Meet the Burdens. A young family, looking to build their forever home. This is not their first rodeo, but it is their first time working with professionals. And their heritage B renovation story features drama and heart.
Here's the Full Transcript of this Episode
Welcome back to Measure Twice, Cut Once. I’m Jennifer Lee Gunson, your host for Season 4. This season we’re going to follow a Vancouver family in real time through their home renovation. This is not just a weekend makeover like you might see on reality TV. We’re talking real life; a real renovation. The entire main and upper floors of their heritage home in East Vancouver will be gutted and the family will be living in the basement with two small kids for the duration of the project, estimated to take five to six months. For each episode this season, we will bring in the family, builder and designer in at key points in the project to share their experiences and lessons learned to help shed light on the real renovation process. And as always, all episodes, transcripts and resources are available at HAVAN.ca/measuretwicecutonce, including photos of the project. Welcome. We’re so glad to have you guys here. This is the first time we are doing this. We’re going to be following you. It’s kind of like a reality TV show. Let’s get to know our homeowners. Justin let’s start with you. What is your background and how did you guys meet and start your family?
Hi, Jen. Yeah. My name is Justin. I’m really excited to be here and part of this project work as an engineer, geological engineer in the mining sector. I’ve been in my full-time position there for about 15 years. I am married to Skyla. We met in 2007 in Vancouver shortly after I finished my undergraduate degree at UBC. And we have two small children together. We have Riley who is six years old, and Vivian who’s three.
I’m Skyla and I’m a nurse in Vancouver. I work part time and we have two small girls, so we’re super busy. We are fortunate enough to be able to go through a renovation experience in Vancouver. We’ve been here for a while and we’ve been in and out of the market for about 15 years, so we’ve renovated before, and this is such a great opportunity to share our lessons learned over the years and our experience going forward with Cara and Alex.
We were living in a duplex in another part of the city. We had purchased that in about 2014, before we had our first daughter, Riley. And when we moved in there, it was a fairly rundown in terms of just the finishing aspects of the house. So, we did a bunch of aesthetic upgrades there in terms of kind of remodeling the kitchen, updating the flooring, redid some bathrooms. We really acted as project managers on those. We did some of the demo ourselves, but we didn’t do any of the fine finishing work, so we had sourced out some professionals that we knew to do that. But me and Scott really worked in a project management role there, having to line up the trades that were working, source all the materials, schedule. We learned very quickly how time consuming it was, especially when you’re trying to have a career. We were not fully up for the task, so there was a lot of long weekends spent researching online, trying to source materials, visiting showrooms, visiting Home Depot.
Lots of Home Depot, lots of Ikea.
That was different for us because at that time we knew that that was going to be a temporary home for us. We had a vision for about five years and then we knew that we’d be looking to move on from there. At that time, there was no regrets. I think that was the right approach. But definitely now that we’re in a house where we see ourselves for the long term, definitely to be in what we raise our daughters, we decided that it was important to source out people that are professional and really know what they’re doing. That’s how we eventually got in touch with Alex and Cara.
And I think you guys brought up a great point and the fact that it’s like you’ve been there, you’ve done it, you immersed yourselves in it and now you’ve learnt from it. So, I think it’s great because you can appreciate going to professionals like Cara and Alex. So that segways in perfectly. Let’s get to know the interior designer and the builder that is going to be coming on. I love these two people. We’ve interviewed them before on HAVAN’s Measured Twice, Cut Once, so I’m really excited that they’re back with us and they’re here for the full journey, this time from start to finish. So, we have Cara, a wonderful interior designer, she’s award-winning designer and NKBA’s top 30 under 30. She’s also been on this podcast before, and I’ve had coffees with her.
I really love her.
So, Cara, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you started Triple Dot Design and why you got into your design?
