Photos: A Jaw-Dropping Split-Level with a View to Thrill
Perched on a challenging site in West Vancouver, this concrete creation from design team McLeod Bovell is a revelation.
It’s not easy to describe the architectural vision of this concrete house on a rocky outcrop sandwiched between train tracks, tight-knit neighbours and West Vancouver’s coastline-tracing Marine Drive. Design duo Matt McLeod and Lisa Bovell of McLeod Bovell Modern Houses switched between fluidity, plasticity, malleability and even volumetric design to try capture their process of space-making.
Unlike anything surrounding it, this home’s irregular shape and atypical residential building materials are more akin to modern-day South American projects that stem from their surroundings to showcase concrete’s versatility. Think minimalist character, structural order and harmonious coexistence with the natural environment—as if sculpted from it.
Winners of Western Living’s 2014 Designers of the Year Arthur Erickson Memorial Award, the pair has worked together for eight years now, establishing a particular oeuvre. Having worked extensively on homes with challenging sites inherent to the steep and rocky terrain of West Vancouver, their go-to has become concrete. Not because it’s easy or cost-effective (it’s not), but because of its pliability. “It’s solid, yet soft,” Bovell says.
And that characteristic resolves limitations of topography. Here, despite being buried at one end and exposed at the other, this split-level building is carefully choreographed to feel holistic. Each elevation is connected with just a half-level of stairs. From the oversized pivot door at the entrance, you can see right through to the back deck—and the ocean. Angled planes and retaining walls usher you into the space and continue front to back to a dramatic point that reaches out to that view and creates a privacy screen.
The transition between exterior and interior is seamless. Raw concrete is left exposed, its functional construction outside becoming decorative texture inside. The linear pattern of the board-form concrete (the boards’ imprint leaves a wood-grain texture in the material) is juxtaposed with a similarly textured wood siding, sometimes following on the horizontal but also breaking into vertical. “We use the direction of cladding to extend or break down the reading of floor levels,” says McLeod.
Concrete extensions and protrusions create privacy and sheltered spaces, as if hoods or blinders. Neighbours disappear and the view is spectacularly framed through the back of the house, which seems to project into the ocean. Under a concrete canopy, suspended 40 feet above the property’s base, the deck and adjacent plunge pool are both viewing platform and meditative space—bold and quietly poetic. “It’s just you and that horizon line,” says McLeod. He compares it to a cave. “There’s a feeling of solidity and containment, yet also an immediate connection to the outdoors.” Bovell adds, “When you’re inside the house, it feels like it’s a space that’s been hollowed out for you.”
Within this carved-out interior, the duo guided the design to continue the raw yet warm and crafted vibe of concrete, which “forms a kind of skeleton for the house,” says Bovell. Combined with other natural materials—wood, steel, leather pulls on millwork—the goal was to “reduce the bandwidth and colour of material,” says McLeod, and “have everything exist in a quiet zone.”
It’s a limited palette, monochromatic and minimal. In the kitchen, matte-white cabinetry hides appliances. A live-edge plank dining table reiterates the texture of unfinished concrete. Light wide-plank oak flooring mimics the exterior cladding and is even continued up a wall in the living room for continuity. The dark-charcoal architectural metalwork of a custom-built fireplace and storage unit is repeated in a floating folded staircase. Pale porcelain tile with a veined effect covers another wall in the main living space, alongside walls of concrete, oak and glass. The master bath’s floors and walls are wrapped in the same porcelain tiles, and both the Caesarstone counter and white oak in the millwork are the same materials used in the kitchen.
Everything fits and belongs. There are no separate pieces. In both palette and design, it’s an interconnected whole. Like intricate origami, it’s as if a series of folded planes create one volume or geometric form: this house. Or sculpture. “Using concrete as a critical tool for expression allows you to think about a building as being solid or carved, rather than being put together from a series of pieces,” says Bovell. It’s poured vision.