He loves cool modernism, she loves warm and cozy. The results? A beautifully designed compromise.
As generally happens in non-celluloid marriages, compromise ensued when Neil Farlette and Wendy Christie decided to build a home together. Christie wanted a warm, traditional house; Farlette favoured a more hard-edged, modern design. “When I said, ’Let’s do contemporary,’” says Farlette, “Wendy was concerned that it would be too cold.” In the end, he got his way—but so did she. The result is a modern “jewel box” of a Vancouver home (so say their neighbours on the Craftsman-heavy, Douglas Park-area street) with warm wood, soft edges and a subtle sense of play.
In many ways, the couple’s 2,820-square-foot house is the product of good neighbourly relations. The split-level home was designed by Paul Phillips of Environmental Design Group, who works for for Farlette’s building company, Benchmark Designs, had worked with on other residential properties. The interior designer, Denise Ashmore of Project Twenty-Two Design, had joined forces with Farlette on many projects as well—to boot, she was the couple’s across-the-alley neighbour in their previous, very traditional home.
Farlette specializes in heritage restoration, but there was little that could be saved from the existing, crumbling 900-square-foot 1930s bungalow. The new home is now a perfect marriage of the modern urban Gastown loft the couple enjoyed before they had kids and the 1914 Edwardian they lived in with their now eight- and 11-year-old children. (It includes what may be the most elegant 600-square-foot basement rental suite in the Lower Mainland—oiled walnut flooring, level-loop new wool carpeting and exposed custom cabinets built from Baltic birch plywood are hardly the norm.) And while the Farlette home hits all the contemporary notes—open floor plan, large expanse of glass, a simple exterior—any tendency toward starkness is met with warmth. It’s perhaps most obvious in the American black walnut floors and millwork thoughout the home. The softness of the walnut grain, notes Ashmore, is a perfect way to make the home inviting—she’s had a recent influx of clients gravitating to the unfussy wood for its mid-century design appeal.
While Ashmore and her clients were a harmonious team, the designer says she had to push the couple a little to agree to a feature that would significantly temper the starkness of the open, high-ceilinged living room/dining room. “Neil and Wendy had planned to leave the space between the two rooms completely open,” explains Ashmore. She felt strongly, however, that a dividing wall of cantilevered shelves would personalize the space. “The shelves break up a long wall and give the family a place to put up photos, books and other conversation-starters,” says Ashmore. “There is no traditional mantel in the living room, so the shelves offer a great advantage in warming things up—plus,” she adds, “I always plan for reality in my interiors. We need places to put things.”
The master bedroom, just steps from the kids’ rooms, offers an interesting manifestation of the couple’s shared appreciation for natural beauty, as well as a nod to their former life in Gastown. A 320-square-foot rooftop deck—reminiscent, says Farlette, of what the couple enjoyed downtown—sits on the flat top of the lower part of the split level. Accessed off the landing for the top floor, which leads to the master suite, the deck makes the most of a large cherry tree in the yard as well as the 60- to 80-foot-tall oak trees on the boulevard. “We sunk the back of the house to provide sufficient room for a roof deck on the back of the house,” says Farlette. “When you’re up there, you’re just seeing this canopy of trees—it feels like you’re in a treehouse.”
As well, a six-foot-long, one-foot-wide slot window cut into one corner of the bedroom accommodates a horizontal view of a particularly lovely oak tree branch on the boulevard outside. “Everyone questioned us on that decision,” says Farlette. But the couple loves their unique micro-view on the world outside their window—proof that, for modernists and traditionalists alike, it’s the details that make a house sing.