Getting the Details Right

April 22nd, 2009  |  Published in Hot off the press  |  5 Comments

Focus on Women
text by Cherie Thiessen, photography by Tony Bounsall


Jennifer Barr’s Arts and Craft Home

Sometimes a house is more than a home. For Jennifer and Colin Barr, the one and a half storey Craftsman bungalow is their hobby, their passion, their showpiece, and their child. And, like a well loved child, it exudes confidence, a sense of well being, and pride. In 1986, after looking for 8 months for a unique house to accommodate their special interests, the Barrs were delighted to finally find it. Since 1971, they had been hooked on the Arts and Crafts Movement and had become
avid collectors, so they required a house that would showcase their ceramics and metalwork, their books, their furniture and their prints. They also wanted room for 

their offices, and all this had to be found in a Craftsman house. It also had to be affordable, with a good layout and untouched Arts and Crafts woodwork.

A tall order, and they were lucky to fill it in only eight months! Because the house was in North Park, the price was more affordable, and although they weren’t thrilled with the stucco that had been plastered over the building’s exterior in 1947, they felt they could live with that because the interior was perfect for their

"When one of the previous owners (Anita Chow) showed us a photo of the house before the stucco was put on, 

we asked city council to designate it as heritage. "We didn’t want somebody else coming and destroying this house. It’s worth keeping," Jennifer says. That’s an understatement.

Jennifer is a Heritage Consultant and has been the Administrator of the Victoria Heritage Foundation since January, 1987. She has a diploma in Culture Resource Management from the University of Victoria, and her background is impressive.  She’s a  dedicated and ardent heritage advocate, having served on the Hallmark Society Executive for eleven years before

becoming Administrator for the Foundation.  (The Hallmark Society, founded in 1973, is a volunteer advocacy group for Heritage in the capital region.) She’s done research for the Oak Bay and Saanich heritage inventories as well as downtown Victoria’s and has been working on Cumberland’s for the past five and a half years.  

Formed in 1983 to distribute city grant monies to Designated Heritage Houses for the purpose of assisting the restoration and maintenance of their exteriors, The Victoria Heritage Foundation has been invaluable for its support in retaining Victoria’s historic neighbourhoods, discouraging insensitive and inappropriate rehabilitation and the demolition of irreplaceable buildings.

Through prolonging the life of the original structures, it also reduces both the need for new resources and the overuse of landfill sites. If you want to know more about the VHF, you can now access it on Internet:

Although its funding has not changed since1989, Jennifer has nothing but praise for the Foundation. ‘The City is very supportive of the programme. It really is working."  She also tells me that it’s the largest programme of its kind in Canada, as far as she knows, and that it has been proven that the money that the Foundation gives to heritage home owners is returned in taxes to the city and benefits to the community. Benefits like increased tourism, for example,
and neighbourhood pride. People love to take walking tours of heritage buildings, and the Foundation has helped fund several successful printings of walking tour brochures, (James Bay and Fernwood, for example). Presently there are 230 houses that have been designated as heritage buildings.

A meticulous and thorough researcher, Jennifer brought these impressive skills to uncovering the past of her own special house. She and her well known husband, Colin, have lovingly and painstakingly restored this house and she says they’re not nearly finished yet. She can tell you everything you could possibly want to know about the house’s construction, its history, and its architect. Jennifer leaves me in awe – she’s everything that I’m not: she’s a perfectionist, she’s patient, she
works hard and efficiently, and she’s thorough. She’s patient with me, and is happy to take the time to go through my story, ensuring that all the details are right.

"Elmer Ellsworth Green (E.E. Green)..was a Seattle architect who had an office up here for about 2 years. …..In the 1890’s he was the manager of the Giant Powder Works out at Ten Mile Point. By 1905, he had set up in Seattle as an architect. When I did the Saanich heritage buildings inventory I came across the name E.E. Green. We had already bought this house, and I started to wonder if he was the same guy. He was."

How can you tell an E.E. Green designed house? "If you look up at the gables on the outside you’ll see he does enormous gables which sweep down. There are cuts in the ends of the bargeboards and pyramids flattened off on the top where the beam comes through from the attic and supports the bargeboard. And there are other things about his massing and his window types that we could recognize. Hart House on Fairfield Place is the biggest and the best of the E.E. Green designed homes in
Victoria. Craftsman homes have wide eaves, exposed rafter ends, heavy beams on the front porch, oriental looking themes, massing, rocks, clinker bricks, and all sorts of other wonderful Arts and Crafts features."

Jennifer’s research uncovered the house’s past. Its first owners were George and Mary Jane Leach, but the house changed hands within a year and was rented out for over twenty years, at least three times by ministers from the big churches on Quadra. Then the Tong Yens bought the house in 1937. They were well known Victorians, with greenhouses and a thriving flower and vegetable business  in the 700 Block Fort Street. Jennifer contacted the daughter, Anita Chow, and Ms. Chow provided a
lot of information about the house’s history, along with those wonderful photos which showed the outside of the house before the infamous stucco was added.

