Erickson’s ‘ Glass House’ restored to former glory
Filberg House was built in 1959 and its contemporary design catapulted the Vancouver architect on to the world stage
COMOX — Doug Field first laid eyes on Filberg House when he was 12 years old.
“ I discovered the glass house quite by accident,” said the current owner, who half a century ago was in no position to even dream about owning the glistening house and its 3.2- hectare grounds.
“ My family was very poor — we were absolute peasants — but I will always remember that day. My cousin Smoky and I were climbing up a trail from the beach below, and suddenly broke out of a thicket and there was this huge domineering glass tower above us. I’ll never forget it. It was like the aliens had just landed.”
Filberg House was built in 1959 for Robert Filberg, son of a logging tycoon, and its contemporary design catapulted Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson on to the world stage. Hailed as the “ most fabulous house” in the country by Canadian Homes magazine in 1961, it is now up for sale for $ 10 million.
Known to locals as the “ Glass House,” it nestles on a waterfront bluff overlooking Comox Bay and has spectacular 270- degree views of Comox Glacier and Georgia Strait. The two- bedroom, twobathroom, 2,525- square- foot home also boasts a 1,200- squarefoot guest cottage, helicopter pad, hangar, 10- car garage and giant eagle’s nest off the main bedroom.
Field, a successful entrepreneur, was disgusted when he saw the house again in 1999, under far less glowing circumstances.
It was up for sale but had been “ desecrated” by the former owner, who objected to so much glass. The owner removed every floor- to- ceiling window — spans of up to seven metres — framed in new walls and small windows and covered the exterior in pink stucco.
“ It was a pink monster,” recalled Field, who was the developer and manufacturer of the Buzz Bomb, Zzinger and Spinnow fishing lures sold around the world by his Courtenaybased company.
He decided to purchase the house, for just under $ 500,000, and spent more than three years restoring it, a labour of passion and commitment that won him many laurels, including an award from the Architectural Institute of B. C.
“ I took out all the walls again and started from scratch, working mostly from old pictures. I talked to Erickson on the phone a couple of times about various materials and he came over when it was just about finished. He was perma- smile, all right.”
“ Not counting my time, I honestly think I put less money into it than the guy before me did ruining it,” said Field, who calls the project a labour of love. Field also said he is going to be very selective about who buys the newly renovated Filberg House.
“ I hope the buyer will cherish it as a work of art: It’s one giant sculpture of Canadiana,” said Field.
Erickson, 83, said Field did an excellent and sensitive job of the restoration.
“ I am very proud of that house, it was one of my favourite works.”
Filberg wanted to create a unique home and Erickson gave it to him, with a Middle Eastern twist.
“ In the Middle East, the sun is an enemy and they do everything to create coolness, but it’s done with such exquisite taste,” said the architect, who achieved his theme with delicate screens, overhangs, a reflecting pool and polished terrazzo floors.
When he first saw the Filberg property he was struck by the sweeping panoramas and dubbed it “ the most beautiful location in Canada.”
Months were spent analysing sight lines, observing changing qualities of light. He even tented there to catch the earliest and latest rays.
He wanted to take advantage of vistas in every direction.
“ We cut a swath through the forest going down to the beach so when you entered the house you immediately saw a long view, way down below, and that happened on every axis. The house was also anchored by a giant maple tree, which was part of the framing of the view down the sound.”
He aimed for Oriental simplicity and richness in a contemporary container. Erickson went on to design just about every building imaginable, from skating rinks and theatres to museums and military academies, office towers, temples, universities, hotels, homes and entire cities in the Middle East.
That eastern, contemporary flavour is once more visible in the Comox house. It again has glass on three of the four main walls in most rooms, said Field, who did most of the restoration himself.
“ I’m kind of a fabricator guy and I’ve fixed up houses and cars before, learned all the skills and trades. I like fixing things, but this house was challenging because it was built by the grand master and is very stringently mechanical because of its inherent design. My biggest helper was Haida Glass out of Vancouver, which custom made the windows.”
He used energy- saving thermals in the restoration and pumped a metre of insulation into the previously empty attic. Heating bills are typical of a house that size now, and maintenance is almost zero because there’s no painting, sanding or scraping of exterior walls.
“ You just wash the windows every six months,” he said with a chuckle, adding even salt spray is minimal because Erickson bermed landscaping around it. “ The wind just goes up and over.”