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Bringing the Outside Inn

When staying at a hotel, there are certain things you expect from your home away from home - a comfortable bed, opaque drapes, a well-stocked mini bar, wireless Internet and, perhaps, a chocolate on your pillow. In addition to these expectations, a hotel often possesses a hint of the exciting unknown. Not only will a nameless stranger pick up your wet towels from the bathroom floor without complaining, but staying at a hotel means you're in an unfamiliar city whose food and charm await you. Oftentimes, this means you don't spend much time in your room.

But imagine a hotel room that is part of your getaway experience. Picture yourself at a place where the 9-foot-(2.4-m-) tall windows provide panoramic views of the largest ocean in the world. Imagine opening your balcony door and touching a spruce-tree branch and felling the saltwater spray on your face. Envision a hotel that is hidden from the view of passing boaters until its interior lights provide a lighthouse experience they must investigate. Visualize a hotel built in the midst of an old-growth temperate rainforest that allows you to see constellations overhead as you fall into a peaceful sleep in a hand-crafted canopy bed.

Although it sounds dreamlike, the Wickaninnish Inn nestled on Vancouver Island near Tofino , British Columbia , Canada is very real. Featuring two unconnected buildings, the original Pointe Building and new Beach Building , the inn was built and designed with the theme "Rustic Elegance on Nature's Edge." By using salvaged wood and other natural materials, as well as minimizing tree removal, the secluded Wickaninnish Inn brings nature indoors and becomes an environmental part of its guests' vacation experience.


Owned by the McDiarmid family, who has been in Tofino since the 1950s, the Wickaninnish Inn's surroundings demanded it be built with a respect for the environment.

"We live in an area that is one of the most beautiful places on the planet - surrounded by an old-growth temperate rainforest with indigenous history that goes back 10,000 years," explains Charles McDiarmid, the inn's managing director. "We have a national park at our doorstep, and we're in a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Biosphere Reserve. We look out on the mightiest ocean on the planet. If those elements don't make you want to respect the environment, nothing will."

The McDiarmid family's efficient lifestyle is second nature and played a major role in the design and construction of the 45,348-square-foot (4213-m 2 ) Pointe Building , which features 45 guest rooms and was completed in 1996. During construction, the concept for the Beach Building already was forming in McDiarmid's mind.

After a positive response to the Pointe Building from guests and a desire for suites, the 36,547-square-foot (3395-m 2 ) Beach Building became a reality when it opened in 2003. The building features 30 deluxe guest rooms - 18,600-square-foot (56-m 2 ) rooms and 12 suites. Five 1,100-square-foot (102-m 2 ) Chesterman Beach Loft Suites are located on the top floor of the Beach Building . These split-level suites feature amazing views of their namesake beach and offer guests the luxury of having a chef prepare meals in their kitchens. One 900-square-foot (84-m 2 ) Canopy Suite also is on the top floor, or in the forest canopy if you will, and offers the most splendid views of the property. As would be expected, the Canopy Suite features a beautiful alder canopy bed hand carved by a local craftsman and highlighted by a fiber-optic display of constellations in the canopy. (All the inn's beds are hand crafted from indigenous woods.) Three suites are stacked on each of the building's ends. Known as the Frank Island Suites and Beachcomber Suites, they are 800 square feet (74-m 2 ).

Both buildings feature a cedar board-and-batten finish on the exterior with large porte cocheres. While the Pointe Building does not contain full suites, it offers three Premier rooms with south-and west-facing views. Another difference is the Pointe Building contains the Pointe Restaurant and Ancient Cedars Spa, an Aveda Destination Spa, featuring plant- and ocean-based treatments. The Beach Building provides more public spaces, including Lookout Library and Driftwood Lounge.

"We've found that one-third of our returning guests prefer the Pointe Building , one-third prefer the Beach Building and one-third are happy in either," McDiarmid notes.


Building the Beach Building offered McDiarmid the opportunity to work with the same design team as on the Pointe Building, namely Robert King, an associate with Young + Wright Architects Inc., Toronto. The firm has been designing sustainably for nearly 20 years and one of its executive directors is on the board of the Canada Green Building Council. Working with McDiarmid again was a highlight of the project for King, as well.

"[McDiarmid] was one of the few clients I've been involved with from conception right through to completion," King says. "He's very knowledgeable about materials and local know-how. You could come up with an idea and he would be the person who would say 'I know how to do it' or 'I know where I can get that.' There were always new ideas coming from him."

Because the Beach Building was constructed within a reserve, siting the structure was a particular challenge for King.

"Part of the criteria was we didn't want to ruin the beachfront and carve out the trees so you could see the building from the water," King notes. "We intentionally shielded the building from the water because we wanted beach walkers and boaters to see the natural environment before they realized the inn was even there."

All trees on the site were surveyed; those greater than 6 inches (152 mm) in diameter were recorded to minimize the impact of construction. Although the team retained trees with 4 feet (1.2 m) of the building, allowing guests to touch tree branches from their windows and balconies, two large Sitka spruce trees were removed.

