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Credit: Terry Guscott

High-gloss walnut furnishings create warmth and unity throughout the home

A young couple renos a tired, split-level bungalow to create a contemporary home and entertaining garden with sultry flair

When Silise Lebedovich took one more spin down the street she and husband, Jim, had identified as ideal for their family home, she was delighted to see a for sale sign on the front lawn of a property. They had been keeping an eye on this particular cul-de-sac for two years. “We were at the point of writing a letter to all the homeowners asking if they were interested in selling,” she says with a laugh.

At the open house, they were already planning how they would renovate the 1953 split-level bungalow. “We could see the basic floor plan was spectacular,” recalls Silise. “From the street it looks like a simple split level but inside there are five levels, and when we walked through we could see the function of each space and how our family would use it.”

The house had changed little since it was built and featured dark panelling, brick fireplace surround, low ceilings and closed-off rooms. “A time warp,” declared Silise.

But the basic bones were perfect. A split level lends itself to an open floor plan, yet each area has its own intimate feel, says Silise. The couple took possession of the property in October 2010 and began a revamp that would take the entire interior down to the studs.

Letting the Light In

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Extra windows were added to let in the light (Image: Terry Guscott)

Seasoned renovators – this would be their fourth project – Silise and Jim knew their own strengths and when to bring in professionals.

“We’ve always had a fixer-upper,” says Silise. “We tried to do our first home ourselves and lived at Home Depot for four years.”

Over subsequent projects they developed relationships with architect John Keen of Farpoint Architectural and builder Matt Kuettel of Kerrisdale Construction, though Silise and Jim have always been intimately involved in the planning and look after the interior finishings.

“We were co-contractors,” says Silise. “Jim runs a commercial window company, so is very good at reading plans. I grew up in perpetually renovated homes, so I feel comfortable reading a set of drawings.”

On the main floor, they were able to remove most of the partition walls without any major structural changes, creating an open flow between entrance, living room, dining room and kitchen. They opened up the ceilings and installed skylights in the living room, added windows in the dining area and a glass wall in the kitchen, all of which capture the generous light on the sunny lot.

Uniting Split Levels

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(Left) The kitchen opens onto the deck (Right) The massive eight-foot steel door is one of the key focal points (Images: Terry Guscott)

A split level affords sight lines between the levels. To achieve a sense of unity, Silise and Jim used the same design elements throughout the house: dark wood flooring, paint in variations of warm grey with white trim, stainless steel fittings and high-gloss walnut furnishings.

The effect is serene and relaxing.

“In our first house,” recalls Silise, “We had a new scheme for every room and your eye was always trying to adjust to a new colour palette. When we decided to sell, we painted it all one colour that we liked and realized it works much better.”

One of the first items they acquired was the stainless steel front door, a massive eight-foot by three-foot panel incised with a vertical design that is a counterpoint to the predominantly horizontal lines of the house’s exterior.

“We picked a couple of things to have as focal points,” explains Silise. “In researching doors, this one popped up and we knew we had to have it. The door came before the colour scheme – although I knew I wanted white, grey and brown. The stainless steel works with all the appliances, the pulls in the kitchen, the handrails and even the faucets in the bathrooms.” The opaque window lights around the door are a stylish nod to the design of the original.

A second focal point is the sculptural bone china chandelier in the entry hall, which Silise first saw in a magazine layout. “People see the chandelier and it’s so spectacular that they’re impressed with the very nice but more ordinary lighting, like the pendants over the dining table,” she says, laughing.

The central location of the stairs in the house – unusual in today’s modern homes, says Silise – inspired Jim to create a third focal point. His sophisticated stairwell design of glass and stainless steel fittings called for a single sheet of glass that extends from top to bottom of all five levels – a feat of installation, as well as conception, that enhances the airy, open feeling of the interior.

Adding Glass Walls

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Glass doors turn the wine cellar into a showpiece (Image: Terry Guscott)

The glass kitchen wall is constructed of five, three-foot-wide panels that fold back accordion-style (a custom fabrication by Jim’s company, Phoenix Glass). When the wall is folded back, the entire kitchen is open to the deck, outdoor kitchen and backyard where the family spends much of their time during the summer.

Silise keeps the colour palette consistent indoors to outdoors. From the house, the dark-brown furniture and grey cushions of the outdoor seating area are visible. From outside, there is a sight line to the glossy walnut underside of the kitchen island, a thread that knits the two living areas together seamlessly.

The couple has no plans to move. They spent over a year creating the perfect family home in a perfect area. But will this be their last renovation? Silise acknowledges they get an itch for projects and when the conversation turns to the potential for redoing a Vancouver Special, she admits, “I get goose bumps just thinking about it!”

Designing a Tropical Entertaining Garden

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The streamside garden features banana plants that reach six feet tall (Image: Terry Guscott)

When it came time to renovate the neglected and overgrown one-third-acre property, a waterfall and pond were high on Jim’s wish list. It is the focal point of the backyard and a backdrop to Silise’s favourite spot: the outdoor living room around the fire bowl.

The stream tumbles down from a pond, following the gradient of the property, and is defined by a naturalistic mix of large boulders and smaller stones.

Enthusiastic gardeners, the couple already had a well-developed plant list when they consulted with Donna Chomichuk about the landscaping layout and Chris Wickett of South Coast Landscaping about the plantings.

“Our garden is inspired by the places we love,” explains Silise. False nootkas (Silise calls them her Dr. Seuss trees) and birches remind them of the trees at Whistler while fatsia and choisya remind Silise of her family homes growing up. The Russian olive is reminiscent of trees at Jim’s parents’ home.

“We like tropicals,” adds Silise. “So we have lots of banana plants and things that have a lush, fleshy, tropical feel.”

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Silise and Jim combined creative hardscaping with lush plantings for the perfect summer entertaining space (Image: Terry Guscott)

The streamside garden is at its peak in July and August, when the family is outdoors most. By August the banana plants are six feet tall and set the stage with their giant fronds. The other large plants – including a redleaf maple, weeping false nootka and laceleaf maple – provide counterpoints of colour and texture. Underplantings include ‘Blackbird’ spurge, yucca, a trilogy of ‘Frans Hal’ daylilies, groupings of white calla lilies, ‘Bowles Golden’ sedges and the variegated Japanese sedge ‘Ice Dance’.

Silise and Jim are developing their own children’s love of gardening. Their son chose the purple bearded iris ‘Superstition’ for the stream and their daughter a skimmia that scents the nearby area.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.