Part 1 – Victoria Residence, British Columbia

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  • Paul C

    I wonder if it would be helpful to include a basement plan and site plan that demonstrates context (i.e. adjacent properties, significant existing landscaping, parking, proximity to property lines, etc) as well, similar to other design projects is there a “residential profile” and “slow home test” for this home/client?

  • John Brown

    The residential profile will be posted shortly. We received it a little bit late.

    I don’t have a basement plan drawn up but will see what I can do.

    In terms of your questions about context, parking, etc. – perhaps Leo, our client for the week, can add some commentary and then you can ask any specific questions you might have.

    Leo is supposed to be monitoring the site over the day but it is still a bit early on the west coast.

  • Leo

    Hi Paul

    Thanks for the interest! The lot is 75 x 150 rectangular lot on a straight avenue. There are similar lots surrounding it. The basement is unfinished with a foundation outline that includes the whole of the floorplan (including the porch/sunroom) except for the bump out addition on the back. Parking is in the basement. I don’t have measurements, but the lots are relatively large, so there is fair amount of side yard space available on both sides.

    With respect to exisiting landscaping, the property is flat. The only significant thing I can think of is that the sloped entry to the below grade garage is in front of the living room.

    I hope that answers some of your questions.

  • Paul C


    Thanks for the information. I had thought that maybe the garage was underneath given the amount of risers leading to the main floor. A few years back I was in Victoria and saw this form of housing (aatched) which I thought was a nice way to deal with the parking. Any information with respect to adjacent homes? Are they inline front/rear wall wise? Any overlooking concerns? I don’t want to dwell too much on this discussion/information just trying to get a sense of the overall surroundings.

  • leo

    I believe the houses are in line both front and rear. I can’t think of any serious overlooking issues. And yes, the attached picture is roughly similar to our arrangement.

  • Brad W

    Leo, is an addition at the back possible? And why do you want to remove the fireplace in the living room?

  • Terri

    Removing the fireplace in the living room is bothering me as well. I live with a stonemason and I can just imagine what he’d have to say about such a job. :)

    I’m thinking it might be one of the only 1912 features that could remain, given this extensive reno. It’s on an inside wall, which is good for efficiency, and removing it could have huge implications for the upstairs space as well.

  • Doug in Cowtown


    John is there any formats for a Mac user, so I can play too?

    I am also curious to know why not new build. Considering the cost of such a extensive renovation, I expect that often the surprise and limitations of old and benefits of new make it worthwhile.

  • John Brown

    Hi Doug,
    The best program that we have found for free download onto a mac is Paintbrush. You can open the jpeg file up in that document. The program is not great but it works and we aren’t too fussy about drawing quality here.

    I look forward to seeing your plan.

    In terms of new build – in our experience the cost of renovating is usually less than building new – depending on the state of the original house and as long as you aren’t adding any new space. I would always recommend starting a project with a working assumption of renovating and then seeing whether it works out during design.

    Renovating also has much less environmental impact.

    For the purposes of these exercises the question is more peripheral as we are learning how to design within the context of an existing house.

  • Brad W


    OK, here is a first attempt to get the ball rolling. Basically, the main weakness in the house is the kitchen. To fix this, I removed the existing bathroom and added a family room. The new kitchen occupies the old space but hopefully in the better way. There is a powder room and a study but no closets or mud room on the main floor. If you park in the basement perhaps the mud room/closet/storage is located there. Anyway food for thought…

  • John Brown

    Brad W,
    Nice plan. I think removing the old bathroom/laundry at the back is a good idea. Adding the new living area as an extension is a nice idea. What would you recommend if an addition is to expensive?

  • leo

    With respect to the fireplace, we are not dedicated to removing it. We simply would not be averse to having it removed if it opens and improves the spaces.

    With respect to a new build, our contractors have told us that the frame and foundation is in good shape, so that a reno should save us a significant amount of money.

    with respect to expansion, my suspicion is that zoning will not allow it. Also, given the size of the footprint, we should be able to squeeze our requirements into it.

