SEASIDE HOMES – Metal Mermaids & a Full Gut Home Renovation

story by Janice Henshaw
photos by Janis Jean Photography

Don’t you love meeting people whose eyes sparkle with excitement when they talk about what they do? Artist Karen Lancey displays this captivating enthusiasm as she describes the whimsical metal sculptures she creates out of the “stuff” that many of us dispose of in metal recycling bins. Karen’s “treasures” include rusty saw blades, seized wrenches, springs, pipes, keys, hand saws, crushed toolboxes, car parts, and all sorts of other unidentifiable metal bits and pieces. “Sometimes there’s just so many gifts, right? And other people think it’s garbage. I know.”

Karen taught herself to weld after four years in art school. She found the process to be hard, terrifying and dangerous but also exhilarating and fun. After welding for 17 years Karen says she still loves her craft. The newly renovated 3-car garage is where she creates sculptures of mermaids, dogs, owls, ball spheres, chandeliers, bird cages, cats, horses−anything that you can imagine.

From the workshop a door leads into her showroom where Karen’s finished sculptures are on display. “There’s a whole bunch of fun things here. My newest creation is a crazy little dog on a skateboard; I call him ‘Hot Dog’; I just love him. With so much serious news today it is important to have beauty, fun, and humour in our lives. Whimsy in my work makes me smile and have a good day.”

Karen’s creativity and enthusiasm carries over to the newly renovated home which she and her partner Tom Comfort bought in North Saanich two years ago. Tom owns Tree Spirit Landscaping and is an expert at garden restoration and landscape construction. As soon as Tom saw the property, he said, “We need to buy that place,” but he wasn’t happy about the house. “The five-bedroom house was boxy, dark and oppressive,” said Karen. “It had double carpeted bathrooms, a purple painted bathtub; it was like the worst of the worst and there were these big drop-down balustrades all throughout the house to delineate every room. But Karen had made up her mind. “It’s almost like I am in denial with the way things are, I see them as they could be.”

After the purchase they embarked on a massive “full gut renovation” said Karen. The five-bedroom house wasn’t a teardown; it was a strong well-made house. An engineer was brought in to assess the house and determine which walls could safely be removed. “Tom and I used sledgehammers to knock out walls and kitchen cupboards; it was super satisfying. The renovation to the 2,700-square-foot, two-storey home took six months and Karen functioned as the general contractor working on site every day.
All the plumbing and wiring was replaced, and the ductwork removed. “If it had just been a surface renovation, we wouldn’t have known what was behind the walls,” said Karen. “Replacing everything seemed to be the best plan, but it also caused us to go over budget. But now we know everything is perfect and safe.”

The kitchen is peaceful with clean lines, modern, high-gloss cupboards (Deep Cove Customs) and sparkling quartz counters. There is a huge bank of windows that brings the outside in and no upper cabinets to impede the view. The turquoise blue exhaust fan adds a nice accent colour rather than being simply utilitarian. Karen installed the contrasting dark and light vinyl plank click flooring. Lighting is an eclectic mix of pendent lights, LEDs and chandeliers.

Corrugated steel sheets were added as a third envelope layer to the outside of the house. Due to a natural aging process the metal is shiny in places and flat looking in other areas. “We love it because it doesn’t look like everyone else’s house and being artistic that was super important to me.”
Karen salvaged the cedar boards that had originally been used to hold up the ceiling insulation and used them on the outside walls to supply contrast. She also used some of the boards to create a unique feature wall in the living room. The boards were whitewashed and then spray painted. “It was fun to get it all to work together,” said Karen. “The wall is so alive now; it’s like the ocean, the beach, the weather.”

Other notable features include the new deck which opens to a relaxing view of the serene and beautiful property. Sky-blue chairs and umbrellas add a lively pop of colour. Inside, the bathrooms have undercabinet lighting, and the ensuite has a soaker tub and custom tiled shower with a rain shower head. Heating is provided by two high efficiency direct vent gas furnaces one on each floor and there is a laundry room on each floor too. Wood and glass panelled doors add light as do the many large picture windows; the light is enhanced by large wall mirrors. In the living room the brick fireplace was refaced with stainless steel; Karen wanted it to look “slick and unexpected.”

In the last 18 months Karen and Tom have transformed the surrounding 1 1/4 acres by adding a large vegetable garden and removing the invasive species. Flowers, shrubs, trees and lush grass now flourish around their home. Of special note is the forest sculpture garden where visitors can view Karen’s artwork in a natural outdoor setting. Even the trees are included in the display; her unique chandeliers and ball spheres hang from their branches.

There is an opportunity to see this lovely property and Karen’s intriguing sculptures; she will be hosting an “Art Garden Tour” at their property (11050 Heather Road) September 12 from noon to 4:00pm. (COVID-19 safety measures will be in place). Ten artists including Karen will also display their work at an “Art on The Bay Show and Sale” Saturday, Sept.19, 10-5pm (1295 Tapping Road). Creativity in Art and Display! Bring it on I say.

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