BC Bluff House

BC Bluff House

Coastal Project  |  Town of Gibsons B.C.
An architect embraces the challenge of building a new home for his family, using customizable and efficient Ultra Series windows from Kolbe to shape countless views through a unique coastal landscape.
rear exterior of home

Perched on the Sunshine Coast’s bluffs in the Town of Gibsons, British Columbia, you can see across Átl'ka7tsem/Howe Sound to Keats Island. Located directly west of Vancouver, the area was made famous by the long-running Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) television series, The Beachcombers. More recently, it has become a recognized United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Biosphere Region and is home to whales, sea lions, grizzly bears, deer, eagles, and other wildlife.

Residents cherish their panoramic views of the scenery. While the community is known for its hardiness, building atop the bluffs is an endeavor best left to professionals. One such site – a steeply sloped, rocky slice of land – was bought and sold, but remained undeveloped and derelict since the 1960s. At long last, the property was purchased in 2018 by James Tuer and his wife, Jackie.

With an imaginative artistic vision, informed architectural expertise, and commitment to sustainable design, the couple brought to life a compact, 2,000-square-foot multi-level house with captivating coastal views. They also incorporated a separate 400-square-foot Airbnb suite with a separate entrance.

400-square-foot Airbnb suite with a separate entrance

As the principal of JWT Design Ltd., James Tuer, AIA, MAIBC, MBCSLA, LEED AP, provides architectural, planning and landscape design services. His style combines elements of traditional and contemporary architecture with emphases on regionalism, innovation and sustainability. He selected regional Douglas Fir for the home’s timber features and a tropical Coco wood for the feature stair treads, feature landing and bench. Site-fabricated metal was chosen for the siding and roofing, and custom-crafted, high-performance Kolbe Ultra Series units for the windows and doors.

Building on the Bluffs in BC

Applying more than 20 years of professional experience in solving design challenges, Tuer successfully tackled building a home on the bluffs. Adding to his professional credentials, the province required Tuer to pass an exam to serve as the general contractor on his own home.

“The lot was passed over, which presented an incredible opportunity for us. I’ve built on steep lots before, and this one certainly was a challenging build,” Tuer explained. Along with the steep site, available materials and qualified labor were in short supply. Once construction began, Tuer was at the jobsite every day for 18 months.

Aerial view of Bluff House

“When we started, the lot was filled with 6-foot-tall blackberry brambles and thorn bushes. We took it down to the bare bedrock to see what we were dealing with,” he recalled. “But we didn’t blast; we added.” Soil was brought to the site to support the terraced landscaping.

The site’s shape is not only vertically pitched, but also trapezoidal in shape with the front being wider than the back and the street frontage stretching 120 feet. In recent years, a 90-foot-long, 12-foot-tall retaining wall was constructed which allowed for this new house to have a driveway with easement.

Coastal, Custom Concept House

While adapting to the site was challenging, Tuer didn’t lose sight of his unique vision.

“It’s a concept house. You wouldn’t typically see a house like this here,” acknowledged Tuer. “It’s more similar to what you would find as a vertical, mixed-use infill in an urban neighborhood. The courtyard concept is much more common in tropical climates. It connects to gardens, the ocean views with North Shore Mountains as the backdrop, the night sky, and the abundant nature.”

He elaborated, “It’s carefully positioned due east and west to screen the neighbors’ houses and to maximize two different views along the main axis. In one direction, you have views of the shore and mountains, and to the other, we have the peninsula’s rocky, forested landscape. Because of the height we have absolutely stunning views of the Sound and the frequent whale sightings.”

View of patio, large direct-set window with ledge and floating steps.

Framing these thoughtfully curated views, Kolbe Ultra Series windows and doors were customized for 22 different openings. Tuer explained, “We positioned each window to maximize their benefit. I don’t usually go for standard-size windows. I tend to make windows larger than life to capture as much of the view as possible, or I make them the size of a 2-by-2 portrait painting to selectively showcase a focused view.”

To help with his selection and customization, Tuer visited the Kolbe Gallery Vancouver. He shared his compliments saying, “Kolbe’s products are great and the gallery offers a nice, calm, pleasing space in a great location. It’s laid out well and it presents the windows and doors in an environment where you can imagine what they’d look like in your home. You can touch and feel the physical samples and see the different hardware options. Everything about Kolbe is high quality, including their after-market service.”

Naturally Illuminated, Independent, Interconnected Interiors

From its base, the structure rises four levels with four independent, interconnected spaces designed specifically for Tuer, Jackie, and their dog, Daisy. Communal zones make it convenient to host their three grown children and other visitors. The main bedroom sits on top with an en suite bath with crank-out casement windows strategically oriented for natural ventilation. The lowest level is dedicated as work-from-home office space and showcases large French doors to expand the room’s boundaries to the outdoors.