"It was unavoidable because the forests are very thick here," McDiarmid explains. "The trees became finish elements on the inside of the building - in the lobby, library and beach-level walls."

Salvaged wood is an overriding design aspect in both buildings. All window and door liners, baseboards, crown moldings and trim in the Beach Building are from salvaged old-growth Douglas fir that had been denailed and recut.

"In the new building, we don't have quite as many nail marks, but there still are occasional marks and old bolt holes," McDiarmid says. "It's a great use of this Douglas fir, which becomes very hard as it dries. It mellows to a really deep orange/tan color. It's very attractive."

Being from the area, McDiarmid has an interest in providing local craftspeople the opportunity to make something for the inn. For example, large timbers throughout the Beach Building and the front entry doors were hand carved. Each guest room in both buildings features a one-of-a-kind driftwood chair crafted by a local artisan. The Chesterman Beach Loft Suites' kitchens feature locally made Douglas-firm cabinetry with a wave pattern that continues from one door to the next. The stair stringer and treads to the loft suites' upper level feature Saanich details, a design named after a local First Nations Indian band. Balustrades are alder branches with bark still intact. The meeting room table is one log that was sawn into three portions and placed next to each other to form the tabletop.

McDiarmid explains: "We try to find people who do something unique and have them do things for us that we can use in the inn. Many of these are in small ways. For example, if you come into the restaurant or lounge and you get a coaster for your drink, it will be a slice of yew wood collected from a logging site where it wouldn't be used. The artisans finish it and hand burn our logo into it. It's been a unique experience for guests and visitors because we're not purchasing products manufactured at the lowest cost, perhaps in Asia . Instead we have something unique from our natural surroundings."


Further supporting the inn's design theme is the use of materials that highlight its placement between land and sea. Much of the stone used in the Beach Building was taken right off the beach. For example, the lobby's mantelpiece features stones collected from the beach and planed to a smooth surface.

"We're on the margin between the old-growth forest and the open ocean, so we have elements of land and sea integrated into our interior design," McDiarmid adds. "We're using elements from the land but also formed by spending time in the sea."

As part of that integration, the unique Driftwood Bar actually is made from a giant piece of driftwood that maintains its root mass and the barnacles that embedded themselves there.

In another interesting use of artists, McDiarmid hired a couple who collected and pressed a unique seaweed display for each room. Another artist wrote the seaweeds' Latin and English names in calligraphy, and a third artist framed the displays.

In addition, both buildings feature natural, all-wool carpeting. McDiarmid likes it because it wears well and feels great underfoot.


The stormy winter months of November to February, which in the past were the off season, are a draw for Wickaninnish Inn guests; McDiarmid wanted to provide panoramic views of the volatile Pacific Ocean for this reason. Consequently, tide charts, prevailing wind direction, and sunrise and sunset patterns played a major role in siting the building, according to King.

Four stories of hurricane-resistant glass and frames face the beach, which according to King, is the focus of the Beach Building . The structural timbers were notched to hide the aluminium frames, permitting uninterrupted views while maintaining the inn's wood design element.

"When illuminated at night, the centrally located guest spaces provide the focus of the Beach Building ," King says. "When you're out on the water it is almost like a lighthouse effect. The beacon of light shielded by the trees invokes your curiosity and makes you want to investigate it."

Each room has 8-foot- (2.4-m-) tall south-facing windows and operable glass doors that allow guests to feel the salt spray from 20-foot (6-m) waves during storm-watching season. The windows also warm the rooms in winter. Overhangs control summer heat and glare.

"In terms of the views, the Beach Building allows you to look through the spruce-fringe forest that is the traditional forest canopy on the West Coast across the beach to the ocean," McDiarmid says. "When you walk out of the Driftwood Lounge, you're 40 paces from the beach. You're as close as is allowed."


Because it is set in a gorgeous location, it's only natural that the overriding design theme for the Wickaninnish Inn was "Rustic Elegance on Nature's Edge." Supporting that concept, the inn's owners and design team brought the outside in through large windows and natural elements of the land and sea within the building. King notes that working at the location was an amazing experience, and McDiarmid is proud of the outcome of their work.

"This was an opportunity to really refine the concept of what the Wickaninnish Inn is all about," McDiarmid says. "In the original building, we were a brand-new operation, so with the new building we could refine and make things even better."

However, the Wickaninnish Inn continually is evolving. Each year, the inn closes after New Year's for three to 11 days for upgrades. This year, the Pointe Building 's 70 percent efficient propane system was upgraded to a 94 percent efficient system. McDiarmid notes the upgrade is good for the inn's bottom line and environment because less greenhouse gases are emitted.

He explains: "You can't live here and not be touched by the environment and think how you can make sure you're protecting it. Using driftwood from the ocean! What could be more beautiful and interesting than collecting the pieces for a new chair from the beach? The wave of the future is environmental construction, and I see things changing and am really encouraged by that."

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