Airy, Seaside Retreat
Architect Cedric Burgers creates an airy seaside retreat that evokes the tranquility of life on the water.
The owners of this Bowen Island cabin are collectors of contemporary art whose in-town digs are a Manhattan-style aerie atop one of Vancouver’s first modernist apartment buildings. They walked their island property for seven years before it finally came on the market. Then, before beginning the process of designing and building, they talked to several architects. They ended up hiring one they had known for years—since he was seven, in fact.
Indeed, before moving uptown, the empty-nester couple lived in a house designed by Cedric Burgers’s father, West Vancouver architect Robert Burgers, from whom he took over the practice. Burgers the Elder is a prominent practitioner of sleek, European-style modernism, and his son began his own career with a stint in Berlin, working with Daniel Libeskind, the starchitect known for the kind of bold and heroic work evidenced by his recent addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and plans to replace New York’s World Trade Center. The experience had a profound effect on Cedric. “I knew what I didn’t want to do,” he says. Instead he gravitated toward simpler forms and styles, with a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability, often employing building materials and methods common to the West Coast.
So, take the waterfront site, add a pinch of the clients’ aesthetic sophistication, and here’s the result: on the outside gabled forms reminiscent of a fisherman’s shed; inside the home, generous glazing, yet lots of room for the couple’s art—all topped with a light and airy wood-ribbed space that evokes an upturned hull. The home occupies a point of land facing southeast toward the Strait of Georgia and, with a panorama that includes the towers of downtown Vancouver and mountains of Vancouver Island, there’s no shortage of extraordinary views. One of the most magical is from the master bedroom, which opens onto a mossy courtyard. The C-shape that produces the enclosure was partially dictated by building restrictions, but Burgers made the most of the potential limitation.
The same goes for the clients’ insistence on zero maintenance. Dark-painted steel cladding was chosen to blend with the exposed rock the home is built upon, while cedar accents will be allowed to darken to a natural grey. The area disturbed during construction extends barely a metre beyond exterior walls; any landscaping services will be supplied by the island’s infamous deer. The home doesn’t attempt to disappear into the landscape in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright or many other examples of West Coast modernist architecture, but it occupies its site as if it has been there for a long while. As Burgers says, “It’s not trying to be anything else.”
With art as the central attraction, the couple have lit and furnished the home simply and inexpensively. She laughs at the way a dining table slapped together with building scraps by the contractor attracts admiring comments. Elsewhere, the work of Scandinavian designers can be discerned, but some of them work for Ikea. Treads on a floating staircase may eventually be replaced with frosted glass lit from below, but for now they’re made of building-grade plywood. Meanwhile, Cedric Burgers is proud of the way he was able to source wood otherwise destined for telephone poles in designing a roof that’s integral to the balancing act the home plays between cabin, art gallery and viewpoint. He’s also proud of the way the abundant wood is anything but clunky and heavy. “We should use wood in more elegant ways,” he says. Done.