Home Tour: A Modern Condo Gets a Cozy Vintage-Inspired Makeover
How one Vancouver couple made the transition from a large suburban house to a North Shore apartment.
“We just couldn’t do it cold turkey,” homeowner Cathi Campbell says. She and her husband, John, were maintaining a 5,000-square-foot empty nest outside of Vancouver, and with retirement looming, they believed they were ready to make a big change. But rather than paring down and moving into a home one-fifth the size all at once, they eased into the transition. They rented a condo in the city to test their hunch that living closer to all the art, culture and restaurants and not relying on a car so much would suit them, and to help them figure out which neighborhood they liked best.
It turned out they loved city life, so they bought a 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom condo, got rid of everything that held no emotional attachment, moved in with what they thought they could fit and wound up with three large storage units full to overflowing. Faced with a “sea of boxes” in the condo and struggling to reconcile their antiques with the condo’s contemporary architecture, they called in interior designer Lori Steeves. She helped them freshen up some of their existing pieces and add new furnishings and lighting that bridged the gap between 100-plus-year-old antiques and their modern high-rise.
At a Glance
Who lives here: Cathi and John Campbell
Location: Lower Lonsdale area of North Vancouver
Size: 1,000 square-feet
Designer: Lori Steeves of Simply Home Decorating
“This project was quite a collaboration with the clients…much more so than most of my projects, where I start with a blank slate and determine everything from scratch,” Steeves says. “Cathi and John had a lot to contribute to the project and really just needed help to pull everything together.”
The designer looked to the couple’s existing pieces for inspiration, including the colors in their antique Persian rugs and in the art, the wood and finishes of the furniture and the architecture of the unit. To help them bridge the gap between the 19th-century antiques and the modern-day condo, she turned to mid-century modern design.
“Lori, John and I were really on the same page,” Cathi says. “After this experience, I highly recommend bringing in someone to help.”
The couple already had this wonderful walnut table for the dining area. They found it as newlyweds in an antique shop in Montreal 45 years ago when shopping for their first house. “It has those substantial turned legs, so we needed chairs that had very simple, clean lines and wouldn’t take away from that,” Steeves says.
The new dining chairs and a new chandelier that nod to mid-century modern design help tie the old and new together. The painting, originally Cathi’s father’s, was painted by Michael Forster in 1941, so it fits right in.
The rich slate floors were one of the elements the couple fell in love with when condo hunting, and also inspired the decor. “Their rich jewel tones were a big influence on everything we did,” Steeves says. The dark accent wall plays off the stone’s tones as well as the black accents in the room. Cathi painted it herself, and after she realized the natural light in the apartment was making the After Midnight paint color appear too blue, she returned to Benjamin Moore several times to have it custom mix the final result—a black with subtle blue undertones. Along with the rug and light fixture, the wall helps define the dining area within the open space.
One of the biggest struggles was culling pieces from the art collection the couple had enjoyed amassing over five decades. “We made three piles: one, the pieces we absolutely had to have in the condo; two, the pieces we’d really like to have; and three, the pieces where we felt like ‘Oh well, it would be great to have this but it’s not a must,’” Cathi says. “Lori took one look at the piles and said, ‘Well, we can put aside piles two and three because we only have enough room for the things you can’t live without!’”
To best showcase the art, Steeves made a minor but significant cosmetic change: She painted the window frames black and replaced dated crystal light fixtures with modern black art lighting. The combination updates the condo, creates graphic punches and helps the colorful artwork, also framed in black, stand out.
“Lori’s genius came in through some of the little things I hadn’t even thought about,” Cathi says. “I hadn’t considered replacing the original light fixtures, but putting in that brass chandelier and the articulated black sconces on the curved wall really tied everything together.”
Another change Steeves suggested was moving the TV from atop the trunk to the same height as the artwork so that it would blend in along the dramatic curved wall.
The living area is also anchored by one of the couple’s lovely Persian rugs. Cathi and John have been collecting Eastern Canadiana pine pieces for many years, including the armoire seen here. “This was one of our big loves—when we lived in Ontario we’d haunt antique shops and auctions collecting Eastern Canadiana pine pieces,” Cathi says. Because there isn’t much storage in the condo, the armoire comes in handy as a place for out-of-season items.
Steeves helped her clients choose a grouping of their existing prints to hang gallery style and had them all matted and framed the same way. These are limited-edition scenes of Old Montreal by R.D. Wilson.
She created a sense of symmetry around the new sofa by using the same lampshades on a new floor lamp and the couple’s existing lucite lamp, and by making sure the shades were placed at the same height. The lamps add a modern-day touch, while the Noguchi coffee table is an iconic mid-century modern piece. The rugs tie in with the fabrics on the throw pillows and chair.
The desk was John’s father’s and he used it himself for homework as a boy. At one point it had been painted, and John stripped it himself. “You’ll often find John on his laptop here,” Cathi says. The piece functions as a workstation for him and as a side table for the sofa. The artwork over the desk is a pair of antique Bartlett woodblock prints.
“It’s important to have pieces that can function in different places when you’re in a small space,” Cathi says. For instance, two of these antique chairs, passed down through her family, move among the desk, the extra bedroom the couple use as a cozy den and the dining table. Steeves helped them choose an updated fabric for them, a playful chenille animal print.
To the right, you can catch a glimpse of a curved wall that was formerly painted drywall in what Steeves calls ‘hospital green.’ “Plain drywall didn’t fit with the rest of the upscale feeling in the home and we couldn’t hang art on it because of the curve,” she says. “Using this patterned wallcovering plays off the dark wall, adds texture and elevates the look.”
This Victorian-era fainting couch had been a favorite reading spot and a place to look out over Howe Sound in the couple’s former home, and Cathi wanted it to function in the same way here, this time with a view of Vancouver Harbor, Lions Gate Bridge and the downtown skyline.
Its tapestry upholstery was in bad shape. “Also, we were placing it near a south-facing window so we needed to select a Sunbrella fabric that wouldn’t fade,” Steeves says. A menswear-inspired gray flannel provides a great dark contrast and is punched up by warm orange plucked from colors found in the rugs. A mid-century-modern-inspired tulip table and a chunky woven pouf add fresh touches.
The couch comes in handy not only for lounging and reading, but it can seat two guests when the couple entertain.
“Moving to North Vancouver has made life so much easier,” Cathi says. “We aren’t so reliant on a car, it’s more accessible to restaurants, and we have more time to do things besides keeping up a house, like traveling.”
Now about those three storage units. They were truly transitional—it just took a little time to take care of them. Cathi and John created a Dropbox account and shared photos of each item with their three children so they could choose what they wanted and have it all shipped. “It worked out perfectly—almost everything we love is still in the family,” Cathi says. “It’s so much easier to get rid of things when you know they are wanted and will still be used.”