Before and After: A 3,600-Square-Foot Single-Level Home Gets an Airy Makeover
BattersbyHowat brings the notion of quiet respite and reflection to a family home in Vancouver.
The house looks diminutive from the street. A series of concrete pavers marks a subdued approach, and a wizened red pine presides over the entrance. A clean front door of stained cedar offers no clues about what lies beyond. But then the door opens—pivots, rather, for it works without hinges—and one’s gaze shoots 100 feet through the home to the rear windows and the garden out back. One. Hundred. Feet.
That kind of depth would be impossible with a new build. If architects David Battersby and Heather Howat had been building this house from scratch, they would have been forced by Vancouver bylaws to content themselves with something 40 percent shallower. Luckily, this house was built in the 1980s, when more generous footprints were possible. The owners—one French, one Canadian—asked Battersby and Howat to renovate their home in 2014, after their children left for university. Maintaining that depth—and the expansive single-level living it allows—meant their family’s home could become a place the couple might easily enjoy well into their retirement.
Two years later, the depth has been saved, but almost everything else had to go. “It was all about removing, reorganizing and making it sophisticated,” says Battersby. An old splintery wood ceiling, for example, once ran from the entrance down the length of the house, studded haphazardly with nails. BattersbyHowat reimagined that feature as a pathway of clean western hemlock, masterfully fitted into the ceiling by builders Natural Balance and lightly sandblasted to create a softer effect. “Each board was minutely shaved down,” Battersby says with a smile, “so that the lights could be installed at exactly the right spots.” The result is a beautiful backbone for the entire space. Branching off on the right are the living and dining rooms; on the left are the kitchen and family space.
It’s hard to know where to settle at first, because each room drifts subtly into the next. The plan is not unsystematically open, but blind corners and quiet differentiations keep the eye forever animated.
Then again, a show-stopping chandelier in the dining room might arrest the eye after all. “We looked at a lot of lights,” laughs Howat. The light that made the cut is a custom collaboration between BattersbyHowat and local studio Propellor Design. Dozens of oak pieces are suspended in a kind of matchstick cloud, with interior LEDs emphasizing the wood’s natural warmth. As though that weren’t enticing enough, the chandelier’s stain was matched to the wooden furniture beneath—a Boiacca table by Kristalia and a set of elegant Hiroshima chairs by Maruni.
Originally, this dining space looked out onto a nearby golf course (though a swimming pool blocked the view). BattersbyHowat realigned the room, blocking off the old windows and building a new wall of sliding glass doors that focus attention inward—to a central courtyard—instead. “A more intimate experience for dining,” explains Howat.
Of course, the courtyard is a new element, too. A 378-square-foot swimming area has been replaced by porcelain pavers and a rustic garden of grasses and mature trees. The courtyard is walled by the house on three sides—but all those walls are made of glass and can slide away. Cross-breezes and dappled sunlight are inevitable. Even the shadier east side of the house makes the best of things with two aquarium-style Japanese gardens built into nooks and framed by windows like works of art.
The kitchen—clean elm millwork and hushed stone counters—includes a staircase, screened by ribbons of white oak. These lead to the only second-storey space—a lighthouse of an office for him. She has her own office around the corner from the family room.
The offices provide solitude when research beckons (they are both scientists), but the real experience this house invites is flow—between rooms at first, and then out into the garden and back again. It’s 3,600 square feet of pale woods, white walls, and porcelain floors that are the colour of a full moon. Behind the quiet facade, a hidden paradise for barefoot padding, reading and well-earned bouts of daydreaming.