Homes & Design Photo Credit: Janis Nicolay

A House Designed in a Million Little Moments

Every inch was considered in this modern, minimal abode.

It took two weeks to come up with the right configuration of Bocci lights. Homeowner Zack raised and lowered water balloons rigged on fishing line in the entryway of his house when it was still a framed structure. “I would move them every day and play with them,” he says. Today, those 24 glass balls are a pink-and-purple constellation framed within the second-floor window. At night, from the street, it becomes a lightbox and work of art.

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“That’s full-on Zack,” says David Nicolay of Evoke International Design. “This is the stuff he thinks about.” Nicolay simply gave him the space to turn those thoughts into moments within the architecture—from that Bocci cascade to a 51-foot hallway that’s treated as a piece of art. The two worked closely together for two and a half years, starting from the permit navigation when Zack found a double-wide corner lot in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

A pokey pink house (which Zack named Pinkenstein) was demolished to make room for the minimal, modern box that now stretches 54 feet across the whole width of the property. “I would take wide and shallow over narrow and long many times over,” says Zack of the wide-and-low typology of modern architecture and the unrestricted natural light that comes through the width of this 3,700-square-foot two-level, four-bedroom/three-bathroom house.

“The back of the house is very transparent,” says Nicolay of the huge floor-to-ceiling sliding and stacking panes that create a 30-foot seamless opening to the backyard from the great room (made of a connected kitchen, dining and living room). And there are no extraneous additions. “We kept it very modest in its footprint, we didn’t do a lot of wiggles on it, we kept the form very simple, the fenestration very simple…” says Nicolay—because, well, “You can’t hide crummy details in a modern house.”

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In the kitchen and throughout the home, Benjamin Moore’s Simply White keeps the space feeling as airy as an art gallery.

Everything was thought out and lined up. Obsessively. “Every inch was considered,” says Zack, who jokes about being near-fanatical about detail.

Control cuts in the concrete, which prevent it from cracking, line up with structural columns, which line up with window mullions and interior walls. And the wide-and-low rectilinear profile of the house itself is repeated and layered throughout the design; the cast-in-place concrete fireplace, windows, wrapped range hood, shower insets and bathroom mirrors are all iterations of the same basic shape.

“One of the big themes of the house is that it’s very consistent and things are repeated throughout,” says Zack. Each bathroom has the same white marble, differentiating in size from large-format to mosaic tiles. And the material and colour palette is limited to whites and greys in concrete and drywall, plus the warmth of white oak—all in matte and honed finishes, from white Corian countertops to the also-white free-standing tub in the master bath. Everything is quiet; nothing is shiny. Even the polished concrete floor has a matte sealer on it. And the exterior cedar siding is stained a soft, custom charcoal that was, of course, well sampled by Zack.

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“The house is very modern and minimal,” says Zack, “but the landscape is very lush and wild. I like a wild landscape, which really softens things—it’s a blend of natural and hard.”

Nicolay calls it “an exercise in minimalism,” resulting in stripped-out details and distraction—even in lighting. The long, linear light over the dining table is almost invisible. After searching for an unobtrusive pendant, Zack ended up designing and making the one-inch-square tubular LED fixture with another designer and his father, an architect who designed the house Zack grew up in (which was featured in Western Living in 1987).

“There’s a million of those little moments happening in this house,” says Zack—like the reveal (the gap between wall and concrete floor) that climbs up stairs and turns corners in perfect alignment. It’s also flush with hardware-free doors that disappear when closed. “Not a bump or a lump or an imperfection,” says Zack. “These walls are so straight and clean…they’re beautiful, whereas in another house they’re just walls.”

The rear of the house is fitted with a massive minimal-frame sliding-panel system that was imported from Portugal, the first time this system was used in Vancouver.

The walls are so perfect that Zack and his wife, Elana, chose to leave them mostly bare and free of art. “The upper-floor hallway really surprises people,” says Zack, because it runs the full 51-foot width of the house, and the uninterrupted white walls are suffused with natural light from skylights overhead and floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows on either end. The hall is the art.

There are, of course, decor elements that pop against all that flawless white: a purple Bensen sofa, a statement-making Artemide Tolomeo Mega floor lamp, a quirky Starck gnome stool, a whimsical Ingo Maurer Lucellino table light, and iconic modern-design pieces like an original Tavolo con Ruote coffee table that once belonged to Zack’s dad. And those multi-hued Bocci lights.

One of the glass balls hangs low, a purposeful positioning that Zack first tested out with those water balloons. Just visible through the window from the street, it draws the eyes of passersby. And it encourages anyone approaching the wide expanse of the house to look up and see the other balls of light. The view unfolds, changes and reveals more. Much like all the little moments happening in this house.

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