654 Lower Cres., Squamish, B.C.
Asking Price: $1,260,000
Taxes: $4,404 (2020)
Lot Size: irregular, ¼-acre
Agent: Leslie McConnell, Engel & Volkers Vancouver
Ten years ago, Trent Stewart was heartbroken and in need of some drastic change. A work colleague told him about a unique opportunity to buy into a community once owned by the operators of the Britannia Mine near Squamish B.C.
The massive copper mine had been shut down for decades, but a collection of long-time rental, single-family houses on the winding Lower Crescent were being converted to occupant ownership. The resident who lived at an early 1900s schoolhouse that had been moved up the mountain in the 1950s wasn’t going to be able to buy into the scheme.
Mr. Stewart knew he was taking on a big project. “[It was] really in rough shape. It had drop ceilings; the floors were rotting out,” he said. “But it had this incredible view of Howe Sound.” Over a box of cigars and a sociable evening with the owner, he made a deal.
Mr. Stewart took over the schoolhouse with a vision inspired by 1980s television.
“There was this show Stingray. [The main character] used to drive his car into this really industrial looking apartment through his garage door. I always have looked at lofts and I love that architecture,” Mr. Stewart said. “I decided to pick this place up and pour my sadness into this. [I] thought, ‘I’m going to make my Stingray pad.’”
Stingray starred Canadian actor Nick Mancuso and ran for two years on NBC between 1985-1987, making it one of less successful projects of writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell, who created long-running hits such as The Rockford Files, The A-Team and 21 Jump Street. The main character, Ray, drove a 1965 Corvette Stingray, and was sort of a trouble-shooting detective who collected favours from his clients rather than money. Mr. Stewart also collected and cashed in a lot of favours as he spent the next decade building his Stingray-inspired pad, which does have a garage door in the central space – but sadly, not one you can drive a Corvette into.
“I’ve never swung a hammer before I bought this place," Mr. Stewart said. “I didn’t do all this myself – I had people who helped me along the way.” The first order of business was to gut what was a three-bedroom bunkhouse back to the studs, while retaining as much of the original fir timber inside for later use.
Mr. Stewart lived there throughout the transformation, using a sawhorse and plywood for kitchen counters and getting water from the tub for months on end. “It was worth it; every night I’d have a big bonfire and I’d burn all the crap I was pulling out and watch the sunset,” he said. “I’m not a wealthy person, I’m a sound recorder [in the commercial side of the film industry, selling ‘beer and potato chips’]. It took me 10 years to do it because I wouldn’t settle; I wanted to keep it authentic to the schoolhouse.”
The result is a mix of period authenticity, warm wood finishes and liberal sprinkling of steel to add strength and simplicity.
The house today
From the street, the house keeps a low profile, basically just a big driveway with rows of cedars blocking views to the side-yard. The small honey-colour porch is set off against the red-painted wood siding with cream trim and looks cottagey and quaint. If you go through the fence gate the space opens up and everything is oriented to embrace those unbeatable views of Howe Sound. The landscaping is pebbles and planters. “I spent some time in the desert with the heartache, and I really like that Palm-Springy, low maintenance [look]; lots of rocks. The forest is everywhere; I wanted to tame it a little bit,” Mr. Stewart said.
Through the interior door, the one-room schoolhouse shows almost everything it has in one glance.
Directly ahead is the kitchen. The cabinets are all lowers except for an antique hutch. The countertops are wood reclaimed from the renovation. All the windows are trimmed in the same reclaimed fir, and the steel and glass garage door that opens to the outside also has reclaimed wood accents. Off to the right is a den-sized living room, with a door to one of the two rear decks.
There’s one bedroom on this level, sectioned off behind the kitchen with dormer-windows on the top of the walls that let the light in and preserve the view of the vaulted ceiling. “They hid these beautiful tongue and groove fir ceilings. I put so much effort into that ceiling, it’s just beautiful,” Mr. Stewart said.
A pair of pocket doors rescued from a Vancouver mansion demolition are mounted barn-door style on steel rails to close the room. Next to it another rescued door is mounted on a different rail for the bathroom. On a penny-tile floor is a vanity made out of an antique dresser and a claw-foot tub with a ceiling-mounted hoop for the shower curtain. The bedroom and bathroom have waist-high wainscotting made out of more rescued wood.
In the corner across from the bathroom is a wood-burning fireplace, just next to that is another exterior door that opens onto a small side deck and sitting area, a few steps away from this is a separated steam sauna set into the forested embankment.
When the garage door is open, the floor space extends uninterrupted from the kitchen to the deck and yard facing the Sound. This space was imagined as a place for live music, Mr. Stewart said.
“I wanted it to be a place where I had a band on the deck,” he said. To that end, parts of the kitchen fold away to make more dancefloor space, and everything is “overbuilt” to be able to support a large cohort of dancers and musicians. “I never had the full band, [but] I’ve had musician friends over; small little hootenannies. I was very social, I wanted to share it with people. Over time, I’ve become a bit more of a recluse, especially during this last bit of time.”
Almost equidistant from Vancouver and Whistler, in non-pandemic times, Squamish had become something of a stop-over for tourists. Once an admittedly “rough” town, it has grown more family friendly, and the number of children at Halloween grows every year, Mr. Stewart says.
To profit from the town’s growing popularity, Mr. Stewart has renovated his basement, creating a modern income suite with a separate entrance.
“I finished that in … January, I had my first [short-term] rental and then the last rental was on March 15 when things were already getting a little hairy. Then [COVID-19] shut that door down, that revenue stream,” he said.
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