Modern Condo Renovation
A Vancouver condo's transformation from a dim space to a light-flooded treasure.
“The golden age of condo design in Vancouver was not 20 years ago,” says architect D’Arcy Jones. The space we’re looking at is proof positive that this statement is true. (“It used to have a nasty, cramped interior,” Jones mutters.) When he came on board—hired by a 40-something professional couple (sans child)—he found that the owners, on entering the loft, had to move through two tight spaces before arriving at their magnificent view overlooking False Creek.The 20-year-old concrete floor was covered with carpet, and the kitchen was decked in tired-looking, Shaker-style maple cabinets “that shouted 1990s.”
“And so,” says Jones, “we went back to the steel studs.” Of course, some things weren’t going anywhere. A concrete column, for example, “which nobody would say had redeeming value,” sat thickly in front of the double-height windows in the living room. Jones had the plaster surrounding the column scraped off, and the underlying concrete was polished until it became a point of interest in itself. “We had to massage things,” he explains, “to make this a more refined puzzle than it was. We were able to make columns that were really just structural necessities into features.” The carpet was ripped up next, and the floor beneath was covered with a thin overlay of newer concrete, which was then polished, too.
All that attention to surfaces worked to ground the space, both metaphorically and literally. In the bathroom, Jones spray-applied further concrete in a thin coating up the walls, creating a seamlessness from floor to ceiling that’s as logical as it is highly unusual.
That willingness to let surfaces spill past their usual boundaries is apparent throughout. In the kitchen, for example, the quartz backsplash reaches nine feet high, drawing the eye cleanly upward. A limited palette of materials—just black walnut, white drywall and polished concrete—keeps each gesture in the space a noticed one.
“We wanted each material to be able to continue past its corners,” says Jones.
Speaking of corners, this loft certainly has its share. The stridently linear rooms appear to hover slightly (Jones often leaves gaps between floor and wall) and are reflected in boldly edged furnishings like a Bensen Radius table in the dining room, square Tivoli barstools in the kitchen and a sharp-cornered Toto sink in the bathroom. The end effect: a collection of volumes that feel as though they’ve been smartly hung together midair.
To take the edge off, so to speak, Jones delivered three tiny breaks from his rectilinear rules. First, the staircase’s painted steel handrail was slightly overshot, so that instead of coming straight down on the ground floor, it actually angles back in a quirky but intentional disruption. Second, a well-placed Flos Smithfield pendant is a glowing ovoid that descends from a precise cutaway in the ceiling. (The white volumes above, separated by a few inches of space, look like they’re just about to lock into place.) And, third, Jones camouflaged a row of unpleasant-looking baseboard heaters by the window with a curvaceous trim of white aluminum and painted MDF.
That dynamic between hard-edge and playful turns is embodied by the finest seat in the house: an Eames lounge chair by the fire is a perfect synergy of modernism’s clean lights and organic curves. And, like that famous piece of furniture, Jones’s loft is itself a sculptural work. “We had these limitations here, these things that needed to be hidden,” he explains. “So we decided to make the act of working around them part of the effect.”
THE INSIDE SCOOP
A Herman Miller Eames lounge chair and ottoman make for an ideal post for reading (or guitar strumming) in this home’s double-height living room. Walls of solid white help by bouncing light around.
Custom millwork in the kitchen is by Advanced Woodcraft. A Caesar-stone countertop, which wraps down to the floor, keeps things simple, as do the clean lines of the Blanco Posh faucet.
Throughout the home, materials are extended past usual borders to create moments of seamless continuity. In the kitchen, for example, a concrete backsplash travels all the way to the ceiling.
An MDF Italia Mate sofa, all in soft grey, seems a perfect complement to those concrete floors. Video game controllers stand at ease on a small side table with tubular insect legs.
A piece of Skars stoneware in matte white catches the sun (and an armload of oranges). A built-in cutting board was an essential luxury, since one of the owners is a committed baker. A baguette rests in a rope Tim bowl by Landon Dix.
The bedroom gets warmed up with Lula embroidered pillowcases from CB2 and an Edin plaid throw. The ensuite bathroom is ever at the ready; instead of a doorway, the rooms are divided by a thick partition of millwork.
The bathroom features concrete walls that stretch the flooring vertically, creating a single, spa-like enclosure. On the floor, a Pebble mat completes the spa effect. A minimalist palette is complemented by white bamboo towels, and teak accessories.
A square-cornered Toto undermount sink lends a note of considered refinement, while a Grohe Essence faucet adds a sparkle to the otherwise subdued area. Hits of colour appear in a set of blue rayon bamboo face towels. wl