good experience for us.”

Andrew and Christa Fox fell in love with the Cowichan Valley when they retired there from Calgary. Photograph by: Debra Brash

Andrew and Christa Fox fell in love with the Cowichan Valley when they retired there from Calgary.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

They spent two years planning, visiting show homes and reflecting on their needs. Their goal was never to create a showcase, Christa said — “We just wanted a comfortable place for family and friends.”

“All the main rooms offer expansive 180-degree panoramas overlooking Lake Quamichan.”

Andrew agreed that the process went very smoothly. “We came in within four per cent of our budget and were extremely happy with our builder, K2 Construction,” he said, noting they originally thought of settling in an urban area, such as Nanaimo or Victoria, but fell in love with the Cowichan Valley.
“The people here are so genuinely friendly, and we love the restaurants and all the artists,” said Christa, whose career was in educational leadership.

Her husband can’t get over the peace and quiet of their new home. “You don’t hear a sound here except nature. When we were in Calgary, I’d get up at 5 a.m. and already you could hear the buzz of traffic starting up.”

Handy wall attachments flip down for extra hanging space in the laundry room. Photograph by: Debra Brash

Handy wall attachments flip down for extra hanging space in the laundry room.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

They hadn’t been in the valley long before they discovered culinary destinations such as the Saison Market, Hilary’s Cheese, the organic Teafarm, vineyards, organic bakeries and Bill Jones’s Deerholme Farm.

“I love the way you drive out into the middle of nowhere, along these rough, bumpy roads, and suddenly you’re in this incredible, elegant place enjoying some fantastic food,” said Andrew. No wonder people call it the Provence of Canada.

Andrew Fox has started making his own wine since moving to the valley. Photograph by: Debra Brash

Andrew Fox has started making his own wine since moving to the valley.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

Since they both previously had challenging careers that required long hours, Christa said, their overriding desire was a retirement home where they could relax, connect with a community and do meaningful volunteer work — since that’s their passion.

“The owners wanted an extremely calm space, so we chose colours to reflect that”

A major shift in thinking came when they settled on their new home’s size. Their previous 30-year home was 1,300 square feet and they anticipated building about the same. But designer Bruce Johnson of Pacific West Home Design suggested a two-storey house, since they were building on a slope and could take advantage of views on two levels. As a result, their new home features 1,500 square feet on each of the two levels.

The dining table and chairs were also made locally, as was the coffee table. Photograph by: Debra Brash

The dining table and chairs were also made locally, as was the coffee table.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

Wendy Wilson of Unique Interiors helped with the interior design and exterior colours.

“We would occasionally stumble off in some direction, and Wendy would bring us back on track,” joked Andrew, who noted they originally wanted an emerald-green master bathroom, but opted instead for neutral grey and white marble, with splashes of green as an accent.

“The owners wanted an extremely calm space, so we chose colours to reflect that,” said Wilson, adding they also wanted some Oriental design elements and lots of windows.

The downstairs guestroom has lovely views and a private garden. Photograph by: Debra Brash

The downstairs guestroom has lovely views and a private garden.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

Light flows into the kitchen through rows of glass blocks installed behind the sink, creating a prism effect in the sunshine. And all the main rooms offer expansive 180-degree panoramas overlooking Lake Quamichan.

Moving was less stressful than the couple imagined, partly because they had spent two years planning and purging.

A clever glass block backsplash, and sunken range, make it easier to see into big pots. Photograph by: Debra Brash

A clever glass block backsplash, and sunken range, make it easier to see into big pots.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

They brought almost nothing with them because their previous home was very traditional, and scoured the valley for interesting, locally made West Coast pieces instead.

“It was really amazing how much we bought locally in this small community,” Christa said. “I never thought I’d be buying furniture from places with names like Uncle Albert’s or Whippletree Junction, but we did.”

Corner drawers were custom made by Gillingham Cabinets, along with all the other kitchen and bathroom cabinets and built-ins. Photograph by: Debra Brash

Corner drawers were custom made by Gillingham Cabinets, along with all the other kitchen and bathroom cabinets and built-ins.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

Before moving here, they also jettisoned all their business suits. “The last thing I wanted to do was waste space on clothes. I like to dress well, I like quality, but I don’t need a lot. Books are more precious.”

The couple decided to build a small library off the front foyer, rather than an enormous ensuite off the master bedroom, and their designer suggested sliding shoji screens to save space and add a little Asian flavour.

