Inspiring Home: How to Design Around Bold Artwork
Life and art collide inside the Shaughnessy home of a celebrated Vancouver gallerist.
Designer Adam Becker has made a name for himself decking out masculine and clean-lined spaces for some of Vancouver’s highest rollers, and this recent project—a suite in the superb Shaughnessy Place overlooking 22-hectare VanDusen Garden—is a classic example of his signature style. Becker has redesigned eight suites in this modernist building (including his mom’s 1,800-square-foot penthouse), but since this client was one of Canada’s leading gallery owners, Becker felt compelled to deliver a showcase for contempoary art as much as a retreat from urban life.
The building itself is a six-level, concrete and glass wonder. Built in 1978 by McCarter, Nairne and Partners, it seems to nod at the staggered boxiness of the famed Habitat 67 building from the 1967 Montreal Expo. A lineup of “name” residents has lived here over the years, perhaps because, while it’s just minutes from downtown, its suites have the greenest of views. This south-facing unit even overlooks a turquoise pool.
Becker swapped out the original windows, replacing them with two 18-foot walls of glass that stack back, making it easy to revel in nature on the richly landscaped, 250-square-foot patio, where wisteria grow in custom cedar boxes and stewartia trees are nestled in Silvestri pots. Once the owner has had enough of the great outdoors, he steps over a sill of reclaimed timber (honed by master craftsman Scott Landon) into a show-stopping home.
DESIGNER TIP: Build floating walls to make it easy to swap art in and out
Becker discussed the art with his gallerist client and knew that works (some of them heavy and expensive) would be coming and going all the time. And so the clean drywall that Becker favours was laid overtop of massive expanses of load-bearing plywood. With a little foresight, he eliminated the search for studs—artwork can now be hung anywhere. Lighting bends to the art’s needs, too, with extra lamp heads on tracks positioned near walls for spotlight effects. The owner’s taste leans toward contemporary work, so video installations were also part of the equation; Becker made sure to install appropriate wiring in the kitchen and powder room.
“Drywall lets you create proper, sharp lines,” explains Becker, who eschewed the popular exposed-concrete look. “It’s a gallery feel. And this space is the cleanest I’ve ever done. There are no baseboards anywhere. All walls float.” Between those floating walls, the sliding glass, and the use of pocket doors, the space was in danger of hovering away. So Becker brought in warm, grounding elements. Throughout the space, 16-by-48-inch tiles of flamed Pietra Piasentina are rough and natural feeling. (“They make you feel you’re still outside,” says Becker.) And, in addition to the wrap-around sill by those sliding glass doors, Scott Landon created a set of floating bookshelves in the living room out of planks from an old Yaletown warehouse. An 18th-century chandelier (found in London), antique Knoll seating in royal blue, and vintage Jacobsen Swan chairs in canary yellow all do their bit to warm things up.
DESIGNER TIP: In an art-filled home, keep other elements neutral.
Not to be outdone by those gallery walls, the kitchen’s 10-by-4-foot island is an immense stretch of white Caeserstone quartzite. A 30-inch Miele fridge and floor-to-ceiling wine rack manage to stay clean and subdued in this open-concept kitchen that’s always on display.
In the bedroom, things are minimal, too, with a B&B Italia bed decked in Frette linens and nothing much to distract the eye from the giant Tide sculpture by artist Douglas Coupland. The closet’s bronzed door is gilded in two-way mirror that partially reveals its contents while also bouncing the eye back to the garden outside.
DESIGNER TIP: Install your tub-filler in the ceiling.
But Becker saved the grandest visual trickery for the bathroom. An Agape tub floats proudly in the room, unencumbered by faucets or hardware. The hot and cold controls are tucked into the wall, beneath eye-level. The water rains down eight feet from a special Kohler bath-filler spout in the ceiling, leaving the tub itself to exist as a pure vessel, a work of art in itself. And yes, for those times when an exhibitionist mood doesn’t strike, there’s a dark cave of a shower, too, cloaked in tiny black and grey mosaic tiles.
The suite—1,215 square feet in all—manages to be both a place for showing off and retreating: an ideal balance for a star of the art world who still needs an occasional break.