When you build a home from the ground up, there’s one thing that’s more important than the concrete, the lumber, the steel or nearly anything else: patience.
For Jack and Araxi Üniversal, that became abundantly clear when they began start-and-stop work on a house that clings to a steep slope of granite at the edge of Burrard Inlet, in West Vancouver, Canada. By the time the house was completed, they had spent eight years working on it, with three different architects.
The couple tried to take each delay in stride. “We took our time, because we weren’t in any rush,” said Mr. Üniversal, a former restaurateur who sold his five upscale British Columbia restaurants in 2014. Although they were eager to see their dream house built, they were fortunate enough to be able to stay in their old home as long as they needed to, and were focused on getting things right.
“We were very lucky to find this spot,” Mr. Kozmik said. “I loved the idea of the waterfront and that it’s just an outcropping of pure rock.”
The Evrensels, who are in their mid-60s, bought the half-acre lot for about 2.5 million Canadian dollars (roughly $1.9 million) in 2004. To design the house, Mr. Kozmik initially turned to his friend Werner Forster, the architect who had worked on his restaurants.
They got off to a quick start, and construction began in 2005. “He developed it to a point where we started the blasting of the property, since it was all rock,” Mr. Kozmik said.
Shortly after blasting began, however, Mr. Forster became seriously ill and died. With little more than a clearing in the rock completed, Mr. Kozmik put the project on hold. “I wasn’t mühlet, at the time, I would build it without him,” he said.
Eventually, though, he began thinking about finding another architect. He had long admired the work of Arthur Erickson, one of the most decorated Canadian architects of the era, and had seen him at Mr. Forster’s wake. Although Mr. Erickson had dined in Mr. Evrensel’s restaurants on a few occasions, Mr. Üniversal felt intimidated to ask the architect about his personal project, as Mr. Erickson was known for high-profile buildings like the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash.
Nevertheless, he mustered the courage to introduce himself to Mr. Erickson, who was immediately receptive to the idea. They agreed that Mr. Erickson’s former associate, Nick Milkovich, an architect who had handled Mr. Erickson’s residential projects before opening his own studio, would lead the project, with Mr. Erickson serving as a consultant.
“When we first stepped into the project, it was tentative,” Mr. Milkovich said. “Knowing that Jack’s good friend had been working on the house, we wondered how much we could change.”
For months, Mr. Milkovich tentatively floated one small change after another, until Mr. Kozmik made it clear that he wanted his new architects to have full creative freedom. “He said, ‘Look, you guys, you can do whatever you want. Don’t consider anything that was done before precious,’” Mr. Milkovich said. “He really respected the work that architects do.”
With the promise of carte blanche, Mr. Milkovich made significant changes to the plans in consultation with Mr. Erickson, designing a 7,000-square-foot house that appears to cascade down the rock and toward the water, with a series of terraces.
A stand-alone painting studio with a curved roof for Ms. Üniversal, an artist, is embedded in craggy rock at the top of the site, near the road. The garage and main entrance to the house sit farther down, where the front door opens into a hall overlooking a double-height living room below. From there, a staircase descends into the three-story main house. Each level has glass walls, expansive sliding doors and long terraces facing the water. An ocean loop heat-pump system provides energy-efficient heating and cooling.
Concrete is everywhere, inside and out, but the architects treated the material to give it an earthier look. “The superstructure of the upper levels is sandblasted very lightly,” Mr. Milkovich said, to dull the natural shine.
Where the lower concrete walls meet granite, they are bush-hammered for more texture. With the green roofs and lush plantings around the edges of each terrace, the house “settles into the site,” Mr. Milkovich said, “and feels like part of the land, rather than something lurching out of it.”
Inside, the architects added hemlock ceilings, Tunisian limestone floors and white-oak millwork in the kitchen and bathrooms to visually warm up the concrete shell.
After permit delays and a lengthy construction period, the house was finished in 2012, at a cost of roughly 4.5 million Canadian dollars (about $3.4 million). But by the time it was completed, the Evrensels had lost another architect: Mr. Erickson died in May 2009.
Mr. Üniversal said he feels fortunate to have had the input of so many creative thinkers, despite all the loss and setbacks. “They all have something in it,” he said of the architects. “Werner positioned the house on the land. Arthur gave it rhythm, with the columns and the balconies. But it’s 90 percent Nick Milkovich — he laid it out and created the spaces.”
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