Stone circle at the Stonehouse B&B on Saltspring Island. Don Denton photograph

Art and Views in Equal Measure at Stonehouse Bed and Breakfast

Salt Spring Island visitors can enjoy the character and comfort

  • Sep. 6, 2018 2:20 p.m.

When I first get to the Stonehouse Bed and Breakfast on Salt Spring Island, I quickly find myself alone as my travelling companions — Pearl’s Don Denton and Lia Crowe — trek

outside to seek out exterior photo opportunities.

Left to my own devices, I’m drawn to the selection of books balanced along the low stone windowsill of the great room; I spot a Mark Twain biography as thick as my ankle and a hefty stack of New Yorker magazines. The well-worn leather furniture is regal but comfortably opulent, in a way that invites you to nestle in and tuck your feet up.

Positioned in a place of honour behind me is an exquisite Bösendorfer grand piano, and as I am alone, I can’t resist laying my fingers on its keys.

I plunk out the first few bars to Bach’s “Suite No. 1 prelude” and listen as the notes resonate out and up into the open space. Already, I feel like this place has a particular personality all its own.

View of the great room at Stonehouse B & B on Saltspring Island. Don Denton photograph.

When owner John Lefebvre appears, he shakes my offered hand, then pulls me in for a “West Coast” hug. Despite the impressive surrounding architecture, almost immediately we start talking about the art that inhabits the place. Three life-size terra cotta sculptures of women in various poses of submersion hang suspended from the ceiling in the great room, the work of Salt Spring artist Kathy Venter. They’re fascinating in their movement and sheer size, and how they take up such space and yet aren’t the dominating force in the room.

Looking around, much of the art is figurative: a soapstone woman lying beneath the piano, a subtly toned painting of a geisha tucked into the hall and a compelling piece hanging in the kitchen that I cannot take my eyes from. A portrait of a pair of legs, the painting is full of rich earth tones and crimson flowers strewn at the base. The flesh of the legs at their unfinished tops seems almost petal-like, with fluttery edges, while below it’s pierced through at odd, surgical angles with branches.

The artist, fellow Salt Spring Islander Leanne Brusatore, had been involved in a car accident which irreparably damaged her legs, John tells me.

“When I met her, she was considering having one of them removed,” he says. “This is her artistic rendition of trying to heal her ruined legs the natural way.”

It’s at once beautiful and deeply unsettling, a combination John is often drawn to in his ongoing pursuit of art. And to have it hanging front and centre in the kitchen speaks to his predilection for bold design choices.

View of the great room at Stonehouse B & B on Saltspring Island. Don Denton photograph.

As we move into discussing the renovation and the building itself, I note there are a number of aspects which, taken individually, seem like they would lean toward being overwhelming: the steel wall studded with rivets surrounding the fireplace; the five-foot-tall, iron-framed lantern laced with cow hide hanging from the peak of the vaulted ceiling; the sharp-edged iron blades reminiscent of fish bones, and the heavy, dark wooden beams overhead.

Some of the decisions did give him momentary pause, admits John.

“I think people tend to back away [from design choices] when they get that feeling,” he says.

But instead, he pressed forward, and the result is a space that has a distinct, bold personality.

Looking around, I think one of the reasons it works so well is because of the abundance of heavy, grounding materials in combination with so much open space.

Panorama room at Stonehouse B & B on Saltspring Island. Don Denton photograph.

During the renovation process (which took several years after John bought the property in 2006), two walls were removed from the main building to drastically open up the space, and reinforcing steel was added throughout the structure. Tiles were stripped from the floors, and the concrete beneath ground and polished.

Outside, the stone exterior — which had previously only extended several feet up the walls — had its flat top layer taken off, and local stonemason Ron Crawford then took the stone to the rooflines, giving the building the old-world feel John wanted.

“I wanted to give the sense of structure, of space and capacity,” he says. “I wanted it to seem like the structural elements were visible.”

And just as the interior art informs so much of the aesthetic, so too do the installations outside.

Set directly in the middle of the walkway to the main entrance is a narrow, carved basalt column, slowing down the approach to the building. Flanking the outer stone walls are two enormous bronze statues of empty, kneeling kimonos, at once meditative and sorrowful, a way to honour the Japanese-Canadians who had much of this land confiscated.

Stone circle and dragon sculpture at Stonehouse B & B on Saltspring Island. Don Denton photograph.

Perhaps most alluring though, is the stone circle a little ways from the main building. In the stark sunlight of this windy spring day, these 13 stone structures — some over 16 feet high — stand as silent figures, passively observing the goings-on at the bed and breakfast, offering a further respite from the already relaxed atmosphere of the island.

Inspired by John’s encounters with stone monuments while travelling England, the columns are built of several chunks of stone each, ground to fit over countless hours until each has its own unique shape and identity.

“It was a beautiful way to honour stillness and silence,” says John as we stand in the midst of the circle, just next to a smaller ring of eight stones within called The Witnesses.

Gazing out over the Stonehouse, the view, the circle, John muses: “What I really wanted to achieve was to establish a contemplative escape-type of retreat. Our guests come to quickly appreciate it’s about stillness and thoughtfulness.”

And in that moment, I’m again alone, feeling the reassuring solidity of the earth beneath and the standing stones, breathing in the quiet. And I know exactly what he’s talking about.

-Story by Angela Cowan

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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