  • leo

    Hi Brad

    very nice plan. The back family room would be lovely. However, I don’t think zoning will allow it. There’s been an adjustment here whereby our basement is counted as above grade living space, so that pushes us pretty much to our limit.

  • Daniel

    I have little to add but I do live in Victoria in an area of old homes such as this.

    Most people in Victoria do not park in those basement garages. Maybe because they are too small and too low or maybe because of the air quality and fire concerns of sharing space with a motor vehicle. At least the garage satisfies the municipal requirement for off-street parking so no further land has to be used for this. Generally basements in these older houses are not nice places. They are usually low – about 6′ and often have a musty smell from years of water seepage or flooding.

    I see very few two storey homes torn down here. The bigger houses seem to be of high quality and have fetures that make them feasible to renovate(and some people like character). Bungalows are different. They are often of poorer quality and are routinely replaced with new construction. I am about to do just that in south Oak Bay.

  • Murray


    Hello Leo, et al,

    It sounds as though you live in a nice part of Victoria. Hopefully you will be able to renovate your house to suit the needs and desires of your family.

    Here is my offering, including a front hall closet, and a mudroom at the back. The multi-level deck may give your children’s legs less of a workout, and allow a railing that wouldn’t interfere too much with the view from the main floor of the house. The deck could potentially extend out to the east.

  • Doug Roberts


    Hi Leo

    Here is another option for you to consider. I flipped the living room and study around, so that the living room is now at the back and the study is now at the front, and left the dining room and kitchen in their original locations. I opened up the wall between the kitchen the the dining room, on the assumption that the existing chimney chase will be removed when the furnace is replaced with a high-efficiency direct vent furnace. I added front hall closets on either side of the study door and a powder room off the hallway between the living room and study. The remaining space on the west side of the powder room has been split in half and filled with millwork facing into each room. I converted the front sun room back into an open veranda, as I did not see a need for more enclosed space and did not like having doors right at the top of the steps. I also eliminated the walls at the front of the interior stairs facing the front entry and on the side of the basement stairs, to make the front entry, stairs and hallway feel more open and gain more access to natural light. I installed a built-in desk facing the window between the kitchen and living room as an easy-to-supervise place for your children to do crafts and homework, or for you to pay the house bills while keeping an eye on the children. I installed a window seat in the bumped-out window in the dining room, as I thought that on a chilly morning it would be a wonderful place to catch the east sun while sipping a cup of coffee.

  • leo


    Nice to see local Victorians on this site. Did you buy your house recently (ie did you outbid me on a house?) Have you procured a designer yet? We are in the process of finding one; in fact we are going to talk to some today and tomorrow.


    Your redo is very much in the vein of what I had originally envisioned. It also demonstrates why we were considering removing the fireplace. We will eventually want a gas fireplace anyway, so having it vent directly outside and be on an outside wall makes more sense.

    Murray, your redo is completely different from what I had thought about doing, which is my whole incentive for putting this project on the site. The only thing I think I would consider is getting rid of the mudroom in the back in the interests of letting in more light.

  • Daniel


    We bought at a previous peak in the market in 1994. We have an architect who is doing our design as a side job with the consent of his employer. You should have no trouble finding someone as the whole building industry is in a slow patch these days.

    I recommend ditching the fireplace too. Waste of space and it seems very ungreen to have combustion as entertainment.

  • Brad W


    Leo, here is another option…similar to Doug’s although I tried to keep the flue in position as per the demo plan.

  • John Brown

    I agree with Leo – a nice plan that is not what I was expecting. Nicely done.

  • John Brown

    I like the homework/craft area in your scheme. It is a good way to use the area between the stair and the rear wall.

  • John Brown

    You did a good job of working the original flue into the scheme. I didn’t think that would be possible.

