House Beautiful: The great glass room project

Glass Rooms

Stepping into the home of Bobbi and Don Johannessen is a surprise — which no amount of curb appeal prepares a visitor for.

The front garden is large and attractive, with a metal fence, gate and sweeping circular drive, which sets the scene for an interesting home, but once inside there is a visual effect that’s breathtaking — a great room made of glass.

It overlooks a spacious back garden and the north end of Cordova Bay and is extravagantly long, stretching the full width of the house and measuring four metres wide and 25 metres long.

Not only is there a wall of glass facing the ocean, but above it are row upon row of glass panes through which the sun or moon can pour.

One might assume the owners are engineers or architects? But no, they just had a bold idea.

Bobbie is a former primary school teacher and Don started as a teacher (that’s how they met), but went on to become a lawyer and then a wastewater company owner.

“The home was originally built in 1963 and we have extensively remodelled it over a long period of time,” he said with a chuckle. “At one point, we began to remodel what we’d already remodelled.”

The one-acre garden is another large and ongoing project — “This year we’re doing mulch,” he said — which has taken shape over the decades and is being featured on the Victoria Conservatory of Music’s garden tour on Mother’s Day weekend (see sidebar).

It contains more than 100 rhodos and azaleas, two ponds, meandering pathways, a broad patio at the back of house with a row of large awnings, and two viewing decks down by the 60 metres of waterfront.

“When we first moved here in 1971 there was just a huge lawn, and at the bottom of the garden, a lot of brambles, blackberries and wild roses so thick we couldn’t get down to the beach.”

But Don was added that was good, as it meant they didn’t have to fix somebody else’s mistakes or re-create the landscape. They could design and build from the ground up. “This is where I spent all my Saturdays when I was still working.”

Now he and Bobbie spend time almost every day in the garden, and a helper comes for three hours a week to mow lawns and do a few chores.

It was not easy to find a builder who could manifest what the Johannessens envisioned for the ocean side of their house.

“It took years to find the right person, and I was busy working at the time and didn’t get round to it. … So it was something we did when I retired.”

One builder, who looked at the scope of work years ago, scratched his head and said doubtfully: “You’ll need to put in a steel beam with all that glass.”

That was pretty obvious, said Don, who taught for nine years, practised law for 12, and then co-founded Peninsula Waste Water Services in 19978. It handled garbage, waste and hazardous materials from all the visiting cruise ships and the graving dock.

Eventually the Johannessens found a company that would take on the great glass room project and the resulting hall has 12 windows measuring two metres square, and a glass roof with 66 panes. The vast tiled floor is heated by radiant hot water and the whole project cost about $300,000.

Bobbi explained the former kitchen, which used to face the driveway, is now a bar room, with a full wall of built-in cabinets and roll out drawers. “This is Don’s man cave.”

And her new kitchen now faces the sunroom and water. It is the same size as the former one, but seems much larger because of the open aspect and larger island.

They created a second, smaller kitchen downstairs, in what used to be the laundry room, recycling all the cabinets. Also downstairs they tore out all the walls and added insulation to make it warm and comfortable, and installed in-floor heat.

“I love to cook here,” said Bobbi of her new kitchen with its bright yellow stove.

“I have a warming drawer, three ovens, six burners, lots of cupboards and drawers.” They both enjoy entertaining and have often lend their home for community gatherings and events.

Behind two large doors is a pantry with 15 roll-out shelves, and in the island is a butcher block slab that they bought years ago and had installed there.

“We live in the garden and the sunroom,” said Bobbi, who said the sun room is not only gorgeous during the day, but also at night when it is flooded with moonlight, as during the recent full moon. In the winter they enjoy the old living room, which has a cosy gas fireplace.

She explained when they first lived in the house, after moving here from the Fraser Valley almost 50 years ago, the home had a very small sunroom on the waterside, where they had coffee and sat to look out at the ocean.

It struck the two of them that this was an idea worth expanding upon, and so they did, many years later.