Retired couple heads for Treetops
Leave U.S. to live within Canada
EMVisit our website under the heading, ‘Rec Properties,’ for more stories and photo galleries. rin O’Neill Berg and Mel Berg had no desire to leave their beloved home in Illinois — until they came to Victoria, B.C., to visit their daughter.
Erin knew she would move to Vancouver Island from the moment she set eyes on what is now the couple’s retirement home in Dean Park.
The view of the Olympic Mountains and the surrounding treetops won their hearts, and from the moment they moved in four years ago, home has been called Treetops.
Erin, from Ontario, and Mel, from Saskatchewan, met and married in Toronto almost 41 years ago and have had home bases in Toronto and Illinois. Not fully retired since his career as a Deloitte partner, Mel is a practice review officer for the Institute for Chartered Accountants of B.C.
He is also a consultant to the centre for financial reporting reform in Vienna for the World Bank.
“After retiring as a special-education teacher, I was a real estate broker in Toronto and liked to fix up houses,” says Erin. Erin is never without a project, the last one being a result of her decision to earn a BA in language and literature from the University of Toronto.
“This 20-year-old house is my retirement project,” she says.
Progress has slowed a little in the last two years as Erin dealt with hip replacement surgery.
Wide doorways give an open feel and good views to the abundance of art on every wall.
Yaacov Agam, one of the artists in Erin and Mel’s collection, has large public pieces all over the world. “He is a master of kinetic art with a very unusual life story,” says Erin.
“Our home is full of stories,” she says, as she points to her displayed wedding dress in the piano room where she loves to read. A piece of music from the 14th century is framed near the piano. And an 1890 land document is framed simply because “it is old and beautiful.”
Furniture from the couple’s house in Illinois and their apartment in Toronto has filled Treetops.
Erin has an unusual hand collection — ceramic, wood, glass, and cloth. “I love hands because they symbolize the way we connect to each other,” she says. Near the hand collection sits a picture of Erin with Norman Jewison, celebrating a fundraising success; and beside it, Erin’s framed, first pension cheque. “I like getting money for getting old,” she says.
A print of bright orange flowers, bought from a street artist in San Francisco and set in an orange frame that Erin designed, dominates a simple washroom.
Curved corners in the plaster walls are a tandem feature to the many interesting lines and curves in the cosy furniture and counter tops. The open-concept kitchen is white, bright and gleaming.
The master bedroom has duvets rolled up the way Erin has seen them in Norway. She calls them “body bags” and explains that they work well for Mel’s long 6’5” frame. Mirror-image his-and-hers ensuite bathrooms are side by side.
Mel’s mother died recently, but her room is still freshly made with a pretty handmade bedspread from Chile. Erin’s first doll and “old best friend” — now 70 years old — sits on the bed.
The library, the exercise room, the Swedish sauna (made by Jack, the “King of Handymen”) and the wine cellar are the rooms without a view. The wine cellar is painted Charleston-green — a combination of black and forest green — and in one corner is a tub of wine corks attached to fond memories.
“We love wine,” Mel says. “Whenever we enjoy a particularly special bottle, we deliver the empty to a little part of the garden we call our wine-bottle graveyard.”
A stack of 18 wooden cigar boxes is used as a Christmas tree when Erin places some beads and lights on it.
Mel and Erin love to entertain, and outdoor heaters make for a cosy covered patio terrace where parties usually begin. The art hanging by the terrace is called Sax Fish Avenue — named to spoof the New York store.
“This is my own secret garden,” Erin says as she moves beyond the terrace to the side of the house. With its stone and timber, the secret garden looks like a piece of Ireland. Erin relegated her old cross-country skis to the garden as an ornament rather than throw them out. Her playful sense of art includes recycled joy.
Mel loves the house but acknowledges that Erin is the design talent. He is the tech guy who loves golf and curling.
They share a love of photography and travel and hope to do some boating now that Mel has taken the power squadron course.
“I don’t like traditional window dressing very much, so I had this stained glass designed in place of curtains,” says Erin. “It contains the story of our family — with three white diamond shapes in the centre, symbolizing our equal family units: mother, father and daughter.
“The yellow for canola fields of Saskatchewan, the blue for the ocean that we love, green for Ireland, and red for our love.”
“We will never move,” says Erin, “I love the view, the house, the privacy and even the rain,” says Erin. “And I always love coming home,” Mel says.
Above, a covered terrace on the lower patio level. Right, steps lead to a secret garden.
The Jacuzzi room with a seat and bookcase beside the tub.