Inside an Airy Home Reno Connected to the Great Outdoors
An innovative design in Vancouver takes creative advantage of outdoor spaces on both sides of the property.
When we think about our outdoor spaces, it’s the backyard that tends to get most of the love and attention. While any movie set in the American South may feature that requisite sweet-tea-and-romance porch scene, in reality it’s been a couple of generations since the front porch was a go-to hangout. As we collectively moved our cars to the front of the house and, frankly, closed off our relationships with the neighbours to the sides, backyards became our preferred place to relax. City planning has also played a role in this shift from front to back, with the fear of creating front-yard “party zones” dissuading designers and builders from taking advantage of that space as a site for social connection.
But designer Denise Ashmore’s home in Vancouver’s Douglas Park neighbourhood does a rethink on what a front yard can be. Because of the home’s bird’s-eye view of the park and mountains beyond, Ashmore and her husband, Paul Rapp, had kept their eye on this property for years—despite a terrible past renovation on the 1923 home, and landscaping that seemed to close it off from the open, green outlook in front of it.
Once they finally purchased the home in 2010, the couple brought on board Piers Cunnington and Clinton Cuddington of Measured Architecture to work in partnership with Ashmore for a renovation that tackled indoors and out—capitalizing on the views while maintaining privacy, and creating both public and private spaces within the home.
That dual relationship is most obviously evident in a front deck that behaves as a modern take on the porch—though getting the design approved took some negotiation with the city. “There’s a lot of pressure to prevent projects from utilizing the forecourt as a gathering place,” says Cuddington. “But that front-side environment can really enliven neighbourhoods. The fear is that you’ll get the Budweiser hot tub.”
What’s been created here is anything but brews-and-bros. A terraced deck and greenery surround a modern fire pit by Solus Decor, with elegant seating that takes full advantage of the view to Douglas Park and the North Shore mountains—and also creates a place to watch the kids play soccer in the field out front. Behind the home lies a second, more private outdoor space: a relaxed sofa set under a canopy and surrounded by French lavender, perfect for an evening glass of wine with the neighbours.
Inside, Ashmore and Measured designed a home that opens out to those great views while creating personal spaces for each member of the household. The ground floor is designed to become a self-contained suite should an aging parent need it, or once the kids (Aida and Owen, now 11 and 13) start looking for their own places to live. For now, it’s a teen hangout with a comfy sofa to gather in after those soccer matches in the park.
The main living space is one floor up—a position chosen to create what Cunnington calls “a treehouse condition” overlooking the park. The open-concept kitchen anchors one end of the space, and the living room the other. Throughout, a restricted materials palette creates connection and provides details that give the house a mid-century feel: white brick, rift-cut walnut millwork on the fireplace, carbonized wood on the walls and in the metalwork, oiled walnut floors, engineered cedar ceilings.
Much like the rest of the home, there’s a space for everything here, right down to a mini mudroom for tossing off coats and shoes for those arriving through the backyard or after parking in the alley. And, on warm days, folding glass doors in the living room push aside to transform the indoor space into yet another outdoor one.
Most importantly, it’s a space that works—a home that’s custom-fit to this family of four for both kids and adults to have both their own places, and room to come together too.
“It was exactly how we envisioned it working out,” says Ashmore, who says she felt it all come together on one recent weekend. “The kids were downstairs with all their friends, having come back after the carnival at school, and we were up in the backyard with neighbours. You just couldn’t write the script better.”