Thanks, Jen. I’m one of those people, I always knew what I wanted to do right when I went into high school, so I don’t remember any defining point of what made me want to do interior design. But my dad’s contractor, so I grew up in construction sites, so I was just immersed in this industry my whole life, which I think probably is the big factor that drove me tuned to your design. I worked in the industry for several years and then I decided it was time to go out on my own and one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s amazing to get to meet all these clients and have such an impact on their homes and lives. As a designer, I really love being able to play with color, which is exciting because we have some little pops of color in Skyla and Justin’s project that you guys will see as you follow along. And so, it’s really rewarding when client’s kind of trust you with that.
Now we’re going to move on to Alex and talk to him about the company that he works with, Level One Construction. Hey, Alex. How are you? And how did you get involved with Level One and what is your position?
I started off with Level One in 2014 and been with them ever since. And now currently, I manage the entire company, so I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business and occasionally getting involved in some of the projects, one being Skyline, Justin’s home on Glen drive.
It’s been an interesting evolution of our company since 2014. We were very small, doing very different type of projects now to the point where we get to work with awesome designers like Cara and really do some interesting projects like the one that we’re talking about today.
Okay, let’s get started and talk about what everybody’s here for, of course, is your house. So, Skyla and Justin, let’s start at the beginning. Why this particular house you’re going to renovate? Why now? How did you get started?
This all came about when we sold our duplex during the beginning of the pandemic, when we were panicking with many other homeowners in Vancouver, wondering if the market was going to crash or not. So, we decided to put our home on the market we sold and then we had to find somewhere to live. It happened all very quickly, so we moved into my parents’ house in the basement and while we were sorting out what we were going to do with our lives and where we wanted our kids to go to school, and the opportunity came up to purchase my parents’ home because they were starting on their retirement journey. So, we went ahead and did that last year in May of 2021. And then we decided we should probably update the Renault that they did. I’m really excited that we get to continue this legacy with our family. Staying in my family home, there are a few drawbacks, and I think living in Vancouver, you have to be flexible often in terms of what you’re going to get for your dollar. So, there’s only two bedrooms upstairs and one bathroom and the main living part of the house. We knew we love the house, but there are some things that we wanted to alter and update and make more functional for our family.
I know you guys are going to fully gut this place, but Skyla, do you have, like, a favorite memory of a certain area of the home that you wish you kind of would have kept, but now it’s going to be gone?
Nothing that’s going to be gone because I think there’s a lot of 80s in there. So, I’m excited that we can actually bring back some heritage elements. The most nostalgic part for me is my childhood bedroom upstairs where our girls are going to be because of where the windows are and the trees outside. It always felt like a tree house to me when I was little. So, I think that’s super exciting. And I’m curious to know what our kids think about it too, when they move in, when we have walls and a floor up there.
How do the kids feel about you renovating this particular home? Do they have any opinion?
I know they’re quite small, but lots of opinions. They’re tiny girls. They have tons of opinions. Yeah, lots of color opinions. So just so Cara knows, it’ll be a game time decision. What we paint their room for flip flopping between blue and pink and purple and green and black is the new one, but yeah, they’re excited.
This wasn’t our original plan to end up at this house. So, like Skyla said, we had made a decision in 2020, soon after the pandemic started, that we knew we didn’t want to stay in our current house. We wanted to move into more of a neighborhood, somewhere close to the school where we wanted rally to attend. We kind of winged it and put our house up and sold it in the summer of 2020 and moved into Scottish parents’ basement on a temporary basis while we pursued this house hunt. And we really cast the net wide. We looked in Vancouver, we were considering Burnaby. We thought maybe we should look in Langley, where I grew up, where I had enjoyed my childhood, and we did that. And when we started to look, we started to look in January of 2021, and kind of our thesis that maybe the market would struggle during the pandemic. Well, that didn’t turn out to be true at all. Supply was very limited, and all the buyers that were looking to buy during the pandemic were still out there looking for homes. So, we were out and looking in Langley, and house prices were soaring out there. Prices were climbing in Vancouver. Riley was attending school at that point. And then we really had to make a decision do we want to restructure our lives and move out of Vancouver, or we started to really fall in love with the neighborhood. And our kids have riley in particular has a long connection to that house. Her grandmother has helped us out a lot with childcare, so she’s been in that house for many years. And we started to really come to appreciate the neighborhood and the proximity to schools and the fact that Skyla was working in Vancouver, I’m still working in north van. When the opportunity came up for us to kind of negotiate a deal with Skyla’s parents, it really seemed like a win win. And we’re really fortunate in that respect that we didn’t have to be out there competing with buyers for that house. And we were able to negotiate a deal. So, we’re extremely thankful and privileged for that. And that’s where we are. And it’s a historic house. Not in terms of just our family. There’s a legacy there. This will be three generations of people now within our immediate family that are living under that roof. But there’s also some historic significance in terms of it being a heritage house in Vancouver.
Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about that. So, in Vancouver, some people might not know, but there are different degrees of heritage for your home. And so, this one is particularly called Heritage B.
So, Heritage B, you have a little bit more flexibility than a stricter classification. You’re very limited to your street scape, like the colors you’re allowed to do. You have to use like, heritage proof colors. Your windows should be retained, or if you replace them, they should look the same. So, it’s mostly with kind of the exterior facade that they’re trying to maintain versus the inside. It’s pretty flexible. We are adding back the character elements of this home that were stripped away in the 80s. So, kind of good there anyways, and.
Touching on that because we’re going to get the entire main floor and upstairs. When you guys are thinking about renovating this particular home, Skyla and Justin, were there any things that you really wanted to see in the home? Did you guys have a clear idea of how you wanted it to look and feel?
Justin and I are on the same page design wise. We both really like classic homes. We’re not terribly modern. We were super excited to put some older features back, like a transom window, maybe bring back some more paneling and wall details that maybe care could speak to you a little bit more. But yeah, restore the character to the home and make the inside match the outside of the home.
And how did you get in touch with Cara? How did you find her? And did you feel that your style gelled right away, and she saw your vision?
It was Alex who got us in touch with Cara. That process kind of started with a phone call, and we had had our eyes kind of open and looking at some of the projects that were going on in the neighbourhood. And we’ve seen level one was involved in some of those. So, we made some calls, and I reached out to Alex and kind of asked, could you give me a sense of maybe what a budget would look like to renovate a house like this? And that was an extremely broad question. And I came to learn as I was making phone calls, that people are pretty hesitant to give you any sort of direct answer. And I mean, it’s difficult. There’s no defined scope at that time. But Alex took the time to have a discussion and then we set up a follow up meeting where he came to the house, and he brought Cara with him. And we did a walk through, and that was really the first time we got to meet face to face. And at that time, me and Skyla were thinking, we’re going to take this wall down, move this bathroom. We want to expand this two bedrooms up, which was kind of one of the major restrictions for us with having two children. The idea was, yeah, let’s just add a third bedroom somewhere and all these grand ideas about a renovation without considering the true implications in terms of the engineering especially, and what those things are going to cost. So that was how it all started.
And I think it was important for us to find we really wanted to find a designer and a builder who had worked together previously because we wanted this project to go as seamlessly as possible. And the thought of bringing two people together and creating a working relationship on our project seemed like a lot of variables that we weren’t interested in experiencing. So, we were super happy. When Alex suggested Cara, we looked at her website. She had a number of other heritage looking projects on there and just loved her design. Yeah, we went from there. We allowed things to kind of move organically, and there’s so much option and opportunity to choose a designer and a builder in the city, and you could just be forever on the Internet researching and trying to pick a team. And so, we just kind of went with our gut. We really liked Karen Alex when we met them, so that was easy.
I think that’s the main thing is once we met them, so much of this is about relationships and communication. You’re going to be dealing with people for five, six months during the construction phase and many months leading up to that. So, a lot of conversations. You have to have trust in people, a good rapport. We felt that right away with Karen Alex. We could tell that they had worked together, they had experience with each other and how they were speaking to each other, and that really put us at ease. It was mainly the individuals that was the deciding factor.
