A Heritage House Goes Modern
A Vancouver couple makes a century-old house relevant again.
Respect. The word keeps popping up as the home-owners, Tracy and Francis, describe their reno of a 100-year-old heritage house in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood. Yet owning a 1913 home wasn’t on the agenda when they went househunting two years ago. “We always thought we were concrete, glass and steel people,” says Tracy. On a whim, they looked at this story-book house, complete with boxwood-lined gravel drive and classic front porch—and bought it the next day. What captured them was the warmth of this long-lived-in home. And the view, which ran from the front door to the backyard, right through a floating-tread staircase. The open stairs also offered another vision—through the framework, the couple could envision a modern reinterpretation of the space.
The stairway had been the crux of a previous reno (featured in the April 1996 issue of Western Living) that dramatically opened up the main floor of the original house, but the 15-year-old postmodern take was now dated. (Think ’90s-era glass blocks.) A second reno would bring the home back to its roots. Enter designer Andrew Barker. A friend of the couple, he shared their modern aesthetic, and corralled their creative energy. (Francis is an art director; Tracy, a graphic designer.) “We drew inspiration from the house,” says Barker. “The overall look and feel respects the traditional character and architectural mouldings of the house but infuses it with a modern sensibility.”
After Barker built a personality profile of the couple, he pulled together a look book of recommendations. The project went from “tarting up” the kitchen to a rethink of the entire home. The kitchen was gutted and reconfigured, a pass-through to the formal dining room was closed up to create an office and a living-room wall was removed to unite the main floor. Certain elements were musts from the start. She wanted the chalkboard wall in the kitchen and the Christian Woo-designed king-size bed. He wanted the built-in espresso machine and gallery-style lighting for artwork. And, with twin toddler girls, they both wanted the space to be open and playful, with pops of colour—from the yellow-and-chrome pendant over the kitchen island to pink plastic chairs in the twins’ play area in the living room.
The whimsical colour palette (against a backdrop of gallery-white walls) actually stems from stained-glass windows original to the home. “The house spoke to us a lot,” says Francis. “We wanted it to be modern, but to keep the original feel of the house, too.” Case in point: the ceramic antler chandelier in the front hallway, which sums it up for Barker—a “modern-rustic” style that’s a twist on tradition. The play between new and old is reiterated everywhere. Kitchen shelves, custom-designed by Barker, incorporate a minimalist take on corbels. The master bath has contemporary large-format tiles laid in a subway pattern, and the modern walnut vanity has a quartz countertop that looks like marble. Throughout, the reno reveals details from the home’s past. The mirror above the fireplace mantel is mottled, its age-old patina now a showpiece. The fir floor, patched up, shines with a darker stain. Old-school crystal knobs—many original—adorn each heritage door.
“We stripped away anything superfluous, even paint colours,” says Barker, “and the house acts as a bit of a gallery for the couple’s objects. It’s a great canvas for them to play with.” The couple even uses the home as gallery space, hosting parties alongside exhibitions of artwork on their walls. The end result is bespoke—it’s a century-old home tailored for a modern family. “We like the feeling of saving a piece of heritage and evolving it,” says Francis, “rather than tearing it down and building something new.”