The Business of Family
For Ryan and Marlin Hanson, the business of building runs generations deep. The brothers, who own construction company Hanson Land and Sea, follow in the footsteps of their father—a local builder, and their grandfather and great-grandfather who were property developers in mid-century California.
The brothers’ early childhood was spent roaming the family’s Gambier Island property, one which hosted a sawmill and a unique, hexagonally-shaped home, both established and built by their father, Lex. The sawmill served to process the felled timber used for Lex’s marine construction company and the homes he built and sold throughout his career. Both Ryan and Marlin fell into their father’s footsteps, their introduction to building coming from hands-on experience. “My dad would always build these houses, sell them, then do it again, and we’d be dragged along for the ride… we’d have to plaster walls and stuff,” laughs Marlin.
As adults, Ryan continued with marine construction while Marlin branched off, working in land-based building. However, the Hanson family ties are strong, and the brothers would often work together. Eventually, the two decided to formalize their business, working together for five years, catering mainly to marine construction clients. But with their combined experience in marine and land construction, they decided to refocus. Ryan sold the first business and Hanson Land and Sea was born on an equal partnership about five years ago. They offer both types of construction as well as custom milling—all with a decidedly signature style.
No project better represents the company’s approach than Marlin’s home,and it’s fair to say that Hanson Land and Sea’s aesthetic goes much deeper than mere preference. “I designed this house in terms of the shape,” Marlin explains, “but the rafters, the beams, the log, the plaster walls, it’s what my dad’s always done.”
The 1200 sq-ft home feels much larger than its size, the airiness due, in part, to soaring ceilings and walls of windows. It also has a green roof, complete with irrigation system. Marlin and his family hope to grow strawberries on it next year. The whole home has a scandinavian-meets west coast feel. Natural materials abound, thick timber beams support the roof and add rustic beauty. A 70-year-old, 2nd growth fir log runs the full length of the home. Salvaged from logged land behind their property, the log is a testament to how the brothers consider their resources, as treasure to craft into something beautiful.
The company uses local timber, incorporating materials and design that complement our west coast surroundings. As exampled in Marlin’s home, cedar shingles, large wooden beams and milled surfaces are often used, inside and out.
The brothers are reticent to use buzzwords or strict architectural categories to describe their work but much of their inspiration comes from old houses, old timber barns and what is available from the land. Ryan explains, “I don’t think there’s an exact word, though we often use ‘timeless’”.
“And it has to last a long time,” stresses Marlin.
Hanson Land and Sea operate two sawmills, one of which is custom made and is the largest of its kind in Canada. Massive local fir, cedar, hemlock and cypress have run through the mills, the resulting planks stack neatly around the shop. “It’s really rewarding being able to see a tree go from falling it to being a piece of furniture or a house. I think that’s fairly unique in the industry. We like being able to do the milling, the design, the building, the finishing. It spreads us out a lot but we have lots of fun,” Ryan says.
In the middle of the shop sits an oversized outdoor slab table of old growth fir, ready for the next step. Nearby, a sophisticated indoor dining table of yellow cedar awaits one more coat of varnish. Hanson Land and Sea not only builds larger structures—homes, auxiliary buildings, decks, docks—but also makes smaller pieces, like these two tables. You might have experienced their furniture and interior work if you like Italian food—Ryan, Marlin and their team did the renovations at Buono Osterio in Lower Gibsons. From the tables to the bar, from the ceiling to the private party room’s sliding barn door, practically every surface was designed and crafted by Hanson Land and Sea. The relationship was a collaborative one, with the Buono team providing direction, then trusting the Hansons to their expertise.
“They knew the kind of shapes they wanted, we worked on the aesthetic decisions together, and our team suggested a lot of the materials because we’ve worked with them in the past,” describes Marlin.
So who does what? Thankfully, the brothers have complementary skills and having worked together for so long, they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Ryan is more of a big picture guy, the one to get projects started and keep momentum from project to project, whereas Marlin handles the details and keeps their 11-person crew focussed on the projects at hand. However, both enjoy design, a trait which comes from their father. “That’s our favourite part,” explains Marlin, “the space, figuring out the proportions, it comes from our dad and working with our families. That’s always been important, how a space looks and feels.”
As Hanson Land and Sea continues to build on their family legacy, one wonders if Ryan and Marlin’s kids will step into their parents’ shoes. It’s still a bit too early for their young children to run a saw, but the brothers don’t discount it for the future. What is certain is that every project strikes a balance of past and present, and honours the materials from the land they call home.