Modest Modern Seaside Cabin
Practical meets poetic in a home on the coast, just right for hosting three generations.
At first glance, this modern, airy home on the water has little in common with the outback cabin the homeowners, Lee and Diane, once lived in. Back in 1971, the couple journeyed by Volkswagen bus to the Kleena Kleene river valley near Bella Coola, B.C., to start an Outward Bound school. There, they built a rustic cabin that had no electricity or running water, which they lived in for nearly a year.
And while the couple’s current Battersby Howat-designed, whitewashed wonder of a beach house appears worlds apart from that bare-bones home, their new space does reinterpret echoes of the couple’s past lifestyle. “You walked into that house,” says Lee of their original ’70s cabin, “and the warmth, it’s just like walking into this house. It just feels good.”
The retired couple now has nine grandchildren from their three children, and this home on Boundary Bay is very much about family gatherings. The neighbourhood, located in South Delta, B.C., was once mainly an enclave of cottages, where families could retreat from Vancouver; today, it’s a mishmash of weathered old cabins and new builds.
The beauty of the beach setting and its informality served as an inspiration point for architects David Battersby and Heather Howat. “We wanted to do something more in the spirit of ‘cottage’ rather than ‘formal modern house,’” says Battersby. Think modern yet modest—with a diversity of experience within what’s basically a 2,617-square-foot box that follows the shoreline.
On the building’s exterior, a hood extends from the roof and sides of the house to provide protection from wind and rain and to control the context of the view, channelling sightlines out to the beach and away from neighbouring homes that butt up against the urban-size lot. Inside, an open staircase zigzags to provide different viewpoints and hangouts for romping grandkids. Ceilings extend almost two floors in the high-traffic kitchen and dining room, encouraging activity, while a lower ceiling in the view-centric living room induces lounging. “It seems counterintuitive,” explains Battersby, “but the view is vast already, so it’s nice to have it contained and made cozy with a lower ceiling.”
While the architecture itself is robust, the materials palette is simple: whitewashed cedar and grey cement-board lap siding outside, white-oak flooring and cabinetry and minimalist mid-century modern furniture inside. The colour palette is similarly limited to white, soft grey and blue. Contemporary dormer windows flood the space with light, adding to the bleached-out vibe.
That lightness brings objects and photos from Lee and Diane’s rich history to the fore. Driftwood collected from Boundary Bay’s beach is juxtaposed with souvenirs from around the world. “David and Heather were definitely instrumental in bringing some of our good memories out of storage,” says Lee. The couple’s shadow puppet collection from Southeast Asia is now showcased atop the custom-designed millwork, along with pottery crafted by Diane’s brother. And a photo gallery wall, a final gift from Battersby and Howat, displays the couple’s past family gatherings and homes, from that cabin in Kleena Kleene to the beach right here.
The simplicity and sparseness in material is intentional on many levels: the architects’ ethos of sustainability, the homeowners’ desire to downsize upon retirement, a budget-conscious design and a reflection of the beachfront site itself. “It’s efficient and practical,” explains Battersby, “but it also doesn’t lose its poetic quality as a piece of architecture.” The home may be cottagey in spirit, evoking the same sense of familial comfort and reverence for its surroundings as the homeowners’ cabin in the wild long ago, but now it is manifested in a thoroughly modern and sophisticated way. WL