And we talked about this on this podcast before, and my family has owned a construction company, and we always say it’s like a marriage, so you want to make sure that you feel comfortable with the people that are going to be building and designing your home. So, I love the fact that you guys described it that way, that you felt like an instant connection with them, you felt comfortable with them, and they were people that you wanted to go with because it’s a long process and not even that they’re going to get personal with you. They’re designing your bedroom; they’re designing your bathroom. They’re designing spaces that are going to work for you and your family. So, you got to divulge those details to them. So, you got to feel comfortable being like, this is the way I want my bedroom set up, or this is the way I like my bathroom.
We wanted people that wanted to work with us, right? I think it’s a two-way street there. We want people that were excited about our project, and it was a mutually beneficial experience.
It’s funny that I would say for us, I don’t think that’s kind of normal protocol to bring a designer on a first visit. I remember, Justin, you had called me, and we kind of had a pretty lengthy phone call about your project. And yeah, for whatever reason, it’s like, okay, yeah, these guys seem like good people. Why don’t we just bring Cara along for the first visit? And that’s normally something that doesn’t happen. Usually happens after we first meet on site. Like, I would meet with you guys, walk through the scope of work, and then at that point, like, if you wanted to work with us, we would refer the designers to you. So anyways, I probably only done that. How many times have we done that? Care maybe, like, a couple of times.
Only handful of times. Yeah.
Glad it worked out.
But I felt an instant connection with you guys. Skyla and Justin and I saw the potential in that home right away, and so I was super excited when you guys wanted to work with me. As you were saying that, you went with your gut feeling, and you wanted to be comfortable with the people you’re working with, which is really important, because as I’ve probably told you guys, you need to be comfortable talking to your designer, and you need to be okay saying, like, hey, Cara, can we see more options? Or this is not quite right for our lifestyle. Because you, as the end users, know how you’re using that space, how you work as a family in your space, and you know, your own personal aesthetic the best. So there has to be this beautiful open communication between clients and designers because it makes a more successful project. In the end, if you were hesitant to tell me that you didn’t like something, then I’m just going to go off the assumption that, hey, it’s all good, you like it, and then in the end, you install it and you have this huge regret. I never want that in a space. Like, I want you guys to be falling in love with it each time you walk in the front door. So that relationship is so important.
Yeah. And I mean, budget is always a major consideration, but it’s not the only consideration. And especially during the preliminary stages of a project, you really can’t dial that in. Right. So, it’s the other factors that made the decision for us. Right.
Budget, that’s the topic that I know that a lot of people don’t like talking about. Like you said at the beginning stages, when you’re calling up the contractor, you’re like, what is the budget? But obviously, because we know in the last few months, building supplies have gone up, we don’t know exactly right at that moment until we know the scope of work. So, let’s talk about that. Justin, did you have an idea, did you and Scott have an idea of how much you kind of wanted to roughly spend before you approached Alex?
We had a pocket to find kind of where we’d like to be. Maybe an upper end limit. More so would be appropriate to say. In my initial discussions with Alex, I really had no idea what that would look like in terms of costs. So, I think we were talking like, is it going to be 100,203? We’re talking in big numbers, big ranges, right. So when Alex was able to put together a very preliminary scope that covered off most of the basis that we were considering and it fell within that window that we were comfortable with, that kind of gave us the green light to say, hey, this is not just a dream, this is a possibility, and let’s really get serious about looking at doing this.
It sounds like you guys are really realistic about it and it’s nice to know that when you got the budget, you weren’t falling over, that it fit in what you expected. And that’s the thing I think a lot of people get nervous about too, when talking to builders. They’re scared that also and they’re going to be like, this is my budget. And then the builder is going to be like, no, you can’t build a home for that. But that’s not the case either. We want to work with you as builders. Obviously, it needs to be realistic, but we also have to make sure that we’re not squashing everybody’s dreams every 2 seconds.
