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From Mind to Matter, Sketches to Structures

Of Dreams, Ninjas and Beasts

It all began on a warm autumn day, some eight years ago, at a Blackberry neighbourhood park by the Salvation Army Church. The sun was just beginning to dip, and a golden hue was setting over the rolling and grassy hills about us. For me, it was an opportunity to test out my new Do-It-Yourself handheld stabilizer, which I had assembled only a week ago, and what better way to do that than to film my kids at play across the nature-scape of the park!

It was an unforgettable time, I ran, scuttered and fought off the urge to dive into the bushes as I captured the precious moments of my children, hard at work as Karate Ninjas. It certainly is not an easy job to be a Karate Ninja, which was evident as they darted about me, giggling all the while, wielding fantasy shurikens, staffs and nunchakus with deadly precision -- it was, after all, all in a hard day’s work. Again and again, they disappeared and darted into my camera frame as I diligently preserved every instant of the gleeful pandemonium.

Hannah and Noah at play as Karate Ninjas.

Then, there was a suspenseful quiet, and I prepared to be ambushed by ninjas at any moment. As the sun began to glare out from behind the branches of a mighty Oak and into my lens, I adjusted with a playful nervousness. Suddenly, my eldest, Hannah, peaked into the frame, pointing at the same large tree is the distance, “That tree there is our house, it has a door on the front” she explained, “And inside it doesn’t look more than anything you’ve dreamed.”

In the moment, it made for great footage, and certainly something that would be a keepsake for years to come, but as I lay between sleeps that night, and many nights after, I couldn’t help but think of how profound those words really were, whether Hannah fully understood it or not.

“It doesn’t look more than anything you’ve dreamed.”

It may not seem to be such a pearl of wisdom for some, I’m sure, but as a carpenter I’m no stranger to the realm of possibilities when it comes to woodwork. Within an everyday tree there exists an intangible world of shapes, forms, and structures, just waiting for the right hands to bring such an imagined vision to life. The more you imagine the more you can become, and of course make.

Perhaps Hannah didn’t fully comprehend it, but she had allowed me to re-envision the very concept of potential in a way that had moved me. Since that day, and for the past eight years, I had resolved to demonstrate that to her, my younger child Noah, and myself by building my children a play-home from start to finish.

Hannah rushing to the 'Ninja house'

Eight years later, it was the summer of 2020, and our crew at Lopez Contracting was about to make that dream a reality, and just in time for my 35th birthday! As columns of beautiful light-coloured cedar went up, and the steady rhythm of the nail guns affixed support to support, I gazed at the azure summer sky with steadfast excitement. Progress was ongoing at a rapid pace, and I couldn’t decide which beam was brighter, the glowing cedar, or my ever-present smile.

Perhaps it was the coat of white paint which shimmered brightest, as the newly installed windows did, under the bright and welcome sunshine of the beautiful July morning. I noticed in my peripherals as a passer-bye walking down the back alley stopped, marvelled, and leaned over the fence, letting his curiosity get the better of him “are you building tiny homes?” he asked. “Not exactly” I replied, “more of a big play home”. Soon it would be time to transport this 4000-pound advertisement. Fortunately for me, I had a dear friend and collaborator in Ian Shepherd from HD Trucking.

I’ll never forget the chuckle I shared with Ian as he scratched his chin, looking up at this massive construction. “We’re going to need the beast for this one.” Whether the chuckle was one of amusement, excitement, or both, I’m not sure. But one thing was for certain, Ian meant some serious business, and all it took was one look at ‘the beast’ for me to realize we had a gargantuan task ahead of us. ‘The beast’ is HD Trucking’s largest crane, so big in fact that it dwarfed the structure we had constructed, I knew this would be a unique visual spectacle unlike any other. I like to think I keep good company, which is why my next phone call was to the cinematographic genius, Luke Connor.

Before I knew it, the big day had arrived. Our whole crew rendezvoused with Luke and Ian in the morning for the biggest spectacle our company had yet be involved in (admittedly not the last). We strapped the entire structure up meticulously and repeatedly, being of course sure to slap the roof multiple times for the time-honoured tradition of predicting “that isn’t going anywhere” (a treasured Canadian invocation for good luck whenever straps are involved). The Beast sputtered and roared as it outstretched its mighty arm to grab a hold of the structure from the crown, whilst Luke raised his camera to capture every detail. Finally, we had lift off, and the great journey across Victoria began.