While doors open to create additional exterior space, windows also extend the exterior walls on the second and third stories. Within these middle stories are a front and side deck, main foyer, living room, kitchen, dining room, bath and rear courtyard. A 5-by-5.5-foot window bumps out the living room for a closer view of the coast. Near the dining room fireplace, a narrow 19-inch-wide by nearly 9-foot-tall window box adds daylight and seamlessly aligns with a tiled wall.

Numerous window sizes and configurations brighten the kitchen. A crank-out casement is combined with a fixed window to create a 4.5-by-6.8-foot span. Behind the counter, an 18-inch-tall by 6-foot-long window offers a transparent backsplash with an exceptional view. Tuer noted, “It’s a stunning detail and a perfect fit.”

spacious kitchen that leads to an indoor-outdoor seating area

An all-wood feature staircase connects the third floor’s kitchen, living and dining areas to the upper story. Before ascending the stairs, a 12-by-3-foot window looks onto the side deck and toward the separate guest suite. The roof angle allows for passive solar heat and daylight to enter through the linear window, warming the heavy fir timber sill and nourishing the indoor plants in cooler weather.

Stepping across the side deck, the detached living space provides a separate guest room and an art studio. As a visual artist, Jackie often makes use of the abundant natural light streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The fixed units are uniquely sized and shaped to follow the angled roofline. Fresh air is provided through French doors perpendicularly positioned to take advantage of ocean air currents. A deep exterior overhang also helps cool and shade the space.

Patio area with expansive openings
True Blue, Sustainable Performance

Given the Northern climate and British Columbia’s cold winter months, Tuer specified Kolbe Ultra Series products with double-glazed ThermaPlus™ low-E glass for high thermal performance.

“Kolbe has a high-tech window system with a clean, well-designed look,” praised Tuer. “We selected the glass coatings that presented the truest possible colors. We’re visual people. Whether the window is open or closed, our blue sky, green plants and white snow look correct. It’s almost an apples-to-apples comparison.”

Large direct-set window with built in ledge

With respect to the area’s high coastal winds, Kolbe’s windows and doors were configured and installed to meet a DP20 design pressure. BetterVue® fiberglass screens keep out insects and add privacy when the windows are open throughout the warmer months. There are no interior corridors to block the breeze through the home.

The high-performance Kolbe windows and doors, extra-thick wall insulation and high-efficiency heating system helped achieve the homeowners’ goals for sustainability and compliance with local codes. They also support the rigorous BC Energy Step Code requirements for energy efficiency.

“Our home is intentionally not very large, but it’s very well planned and energy efficient. The sun comes up, our home heats up to a comfortable temperature, and in the summer, it easily cools down at night,” described Tuer. “Smaller homes are easier to heat and cool. Even on the hottest summer days, you can open up the windows from front to back and it takes about 30 seconds to flush out the heat. In the winter, the wood, tile and drywall absorb the passive solar heat and radiate it throughout the day.”

The high-performance Kolbe windows and doors, extra-thick wall insulation and high-efficiency heating system helped achieve the homeowners’ goals for sustainability
 
 
Synchronized Aesthetics

Like Kolbe’s hand-crafted, durable windows and doors, the home’s painted metal siding and roofing were also hand-fabricated. Complementing the siding’s silver metallic and reflective polar white finish colors, the extruded aluminum-clad exterior framing of Kolbe’s windows and doors was finished with a Timberwolf light gray color. Kolbe relies on high-performance 70% fluoropolymer architectural coatings to meet the necessary requirements for coastal conditions and solar exposure.

For the interior, the framing and trim were crafted using a mixed-grain fir and finished with a clear coat to highlight the warm, natural wood. The square glazing bead and matte black hardware enhance the home’s timeless appearance.

Rear exterior view of Bluff House

“I’ve designed a lot of wood homes but went with metal exteriors and the highest quality finishes for our home particularly because it is so close to the ocean,” said Tuer. “I want it to look brand new 20 years down the road.”

He added, “Timberwolf is a neutral, easy color. I didn’t want the windows to be too busy. Kolbe’s high-end metal windows have a beautiful, clean look. It was a logical decision to use fir on the interior. It’s the wood of choice in this region. It looks great and works well. Kolbe synchronized with the look we wanted on the exterior and on the interior.”

Blending natural colors, materials, ventilation and light with creative ingenuity and professional knowledge, Tuer enjoys British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast from his house on the bluffs. With appreciation, he adds, “Not everyone has a house like this or these wonderful views. It’s truly stunning.”

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