Seaside Homes: Connections to the Past

story by Janice Henshaw | photography by

“The view is the most phenomenal part of living here,” says Jill Roberts. “It is so interesting; anything going on, we are right on top of it. And we love the light.”

From the top floor, southwest corner of the Pier Residence, the Salish Sea and the town of Sidney are stunning. Huge windows soar to 14-foot ceilings. There are almost 270 degrees of expansive, exhilarating views. I feel as though I am perched high in a glass castle, with the world at my feet.

“We’ve had a wonderful life living in many countries abroad,” begins Jill. Her husband Bill was in the Canadian Foreign Service and his postings included stints in Brazil, Pakistan, Thailand, Singapore and Sweden. When it came time to retire, they built a large home in New Denver, B.C., which was an “idyllic existence,” until health concerns necessitated a move.

Jill and Bill were 70 years old and wanted to get the next move “right.” Five years earlier, while staying at the Pier Hotel, Jill was impressed by Sidney’s character, the friendly residents, its eclectic stores, and the ever-changing sky. So when she and Bill made their first foray to find a new place to live, Sidney was where they came.

Twenty-four hours later, with rain beating down so hard they could not see the horizon, they were toasting each other at the Pier Bistro. They had found their new home with the help of realtor Gay Helmsing. The 1,460-square-foot penthouse became theirs in May 2015. It was to be their 15th move in 50 years together.

The new home met every criteria but one: there was no storage, not even a linen closet. “We needed to downsize and simplify,” said Jill, “but not shed everything!” It was time to find a cabinetmaker.

They had a very specific vision in mind for cabinetry, focusing on achieving both a unique look and what would be stored in each cabinet. “The challenge for Cabinet Works,” said owners Jeff and Vivienne Scott, “was to take those needs and build the new cabinetry using modern hardware and building techniques.” Their designer, Chantelle McLarty, worked closely with Jill and Bill to help them define their vision.

“The selected cabinetry was taller than available materials,” Jeff explained, “so special joinery was employed to ensure the quality and integrity of the seams.” After much research, he imported a wood veneer species with a horizontal grain orientation from Italy to achieve the perfect colour match and design. A sliding ladder made from aircraft-grade spruce was designed and built to access the top shelves by attaching to a metal rail.

The cabinets and thoughtfully designed interiors utilize every square inch of space. An all-in-one kitchen machine, for example, pops out of a lower cabinet on a spring-loaded lift, and rises level with the granite counters. As a former Home Economics teacher, Jill loves cooking, especially when she can still be in the middle of everything that’s going on.
Along with the incredible views, it is the seamless central living space of kitchen, dining room and living room that makes this home a standout.

In the dining room, the gateleg dining table inherited from Bill’s parents is topped by Jill’s lovely quilted tablecloth. The west wall of cabinets contains linens and an extensive collection of dishes. On one shelf is a coal burning steam engine Bill assembled in Singapore. Jill and Bill’s grandchildren love being towed behind it in a little wagon.

In the living room, a gas fireplace has a floating mantle that bridges a new floor-to-ceiling bookcase to the right, and entertainment unit to the left. An antique fireplace tool set sits on the floor in front of the fireplace. Jill explains that when Bill’s parents built their family house in the 1950s they did not have enough money for a fireplace. “The tools are symbolic, a reminder of where we’ve been and where we are now.” Jill concluded, “Life works in funny ways.”

Throughout the home, Cloud White (Benjamin Moore) walls display family photos and much loved art. International furnishings create a sophisticated atmosphere in the home. Persian rugs from Islamabad warm the dark stained hardwood floors. The rosewood side tables and hand carved elephant chair are from Thailand. Jay Thomas, a master finisher from Cabinet Works, built a stand for the magnificent marble tabletop Jill and Bill brought home from Rio de Janeiro. Samba figures are inlaid on one side, and orange and brown colours create swirls on the flip side.

On one of his trips through the Khyber Pass, Bill bargained for the brass samovar displayed in the corner of the living room. Other treasures include baskets from Thailand, onyx lamps from Pakistan, Dalecarlian horses and glass lanterns from Sweden, and a Victorian army sword with the Queen’s crown on the guard that was likely used in used in the Anglo-Afghan Wars. This is a home in which every item has an intriguing story.

A Swedish candle chandelier hangs from the ceiling, welcoming contemplation in the den. Three nesting glass panels pull out to provide a quiet space. Custom-built work surfaces, a reference bookcase and two walls of floor-to-ceiling cabinetry accommodate work and hobby needs. Hydroponic herbs grow in the corner.

The bedroom wing is compact, but the 10-foot ceilings and big sky and ocean views ensure the two bedrooms and master ensuite feel spacious. On one of the suite’s balconies there is a railway bench purchased from Exeter Station. Herbs, strawberries, nasturtiums, pansies, and a brazelberry plant grow in planters.

Built out of the same material as the cabinetry, the entry hall bench offers an example of the prevailing theme of dual functionality throughout the house. It’s a place to put on your shoes, while underneath it is a carefully designed space to store favourite wines.

“We were so privileged to have had a life abroad and all these objects are a reminder of the adventures we have had, the friends we have made, and the cultures we have been exposed to. Happy times, and not so happy times, it brings back our life,” said Jill. “I guess the older we get, the more important it is to see everything in perspective.”

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