I cannot begin to describe how incredible it was to see this mammoth of a structure, practically a small building, being lifted up and driven around Victoria as if it was a plaything. I suppose a play-home is essentially just that, albeit scaled up significantly. As our convoy twisted and turned upon Victoria’s busy streets, I could not even keep count of how many heads turned, some commuters even flashed me a thumbs-up, whilst even more took their phones out for a novel snap. This wonderous moving theatre finally arrived at our home, and I could hear my kids audibly yell in excitement just watching the wonderous sight pull in.

As the whole playhouse lay hanging in wait, we axed down the fence to make way for the beast to enter the backyard through the side of the house. Once the fence was down, we inspected that perfect spot where we had earlier placed the foundational concrete blocks for the structure. The beast extended its arm over the side of the house, and the huge shadow was cast upon our entire patio. Slowly and gently, we guided the legs of the play home over top of the concrete blocks, and the beast lowered it to its final rest. With a soft thud, the play house was finally a play home in our home- and though the work was done the day still had some life.

That night, I had the pleasure of celebrating my 35th birthday with the whole team, as well as others. As we reclined and jovially chatted on our own handmade live edge furnishings, we basked in the smell of frying fish, the chill of a summer’s night beer, and the spectacle of our day’s effort peering over the balcony. As satisfied as we were with the progress of the day, nobody was as happy as Hannah and Noah, who had awaited this promise for the past eight years. Now, eight years is a long time for an adult, and it’s almost an eternity for a child.

And I believe it’s been a promise well kept. The shed’s been used not only for play (Noah loves to have his friends in there), but for some serious ‘adulting’ too! Hannah’s in the process of moving her ‘office’ in there currently, complete with a desk and minifridge. That homework better get done! In either case, both kids have gotten their own key, and hopefully soon will get their own partition too. Now there’s still some work to get done, like installing LED lighting, supplemented by underground electric power, insulation, reworked hatches, a bird and bug screen in time for the summer and a vapor barriered to prevent condensation. Luckily, the structure does already ventilate itself quite well.

The best part of this project is that not only was it a necessary promise to keep, but it was also a necessary and experimental phase of our dreams for growth as a company. Looking forward as a business, we believe we have the necessary skills to construct similar structures with scope far beyond that of a play home, this includes a non-attachment office, hydroponic grow-up, vertical garden, storage unit, guest bathroom, and the list goes on. In fact, we’ve already put similar structures to excellent use at our own shop location, via which we’ve been able to maximize our available space with remarkable efficiency. We will soon be constructing a semi-outdoor protected workstation, which will free up even more potential workspace. Stay tuned for that project on an upcoming blog post, but until then do keep in mind that from the imaginations in your mind, to our expertise with matter, and from the sketches in your heart, to our heartful structures, dreams do come true!

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Our Triple Crown Philosophy

Some years ago, I innately understood that a building structure should have three important attributes. First, it should be structurally sound. Second, it should be aesthetically pleasing. Third, it should be attainable or affordable. Ever since, I have strived to make everything I do worthy of this triple crown of excellence.

During a ferry ride to Vancouver, I saw my young son had drawn Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man in my notebook. To my surprise, my son’s sketch led me to discover the historic importance of this idea. This world-famous sketch of a man in a circle, his arms outstretched in two different overlapping poses, has become iconic. A Wikipedia search showed me how Da Vinci was inspired by proportions described by Vitruvius in his ancient treatise of De Architectura.

Vitruvius was arguably the greatest architect in history. His work is the only major surviving publication on architecture from classical antiquity. It was written for Emperor Augustus, made famous in the Bible for his census which brought Jesus’ parents to Bethlehem. Eminent Roman architects such as Vitruvius were skilled in engineering, art, and craftsmanship. As an army engineer himself, Vitruvius had overseen all manner of building and construction for wars and settlements across Europe and North Africa.

The most famous maxim of Vitruvius was that architecture should embody three qualities: utilitias, firmitas, and venustas. In English, this means that great handiwork should be useful, sturdy, and with beautiful proportions. (Just imagine what Venus, the goddess of love, might look like.)

I was delighted and not disappointed to find out that my idea was old and not new. It gives me more motivation than ever to offer you the product of a triple crown craftsman: sturdy, useful, and beautiful work at a reasonable price.