Yeah, and don’t get me wrong, there’s an emotional response when you see those numbers. We’re not talking about small sums of money. It’s big money and it has implications on a lot of aspects of our life. We have other dreams, other projects that we’d like to undertake in the future and we’re just trying to make all that work. But we decided that this house and having a place to raise our family and a place where people can gather and the ability to carry on this legacy from Skyless parents to us, and who knows, maybe again to our children, was important and something that we were.
Willing to spend money on, it is shocking. Like, any time you’re about to spend a lot of money, it’s shocking. And we did talk, like, right up until Christmas, almost before we fully committed, we could do other things, like we could buy a vacation home. We could be doing this; we could be doing that. Is this something that’s going to improve our quality of life? And for Justin and I, 100%, we’re home bodies. We like to have people over; we like to feel comfortable in our home. And even in our previous places where they weren’t our forever places, we always needed a sense of comfort and pleasing aesthetic because our environment majorly impacts our mental health. So, for us, it’s money well spent. We are so pumped and excited to do this. I’m grateful, really.
The decisions that you made, though, throughout the design and the project where you had that in the back of your head that you were going to be living here for a very long time. Like, if this was like you said before, right, if this was a rental, you’re maybe living five to ten years. Your decisions would have been 100% different.
At one point during the design, we were talking about plumbing fixtures, and we went back and forth, a lot of that because I was like, oh, Skyla, like, these are way out of our budget. Are you sure you want that? But then you guys, knowing that those are important things that you use every day, you decided that you wanted to spend a little bit more. You’re going to be living in there for a long time. Like, it’s your forever home, like you.
Said, well, we want to invest in quality stuff because we’ve done different quality in the past and it doesn’t last that long. We’ve done a few Ikea projects and it’s like, oh, we need to redo them in a few years. It’s just for us at this point, it made sense.
Yeah. When you hire a great interior designer and builder, they’ll be able to lead you to those decisions as well as, like, maybe if you spend a bit more money on this, it seems to maybe give you a little bit of a heart palpitation. But if you are using the thing a lot, like maybe a doorknob or the tap or something, you might want to put more money into it because it’s going to last you longer in the long run and then also save you a bit more money at the end of the day instead of having to replace that tap every two years.
Yeah, for sure. Even to have Karen Alex’s insider expertise, just because something is a little pricier doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the qualities there. So, they know the products we don’t know. We just do our internet research and go down the rabbit hole and then call Cara to get her opinion or Alex. So, it’s totally invaluable having professionals guide the project.
On that note, we always like to remind our listeners the value of working with the professionals. Head to www.havan.ca/find-a-professional to source trusted local home builders, designers and trades, as well as suppliers for your next project. To access the podcast, just click on the podcast button at the top of the page. Thank you so much, Skyla and Justin. It’s been great getting to know you and hear your backstory. Selling, buying and planning a full home renovation is no small feat, especially during a pandemic. Justin and Cara next episode will be focusing on the project planning pre-construction stage. I love the stage. As things start to get real, we all have large Pinterest dreams, myself included, so I’m looking forward to hearing how the burdens dreams meet reality when the designer, the builder, and the required engineers all come together. I’m guessing there’s going to be a little bit of a reality check, but we’ll have to wait and see until next episode and get the details.
Measure Twice, Cut Once is grateful to our podcast partners FortisBC and Ethical Flooring. Their support helps us share expert knowledge and resources with families looking to build, design and renovate the home right for you. Ethical Flooring is located in North Vancouver and specializes in the supply and installation of brand-named flooring for residential renovations and custom-built homes. And the BC Energy Step Code Program is a provincial standard, moving the entire homebuilding industry forward to build homes to better energy efficiency standards, which means better health, comfort and safety. Be sure to check out www.Betterhomesbc.ca or talk to your renovator or builder for the latest energy rebates and resources. If you’ve enjoyed this episode or have a friend or family member looking to renovate, be sure to share this podcast. Simply by following and sharing the podcast, you will be entered in to win a Napoleon Prestige P 500 stainless steel natural gas barbecue valued at $1,549. Compliments of Fortis BC Season 4’s real time reno has real resources we can all learn from. See you next time.