  • leo

    I have one question about Murray’s plan, John. In it, the access to the stairs is relatively away from the main entrance. This wouldn’t bother me, but would it bother an architect?

  • leo

    Hi Brad, that’s a nice revision. It’s an interesting idea to take the floor space from the addition and add it to the kitchen. I have no idea about the zoning implications, so i don’t know if I can get away with it, but it looks great. And I agree with John, that’s a nicely done job with the flue.

    The preference for our family would be to have a larger entry closet. We have three kids whose stuff seems to take up a lot more room than the grownups’ stuff.

  • John Brown

    Good question. I think that there is a misunderstanding about the location of stairs to front doors that was established by the cookie cutter industry about 20 years ago when they started putting lavish stairways in two storey spaces as part of the entry. In reality we very rarely go upstairs directly from the front door and often there is an uncomfortable conflict between the privacy of the staircase and the front entry.

  • Paul C

    While we are on the subject of the internal stairs, is there a desire to minimize alteration? (nice original millwork worth saving type of affair)

  • leo

    Hi Paul

    No, there is no real millwork to save, apart from the stairway itself.

    I have one suggestion for people involved, and John, please correct me if I’m wrong. The border of the foundation runs under the north side of the porch/sunroom. This to me implies that the north wall (and front of the house) of the dining room is not load bearing; the pillars on the porch/sunroom are. This means that that wall can be moved as well. I’m not sure if this is useful or not, but if someone thinks they can do something with it, it might be interesting.

  • Brad W


    Leo, another option – a modern kitchen that can be opened completely to the outdoor space.

    Additional closet space is available at the top of the downstairs. The original dining room is maintained but clearly the reno is extensive and hinges on planning approval to trade the existing back room for the modern extension.

    I am sure John will come up with something that works with the existing flue without adding on but I am finding that difficult – need to sleep on it. If the flue can be moved then no problem…

  • Brad W

    Have to send kudos to Murray who I thought did a good job of thinking out of the box. Nice plan…

  • Terri


    Well, I happen to like old fireplaces,so I didn’t remove it on my first attempt. I also thought it’d be nice to retain the box window in the present dining area, so it’s been converted into an herb window in this plan.

    This is a quick and dirty rendition (using my scanner, so not terribly clear). I hope to do another version without the f/p if I can swing it later.

    I noted that you put Living as first priority and Dining as second so the kitchen is not taking up that valuable southern space. I’m not crazy about kitchens next to entries but maybe with the right cabinetry…?

  • Paul C

    Any four legged members of the family?

  • leo


    That kitchen is stunning. I really like how you’ve isolated the stairwell to the basement, which is never a house’s best feature. That south wall renovation looks expensive…but who knows? Still, it looks great as well as providing a nice spot for the flue.


    I agree with you opinion on entries into kitchens. I’m sure in your next iteration, you’ll find a solution, as you usually do. You have chosen a configuration that my sister recommended to us, and I think it has a lot of potential. Don’t put too much stock in me ranking living ahead of dining, they’re pretty close. Remember that I filled out the form and not my wife!

    Getting back to the fireplace, I have to agree with Daniel (though my wife would disagree). I don’t think a fireplace is a necessary thing in a house. We have one and never turn it on for fear that our 1 year old will burn her hands on it. Also, the one in this house is not a particularly nice one.

  • leo

    Just a note to everyone

    Thank you so much for participating. Each plan has contained a surprise that I had not thought of, and that will be very useful when we meet with our eventual designer. The discussion on the last slow home report hit the nail on the head: the more concepts we see, the more likely we’ll be able to distinguish a great proposal from merely a good one.

  • Terri

    Hi Leo,
    I’m sorry to hear that the original fireplace isn’t particularly nice; however, you can reface it and also convert it to natural gas (the chimney is a good location for the venting). In fact, today’s Times Colonist has an article on this very subject. Timely, isn’t it?

