Gritty-Meets-Feminine Vancouver Condo
Chintatown street art and industrial treasures pair perfectly with hits of feminine charm.
“Popcorn. Rainy days. Lavender plants. Race-car drivers.”
When commercial real estate lawyer Hannah McDonald tapped Jamie Hamilton and Greer Nelson of Oliver Simon Design to reinvent her new Chinatown condo, she probably wasn’t expecting to kick off the process with a free-form writing exercise. But the results of her assignment (“write down a list of things you love”) provided Hamilton and Nelson with the jumping-off point they needed, race-car drivers and all.
The resulting design is what Hamilton describes as “an industrial, rustic, woodsy cabin with a hint of femininity.” Though that may sound incongruous, in practice the space is tightly focused and well curated, a celebration of exposed and weathered textures in soft browns and greys with lush fabrics and fresh-cut flowers thrown in for good measure. “She’s a very strong woman with a striking and classic style,” says Nelson. “We wanted to nod to that girly side of her while still embracing those rustic elements.”
McDonald kept a few meaningful pieces from her previous home—like a childhood stuffed rabbit, displayed on the recessed wood shelf in the bedroom—but for the most part, Nelson and Hamilton were starting from scratch. “I looked at a ton of their work and loved all of it, so I had a lot of trust in them,” McDonald says. “I gave them kind of free rein to do whatever they wanted.” (She reneged on her hands-off policy only once, after falling in love with a rich, worn-leather sofa she found at West Elm.) They looked for items with history to pepper among newer designs: a vintage wooden birdcage displayed alongside skull sculptures from The Cross; McDonald’s surfboard propped up against the wall behind a row of grey West Elm saddle chairs. “We wanted it to be casual but interesting and artful,” explains Hamilton.
The long, narrow space hosts an open plan that makes the most of the modest 600 square feet; a partial wall, dressed in silvery Cole and Son’s Wood wallpaper, divides the cozy bedroom from the kitchen and living area. McDonald, a talented cook with a social streak, is always entertaining, so it was important to design a flexible dining space to accommodate hungry guests. “Space was the number-one challenge for me with this place,” she says. Luckily, the designers came up with some smart solutions. A long wooden bench seats six, but tucks easily under the custom Union Wood Co. table when not in use; the kitchen island, too, is on caster wheels to move out of the way in a snap.
Luckily, many of the built-in design elements of the condo—like the dark tile flooring, a modern kitchen and neutral bathroom—didn’t need to be touched. “We just had to add some texture to the hard finishes,” Nelson explains; a knotted wool rug softens the main living area and a thin cowhide rug warms the floor by the bed. Built-in cabinets throughout the hallways and bedroom keep clutter hidden away, and the partial wall that separates the sleeping quarters from the kitchen features built-in millwork. The home office was gutted and outfitted with mirrors and rolling racks to create a walk-in closet.
The condo’s Chinatown location provided plenty of inspiration to the designers as they set out to plan the space. “We wanted to bring the beauty of the gritty streets into the space in an artful sort of way,” says Hamilton. Reclaimed corrugated tin, found in a Ladner shipyard, became a piece of art; Hamilton and Nelson blew up a vintage photo of a race-car driver (inspired by McDonald’s list of favourite things), printed it on bamboo paper, and plastered it onto the tin. “It was an inexpensive way to do a custom piece,” says Hamilton. “Creative juices just started to flow when we started thinking about the local street art.” Another bold piece of artwork, hanging in the dining nook, was discovered in a back alley during the Walk for Reconciliation. The stencilled piece of wood has particular significance for McDonald, who is First Nations herself and studied Aboriginal law. There are other reclaimed treasures throughout the home, too: another slab of salvaged tin appears in the bedroom as a headboard; a rescued cabinet was refinished and now acts as a credenza and liquor cabinet along the wall of the living room.
From her list of favourite things has emerged something that McDonald herself never expected. “It’s way better than I had even pictured in my head,” she says.