How One Designer Transformed a Burned-Out Okanagan Plot Into His Dream Abode
On land once ravaged by fire, Geoff Orr builds a new home that celebrates a rebirth—namely, of the salvaged materials used to construct it.
When designer Geoff Orr purchased this property in the hills above the city of Penticton more than 10 years ago, there wasn’t much to see. A forest fire had ravaged the area 15 years previous—one of the worst in B.C.’s history—and the land was just recovering. Orr was also going through big changes himself: he’d left Vancouver to move to the Okanagan and open a new firm, Farout Developments, with a friend from school. Transforming this burned-out plot of land into its own kind of phoenix would become his passion over the next decade.
Designer Geoff Orr named his home Fuego in reference to the fires that once swept over this land.
After a season of camping on the property in an old Airstream, Orr crafted a tiny toolshed-cum-cabin using dead trees harvested from the surrounding land. This temporary home was humble—no heat in the winters (“just a lot of blankets”)—but attractive, with floor-to-ceiling windows salvaged from another building, and a lofted sleeping area.
As time and money allowed, he began to envision, and build, the home that lives here now. “I wanted to test the limits of a lot of different materials,” says Orr. The first was a set of glulam beams recovered from a condemned SuperValu in downtown Penticton. The beams had been a part of a convex roof in that grocery store, but Orr flipped them for his own roofline, creating a dramatic, upturned curve.
The penny floor is in the front entry hall, and made from 12,650 pennies laid down one at a time.
It was the start of a design that would be constructed almost entirely from reclaimed materials. “By the time I went to put in the second floor,” says Orr, “I found some more beams. And people started to support it and help out.” Friends and neighbours alerted him to more materials that Orr could use, including fir posts and beams from the Penticton Golf Club, the Banff Arena and the Muriel Baxter school, buildings that were all demolished but now live on within Orr’s home.
Working with reclaimed fir had another advantage: because the wood has already spent decades in the elements, it’s stable—unlikely to twist or settle over time as newer materials do. Because of this, the glazing that runs floor to ceiling around the home could be set straight into the structure without intrusive frames, preserving open sightlines to the foothills surrounding the home.
Geoff Orr sits beside the rammed-earth fireplace that’s central to the main floor (friends Andrew and Christine Dimma hang out in the background).
The house is almost entirely open concept—even the second-floor master bedroom is lofted to the main space below. “It’s open concept to the outside as well,” says Orr. “Really, the house is composed of just beams and glass.”
The living, kitchen and dining rooms all wrap around a large, rammed-earth, wood-burning fireplace that’s double-sided. The sunken living room is designed with built-in furniture: beams encircle the room, made cozy with cushions and pillows to create a favourite spot for both Geordie the cat and Coady the Vizsla.
The water feature beside the home naturally refills with rainwater and is stocked with koi (above). The couple designed a beach beside it as well, complete with handmade benches and patio lights (below).
Outside, Orr and his wife, Katharine, constructed what they refer to as “the beach”—an ideal gathering place for family and friends to hang out on nicer evenings, around a firepit. “We’re a little ways from the lake,” he says, “so we thought it would be nice to have a beach to hang out at.”
Hand-constructed wood benches wrap around a sandy firepit, and the water feature has become a natural pond: though they initially excavated to create it, the pond now fills and refreshes on its own with rainwater from the roof and runoff from the land. It’s also home to 100 koi, donated from locals who found they had a few too many, and waste from the fish is used to fertilize the surrounding gardens. (Katharine is a manager at the GardenWorks in town, so she’s the green thumb of the house.)
The couple designed these off-the-grid cabins for guests and for Airbnb rentals. The Shire (below) is built right into the rock; Rumspringa (above) is suspended off of a rammed-earth wall. Both are made from reclaimed materials.
Orr has since built three cabins on the property, which he rents out through Airbnb: the Rumspringa, Scouse and Shire cabins are under 10 square metres and are also constructed of reclaimed materials—including the glass and windows—and each features 270-degree views of the valley. There’s no heat or electricity, but the couple provide lanterns, and hot water bottles on cooler nights. “The intention is to unplug,” says Orr. “You’re communing with nature, so there’s no wifi either.”
Orr designed the garage to be built into the hillside (with motorcycle, below); on its second floor, he’s created a flex space (above)—a yoga studio, for now.
Given the charming names for the cabins, it’s no surprise that the main home has its own moniker, too: Fuego, the Spanish word for fire. An ode to the forest-fire origins of the home, the name also plays out in the interior design: the ceiling is stained in a charcoal black, and the same shade is reflected in many of the decor accents. “It’s a home that’s risen out of the ashes,” says Orr. “It’s really about transformation and change.”