    I may not be able to attempt another iteration at this point, but I hope that whatever layout you and your wife decide upon will eventually be posted here. It’d be interesting for those of us who tried the exercise.

  • MichaelG


    Here’s a concept I had that didnt really work. Circulation is not good… This is a grand old house and I wanted to reflect that with grand entrance, clock room and multiple seating areas. But the stairs in the middle make circulation tough… I removed the long separating wall, but assume that some points along that wall are load bearing and there will need to be pillar somewhere along that line.
    There are some elements I like though, and I have a few very different ideas that are similar in parts to some of the other concepts up already. I’m always late to the party! If I have some time, maybe I’ll flesh them out and add them to tomorrows conversation.

    I couldn’t agree more that the last slow home report hit the nail on the head, exploring as many possibilities as you can is key to finding the perfect solution. I especially enjoyed the 10-3-1 Apple philosophy.

  • Paul C


    Before I get into my suggestions for Leo and family I just wanted to pass along (as my daughter would say) “two thumbs waaaay up” for this version of design project. I think having an actual “client” if you will, as once again elevated the discussion and experience on the site. I think the numbers, dialogue and great proposals speak for themselves and maybe just maybe one day the “comments posted” will break the half century mark. Great evolution John!

    Leo and family,
    This plan works to recognize the realities of family living these days. Our household makeup is essentially the same as yours except for ages. One of the many important features for a “full size” family home is storage. It is not sexy but there you have it. Once you have included all the storage you want, put MORE in. You will not regret it. Anyways, room by room notable features:
    Front hall- as a nod to the existing/vintage home the fireplace has been adjusted to have the opening face the front hall. This is not an insurmountable exercise, however if unfeasible convert it to, you guessed it storage.
    Back hall- immediate storage at back hall entry door for drop off, full length wall shelving for storage in hall, wic where the contents are only visible once you are at that end of the hall such that a dual glazed pocket door can be placed into the laundry, to permit light from the front window into the back hall. If there is/are to be any four legged family members then I would rearrange the back hall/utility area to address the possible increase in “dirty” traffic.
    Stairs- open and finish to the bottom (a temp gate at the top would safeguard young ones) low book case incorporated at top
    Kitchen-counter/cabinets are 6” deeper behind cooktop, eating bar continues into dining bump out, dining space easily expandable
    Study- like Terri I too like the side bay window/seat and so kept it for the study

    The details of the exterior elements are all very basic given so many unknowns. Responding to your inquiry with respect to the foundation under the front porch/sunroom. I am a big fan of usable porches for various reasons and so my suggestion would be to have this space revert back to an open air porch rather than a sunroom or filled in and added to the main floor square footage. It is a time honored method of transitioning from the public realm to the private realm.

  • leo

    Hi Michael

    Your plan is very intriguing. You have attempted to rectify one of the real difficulties with this floorplan by turning the stairwell. This opens up the back space for a dining table, which I think is a great idea. I’m not sure how easy it is to change stairwells, as they are structural elements; it also may have a detrimental effect on the upstairs hallway which, of course, you have not yet seen. I agree with you, there are flow issues, but I do really like the south half of the house as you have presented it. The ideal thing for us would be to have dining, living, and kitchen all along the back as you have done. I’m just not sure how best to accomplish this.

  • leo


    Another plan that for me was very much outside the box. I think for us, laundry is better on the upper floor, although I can certainly see advantages to having it near the side entrance. I agree with you wholeheartedly with respect to storage space. The only danger with having a lot of storage space is the fact that junk expands to fill a volume.

    Do you expand the bump out in the back? I had thought about using the bump out to house a dining table, but felt that that would limit the area where you placed the kitchen too much. It would mean that the kitchen would have a width of I believe less than 9 feet. Maybe this is adequate; I’m not sure about critical dimensions.

    Overall though, I really like your plan. It’s getting late though, and there are so many plans here with potential, I can’t really analyze all of them to make suggestions on our personal preferences.