An Austrian family were the next owners, operating it as a rooming house until the mid seventies, when it suffered a decline, sitting empty for a while and suffering a break in before it passed on to its next owners, Randy and Christine Cheveldave. A movie production manager now living and working in Vancouver, Randy actually used the dining room of the house for a movie starring James Garner (Glitter Dome). Christine Cheveldave is a horticulturist of no small repute. It was
from this couple that the Barrs purchased the house.

The Barrs were dedicated and avid collectors well before they bought this place to accommodate their collections: children’s books from the 1920’s, copies of the Craftsman  magazines going back to 1914, and many wonderful period pieces now have a ideal niche in this 2000 square foot home, perfectly furnished to complement both the collections and the house’s style.

The efforts they went to to get their house just right are amazing. Jennifer believes a good thing is worth waiting for, and will wait as long as necessary.  It took them 18 years to find just the right double bed for the bedroom, an Arts and Crafts piece they were overjoyed to find at Lunds  last March. "We still have a long way to go to get this house just the way we want it," Jennifer tells me, and I have a strong feeling this is a lifetime project.
Then she describes their search to find a carpet for the den. They couldn’t find exactly the right colour and wound up buying five different carpets at various auctions before they finally found the exact colour and texture match they needed. They just couldn’t know for sure until they got it home and tried it! Their exacting standards paid off. That den rug is exactly right.

Entering the house, the dining room is to the left, and the living room to the right, complete with a grand fireplace and furnished in American Arts and Crafts style.

"It’s common in Arts and Crafts houses to have a sitting bench by the fireplace," Jennifer points out as we enter this room. "But we were gypped", she smiles, "There’s no sitting bench in ours. And no picture rail in the hallway, either. There usually is." Another Arts and Crafts feature though,  lots of built in cabinets and shelves, they do have. Like that wonderful sideboard in the formal dining room that I admired.

The den, with its famous rug, is behind the living room. Because Arts and Crafts chairs aren’t necessarily cozy, the Barrs have cheated a little in there and ensconced two comfy family heirloom chairs, one coming from each side of their family.  The half bath downstairs has been beautifully restored, with wonderful nautical tiles, modern reproductions of William De Morgan designs. "I traded a week of work for those tiles at CHARLES RUPERT: THE SHOP." Jennifer tells
me.  She considers it a good trade to get just the look she wants. The tiny sink is the original.

The kitchen gets short shrift from Jennifer. It’s still on the "to be completed" list, so we head upstairs to check out the three bedrooms and enormous bathroom.  It has the original Edwardian ball foot bathtub, Anaglypta wallpaper from Britain that’s been meticulously painted a seablue green, and reddish brown woodwork. The ceiling and wall above the waitscoting is ochre "It’s wonderful to lie in that bathtub with this all around you," Jennifer enthuses,
and I believe her.

I’m curious as to the changes they had to make to restore the interior.
They put back the wainscoting which had been taken out because earlier occupants had thought the dining room was too dark, she tells me, and then the Barrs put up burlap wallpaper, which was commonly used in that period.

"We brought it back from England, 4 double rolls for $13…an absolute bargain. Then we took four years to come up with the tone of colour we wanted.  (Chinese red underneath with a browny maroon over top). You can see the one through the other. That is a very traditional colour for wainscoting. We had to take the boards down and put them back. We like things dark. The Arts and Crafts Movement tends to be dark rather than light, but rich rich colours."  

It took six years to find a set of four lights for the crossing of the beams in the dining room ceiling. The original lights had long since disappeared, and according to Jennifer in those days electricity was such a novelty and lights so soft that home owners were proud to display naked light bulbs.  

Their trips to England usually resulted in the Barrs staggering home with suitcases clinking with tiles and bulging with Liberty fabric and pressed wallpaper. The fireplace tiles were transported in this way, a labour of love. Much of their wallpaper and fabric came via the suitcases as well. Jennifer shows me that the border on her living room wallpaper is Liberty and matches the curtains, in an imitation William Morris design. Credited with being the Founder and the Godhead of the Arts
and Crafts Movement, Morris died in 1886.

Although some storm windows have been added to the front of the house, all of the window sash is original. "The old glass is still in some of the windows too. The ones with the wavy lines." Storm windows were traditional for those times, although they were much thinner for the more moderate west coast. It’s marvelous how those windows cut down on outside noise, I notice.

Carpets were ripped out on the stairs in the main rooms and in the hallway to uncover the original wood, oak with mahogany trim. The rest of the woodwork is fir. The original heating system is still in place, hot water heated by an oil furnace, and circulating in bronzed radiators. "It’s wonderful heat, very clean and thorough," Jennifer assures me.

The house reflects their love of the Arts and Crafts Movement, combining the British and American Movements. Its design, finishing and furnishings have created a living museum of the period. The Barrs think that they found this house, but I wager the house found them. It shines and smurks in every corner.


  1. Gimme A Dream says:

    June 25th, 2009at 7:36 pm(#)

    Very interesting home! I’m enjoying your blog, Cherie!

    Wynn from the Magdalen Islands, twitter and facebook 🙂

  2. Cherie says:

    June 26th, 2009at 11:33 am(#)

    Thanks for all your comments and wonderful to meet you on the magdalenes. On the Pender islands it’s the mink that take our chickens.

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