Extra wide stairs with inset lights are a beautiful addition for the owners, and for aging parents who visit frequently from Calgary. Photograph by: Debra Brash

Extra wide stairs with inset lights are a beautiful addition for the owners, and for aging parents who visit frequently from Calgary.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

They made another break from tradition in the kitchen, when they decided not to use the island primarily as an eating bar. “We have such a great view — who would want to sit with their back to it?” Christa said. They made the island into an attractive china display cabinet with a small area at just one end for stools.

Designer Johnson said he is often the “exclusive thought process” on a project, but not this time. “These owners were wonderful to work with because they had very clear ideas about what they wanted. I was there to facilitate their wishes. This property is all about spectacular views across the valley, so we maximized those by going as wide as we could on two levels.”

 A stone path leads through the easy-care garden. Photograph by: Debra Brash

A stone path leads through the easy-care garden.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

A lower level ended up being a blessing, as the owners’ parents are in their late 80s and 90s and often come to stay. A lighted staircase leading to the lower level was made extra wide, in case they need to install a lift one day, and Andrew is happy to have a full-height basement for the first time.
“In Calgary, we had a crawlspace where I went around on my hands and knees. I am so glad to have a full-height lower floor where I can stand up,” said Andrew, who is using one of the rooms to make wine.

He also insulated all the interior walls for sound and put rigid insulation under the basement slab to keep the lower floor cozy. He is enjoying the milder climate since moving here three years ago.

“We used to barbecue in Calgary, but it was such a lot of work in winter, taking the barbecue in and out of the garage. It’s such a treat here, barbecuing all year round. In Calgary, we had nice deck furniture but could only use it one month of the year. Here, our deck is like a big outside living room.”

The owners chose to have a small library with shoji screen entry, rather than a large walk-in closet. Photograph by: Debra Brash

The owners chose to have a small library with shoji screen entry, rather than a large walk-in closet. Photograph by: Debra Brash

They have a bench by the front door, too, to take advantage of early spring sunshine and morning coffee outside. “There isn’t any part of the outside that we’re not using, now that we understand the climate and house position,” said Christa, who notes they had always lived in a big city.

“You learn a lot about yourself when you decide to live somewhere else. You become more aware of what your needs are. We didn’t want to be isolated in our retirement, but we didn’t want to be in a condo or a gated community either. We thought of living on a golf course, but that seemed too manicured, too perfect.

Wendy Wilson of Unique Interiors helped the owners with interior design and choosing the exterior colours. Photograph by: Debra Brash

Wendy Wilson of Unique Interiors helped the owners with interior design and choosing the exterior colours.
Photograph by: Debra Brash

“Once you have the option of moving and retiring, boy, you start to explore who you are. We talked to a lot of people; we listened and learned a lot. We decided we wanted to focus on things that are meaningful, to contribute to our community, and live an enriched life. And I’m not talking about money.”

Top Ten ways to choose a Custom Home Builder

Signing with a builder is a big commitment. If everything else checks out with the builder, go with your instincts. The single most important factor in a custom building project is how well you and your builder communicate. It is better to invest a bit more to get a builder who you are comfortable with. If you have done a thorough job of choosing the right builder you will have an exciting and enjoyable experience that will leave you with a well built home customized for your lifestyle.

1. Identify your needs and what kind of builder you are seeking:

-How big and customized is your project?
-Will you accept a semi-custom project from a project oriented builder?
-How much time do you have to invest in the building process?
-Often its best to focus on your vocation, that is what you do best, and hire a professional to handle the entire project.
-How much research am I able to do for products and finishes?
-How much time do I have to select materials and finishes?
-How much guidance are you prepared to provide your builder?
-Do you want the full service of a Custom Builder?
-Often its best to focus your time and energy on visiting suppliers, working with samples and making informed selections for your new home while leaving the project management to a professional Custom Builder.

2. Identify 2 or 3 Prospective Builders:

– Ask people you trust for recommendations.
– Do web search to find ones that specialize in your type of project.
– Consult local Homebuilders association.

3. Conduct Phone Interviews:

-Do you do this type of project?
-Is Custom Home Building your core business and are you a licensed full time professional?
-What is your experience and how long have you been in business?
-Are you a member of a Homebuilders association?
-What is your Warranty program?
-What is your post completion warranty and service policy?
-Do you have contractors general liability insurance and Work safe registration? Get copies.
-Can you provide financial references of banks and suppliers?

