Originally a fisherman’s cottage with sweeping views and an open, spacious plan, charming Bees Nest was renovated by Westport Architecture in 2014 to suit the owner’s relaxed lifestyle and won our Building Design Award that year.

Fit for a Queen

Sometimes during the course of a project all the right people and ideas come together so perfectly that a kind of magic happens. Such was the case for Bees Nest, a renovation project that left our judges glittering with excitement.

Upon retirement from her business, the Frog & Onion Pub in Dockyard, owner Carol West gave herself a present: an extensive renovation of her cottage overlooking Harrington Sound. Purchased in 1984, the old fisherman’s cottage had undergone some minor renovations in the past but the house no longer suited West and her flair for entertaining.

“During the design phase, Carol was very good at visualising and understanding the plans,” said Tripp West of Westport Architecture. “She has owned the house since the early 80s and had done a number of improvements and renovations but basically she was working with old additions that were added on out of necessity and not very well thought out. I gave her a proposal that recommended we peel back the layers to the original fisherman’s cottage, which was the best part of the house architecturally. From this point, we designed and built a house that met her requirements and was in keeping with the original building. One can tell that it was added on to over a period of time but we respected the original structure.”

The team, which included talented contractors Travis and Frank Lewis of F. Lewis Maintenance, began by demolishing the two wings on either side of the cottage the dark and dreary primary bedroom wing and a Perspex-roofed sunroom that functioned as part of the entrance and semi-outside living space, but constantly leaked.

“We demolished the walls down to the slab and rebuilt everything,” said Tripp West. “It was too hard to line up bad existing roof lines that had been attempted unsuccessfully years before. I worked out these details with Travis Lewis and we both agreed that making the structure and design as simple as possible would result in the best space.”

Westport took this opportunity to completely integrate the indoor/outdoor space in the entrance into the main house while still giving it the light and airy feel of a sunroom. “With a full Bermuda roof above the front door from the road and very tall and elegant collapsing doors leading out onto the terrace, the room now has a wonderful amount of natural light and plenty of breeze blowing through,” Tripp said.

One enters Bees Nest directly from the roadside where only the roofline is visible. This rather unassuming entrance belies the spacious home below and the incredible views enjoyed from almost every room.

“I feel that a good piece of architecture is a house that looks small and modest from the exterior and when someone enters, they are surprised at the space they find,” he continued. “There is an element of surprise at Bees Nest and no one can tell from the road that this cottage has all of the interior space and sweeping views of the Sound. It‚ about 2,000 square feet and feels much larger and more spacious than it actually is. This has all to do with the voluminous ceilings.”

Those voluminous ceilings have become synonymous with the architectural firm over the last few years, with many dubbing such a ceiling a “Westport ceiling”. Not necessarily a new design, but rather a different technique to enhance the volume of a Bermuda roof, Westport works with a steep roof pitch creating a wonderful space underneath and instead of covering this space with a traditional tray ceiling, they leave it open. Tripp explains: “We dont have to hide a lot of mechanical in the ceilings so we have engineered the structure of the roof to take the minimal number of collar ties (cross beams), which opens up the space inside. We plaster to the ridge board of the roof and for a room that‚ just 14 feet wide, it is incredible how much larger it feels when it has this volume. One has to be careful though because this space can be cluttered up with too many collar ties. We have designed these ceilings to carry the weight with the least amount of structure.”

A more modest version of the Westport ceiling was used in the primary bedroom, which Carol once called the black hole adding volume to the average-sized room, while double French doors serve to further open up the room to the views beyond.

“Looking at the floor plans, I wanted to keep the size of each room proportional,” Tripp said. “The main living room has a much taller ceiling but the space is comparable to the other rooms. Also, because we didnt have hallways to connect the rooms, we have to cross one room to get to another. This is usually not a good design solution but in this case, the building being a small cottage, this works. The openness and flow were very important to making this a successful renovation.”

Other elements of the renovation include the surprisingly small galley kitchen for an owner who loves to entertain. However, designed to be highly efficient and with a window into the main living space, the kitchen is just perfect for Carol. “The galley kitchen was not in the original plan but once Carol saw the house beginning to take shape, she decided it was time to address this,” said Tripp. “We completely gutted the space and realised that there was a very bad moisture problem as it was under the road. Also, the shed roof of the kitchen was too low for most people so I decided to raise the roof up in the main working area of the kitchen (by the sink, range and serving area). We did not pitch a roof but rather created a parapet roof with a skylight.

“For a small kitchen, the high ceiling in the work space makes it feel quite spacious. Travis custom built the cabinets and Aptech installed the countertop. It’s a great working kitchen for entertaining. Guests can hang out in the main room but the chef can feel part of the group because of the large openings into the space.”

Creating living spaces on the exterior of the house was another important aspect of the renovation. A closed-in porch off the main cottage was opened back up into a traditional verandah at the suggestion of Westp
ort and has since become Carol’s favourite spot. “I call it my grey room,” she said. It is a favourite of Tripp‚ too.

“My favourite space is probably the verandah because I know Carol loves it,” he said. “This was not accepted originally until I pointed out that the space was original and closed in years before. A verandah is the best part of a Bermuda house and unfortunately so many people close them in for extra space when, in fact, they dont work well once they become interior. Furniture doesnt fit and feels awkward. The proportions are wrong. We opened up the space and extended it and although it‚ not huge, it‚ an intimate space that is the main focal point of that side of the house.”

The collaboration and complete trust between the owner, architects and contractors was equally impressive. At every opportunity they praised each other for their innovative solutions to the difficult challenges for a renovation on such a unique site.

“Travis and Frank Lewis were amazing on this project,” said Tripp. “Everywhere was a building site and we had so little room to work. Their team would demolish an old section of the house and drive the equipment and machinery into that space and set up shop. Once they built a building around it, they would back out and seal up. I remember Travis created a window that isnt there today for everyone to enter the house from the road. That was just created for access and once he backed out of the site, it was blocked up. Very smart, simple solutions that made the project run flawlessly.”

Equally impressive was the time line: the entire renovation was completed inside of six months. Of course, having the perfect client helps. “The client was amazing. She trusted us to do our job,” said Tripp. “Carol was quick to make quick and good decisions and the relationship between the architect, client and contractor was excellent. Such a pleasure to work on this project and it will go down as one of our favourites.”

It was certainly our judges’ favourite, too. “Bees Nest nailed it with the spatial relationships where everything flowed together and everything was in the right place,” commented one of our judges. “Space planning is always underappreciated because when it is done right you dont notice it except that everything feels comfortable. This is what put Bees Nest first over the line for me.”