An Elegant Calgary Home Inspired by Big Sky Country
A grand traditional-meets-contemporary house designed to host five or 50 manages to be both magnificent and homey.
In the beginning, it was just an empty four-acre lot. But the land was well treed and it had gorgeous west-facing views of the Rocky Mountains—all within Calgary’s city boundaries, but just enough on its outskirts to harness Alberta’s big skies and open vistas. Its owners, both well travelled and busy, had a wish list for a dream home that would include myriad purposes—intimate family time, large parties; traditional elements, modern detail; two kids, four pets and eight cars. The design would be a case study in dualities, harmonizing big and small, classic and contemporary, friends and family.
Architect Marvin DeJong provided the initial architectural plan with a mind to creating balance and symmetry over 10,000 square feet. The home’s U-shape would feature a courtyard in the middle to divvy up multiple garages on either side and make the approach to the house welcoming and inviting, not overpowering. “We wanted it to feel gracious, so there was a sense of entry,” he says. “You never want a garage to be overwhelming.”
From that traditional shell, the team at Rockwood Custom Homes imagined a space that might have felt Herculean to a smaller firm. A team of eight worked for 16 months—interior design, custom furniture, construction and all the finishing details: even towels were washed, fluffed and hung and toothbrushes placed in drawers by the time the owners moved in. “We designed the interior to be more contemporary than the exterior of the home,” says Rockwood’s co-owner, Allison Grafton, “but we also wanted to maintain a sense of tradition to complement it.
“It’s a purist house,” she continues. “There’s real wood, real stone, real finishing here. The goal was to make contemporary more comfortable…to make it human.” From a high-tech golf-simulator room to a 3,000-bottle wine room—detailed in brick sourced from a building that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871—each space was created with a unique purpose and a palette of materials that straddles both past and present. However, the central rooms—kitchen and dining room—were most critical in the owners’ vision. “The couple is incredibly family-centric,” explains Grafton, “but they also fill their house with lots of wonderful friends, too, so all spaces were built for a family of four and a party of 60.”
The open, two-storey dining room serves as the heart of the home, with the other rooms, like a circulatory system, feeding off this central tenet. The room is the first thing visitors experience when they walk through the foyer; just beyond it, a wall of picture windows sheds striking views to mountains and beyond. Overhead, curved, flat-cut walnut ceiling panelling offers a delicate dance between traditional material and contemporary art. “This space is the anchor of the home,” says Grafton. “Everything leads to and from this room.”
Flowing from the dining room, the kitchen, too, handily allows for a small family dinner as well as a big culinary party. An oversized 14-foot island flanked by eight grey leather-clad bar stools from Holly Hunt invites casual conversation, while an eating nook accommodates up to 10 for larger gatherings. Transitional elements abound: custom crystal newels grace the island, while wood detailing cleverly hides drawers. Clear glass pendants and a custom handmade glass-mosaic tile backsplash keep the vibe clean and airy.
The interplay of scale and material is perhaps best showcased in the adjoining family room. An 18-foot ceiling crafted in tongue-and-groove white oak adds drama and dimension. “It’s just tall enough to add fabulous scale,” says Grafton, “but not too tall to make it unwelcoming.” A large fireplace, inspired by the Public Hotel in Chicago, nods to the past, while a massive metal art piece hanging above the mantel adds modern impact with an explosion of blue.
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In the master bedroom, bold colour is writ large. Each hue around the room captures the Prairie sky as well as the natural shades abundant in the owners’ backyard. “If you look at the lime green drapery, it’s the lime green of our leaves in spring,” says Grafton. “The pink and orange art and fabric come from our hot pink skies and fiery red sunsets.” And the result is a lively, beautiful space. She adds, “If you did it all in cream or grey, the space would never have the life it has.”
It’s that dynamic mix of style and layering throughout that brings life to this manse. Texture and tone from fabrics and colour, dimension from materials like stone columns and wood detailing—they all aim to be classically comfortable, but with a contemporary edge; full of quiet moments, with plenty of room for a party. “I love that even though we have a larger home, it still feels cozy and homey,” says the homeowner. “It’s now a home, not a house.”