4. Meet each Builder at their office:

-Make introductions; identify how you heard about their company.
-Do you have a regular team of subcontractors?
-Which tradesmen do you have on staff and what are their qualifications?
-Can we visit one of your current work sites?
-Will you provide us the names and contact information for your last 3 clients?
-Provide a set of preliminary drawings or completed construction drawings.
-Provide all the specifications you have compiled so far.
-Note how the builder communicates:
-How well does he or she listen?
-Does he answer questions satisfactorily? Does he put you at ease?
-Can you work with this person on a valuable 6-month project?
-Do you do Fixed price contracts with allowances?
-Do you do Cost-plus contracts?
-Describe the building process and who on your staff handles various responsibilities?
-How do you manage, share and track communications with your clients?
-How do you manage, store and share the vast amount of information required for a custom project?

5. Contact the Builders 2 or 3 most recent clients:

-Did they complete the Project on Time? If not why?
-Did they complete the Project on Budget? If not why and how much was due to client changes and how much was due to other factors?
-Is the workmanship of High Quality? Can we see your project?
-Did they keep the job site tidy and safe?
-Were the tradesmen courteous? -Were the tradesmen careful with the owner’s property and materials?
-How quickly did they respond to communications and problems?
-How did they track and share project information?

6. Provide the same detailed information to Builders:

-Make sure that all builders have exactly the same set of completed construction drawings with the same date.
-Make sure they all have the same set of specifications.
-They need to be bidding on the same things.
-Allow a reasonable time for them to evaluate and bid on the project.
-Ask for them to provide a date when their bid will be ready? Was it ready on time?

7. Visit each builder’s projects:

-Visit an active construction site;
-Note tidiness, tradesmen, storage of materials etc.
-Visit completed projects:
-Note quality of workmanship, fit and finish, paint finish, joinery etc.

8. Visit builders preferred supply showrooms:

-Set up appointments with builder’s contacts.
-Bring plans for reference.
-Make preliminary selections, have the supplier forward these on to the builders.
-This will really help you know what you are getting.

9. Collect and Compare the builder’s Contract Proposals:

-It must be in writing and professional in appearance.
-Check the level of detail to make sure it is comprehensive.
-Check payment terms. A 2-10% deposit with 3 or 4 progress draws at construction milestones is fair.
-Compare all specifications to determine if they are bidding on the same quality.
-What are the provisions for lien protection?
-Beware of the lowest bidder, this may be a sign that they are struggling or cutting corners or not allowing for the appropriate amount of time to service your needs.
-Consider having a third party look over the Contract documents.
-Look for the best VALUE.
-Best value is the combination of price, quality and service, which will be delivered in a smooth and timely manner.

10. Meet with successful builder to award the building contract:

-Contact the builder who is your first choice.
-Who is my primary contact for this project?
-What is our site-meeting schedule and policy?
-How are showroom allowances handled and invoiced?
-How many projects do you normally run at a time?
-How many projects will you have on during our project?
-What are your projected start and completion dates?
-Clarify any specifications or questions you have about the contract proposal.
-Clarify the builders change order management process and fees charged for these.
-Ask for projected start and completion dates.
-Sign the contract and provide the deposit.

Testimonials


  • "Their excellent communication skills and top notch customer service ensured that we were involved in all of the decision making as we worked through the building process."
    Craig Mickleborough and April Shepherd-Trent

  • "Each stage of construction was completed on time and on budget.We were also impressed with your building philosophy of building a house that exceeds specifications."
    Andriyka and Chris Yost

  • "The quality of both your construction quotes and contract agreement were far above the level provided by any of the other contractors that we solicited for bids."
    Rob and Kathy Mackay

  • "We greatly appreciate your constant efforts to help us achieve what was best for us considering design, timing and cost."
    Al and Bev Robinson

  • "The communication throughout the entire project was very clear, organized and efficient. The on-line system was absolutely fantastic"
    Mark Sanders and Laura McLean

  • "You can be justifiably proud of the workmanship and care that your trades build into your homes!"
    Dan Caird

  • "K2's organizational skills and commitment to customer satisfaction have made this process less stressful and more enjoyable than we could ever have imagined."
    John and Sue Boland

  • "We found the K2 crew and all sub-trades to be of the highest calibre. Each and every person involved demonstrated a willingness to work with us."
    Barry and Deborah Brassington

  • "K2 built our home, and it was built on time and on budget. The quality of the construction was excellent."
    Don Swiatlowski

  • "Their professionalism and workmanship was very reassuring right down to every final detail."
    Maureen Sanborn