Party-Ready Beach House
An intimate space is just what was needed in this West Vancouver oceanside home.
Living the dream doesn’t always mean elephantine mansions. Yes, the owners of this West Vancouver beach house do own a much larger Arthur Erickson-designed house a little ways up the hillside. And yes, they’ve also bought up four adjoining properties, the better to fill their idealized perimeter with gardens and waterfalls. But the homeowners have found that a manageable, intimate space can provide a lifestyle that larger spaces would smother. In 2004, Erickson worked with architect Nick Milkovich to design the base floor of the beach house—it’s a party zone, reached via funicular from the main house, and it has certain hallmarks of Erickson’s playboy heyday: there’s an ’80s-style hedonism to the massive futuristic bar, which consumes much of the space, and an extremeness to its all-white interior.
When owner John Laxton met interior designer Mitchell Freedland at a party in 2005, he brought him on board to create a compact living space above that party den. At a mere 1,250 square feet, the beach house’s upper floor was intended as a secondary suite. Nobody knew then that the owners would love it so much they would practically move in, largely forsaking the capacious building up the hill.
What is so inviting about the room Freedland delivered? (And it is essentially a single room.) He managed to draw in the elements—the ever-present ocean, expanses of broadly terraced, wondrously manicured lawns—while giving the abode a measure of warmth and security, too. “Because things were going to be so focused on that great view, we wanted to create an anchor at the back wall,” says Freedland. A bank of closets was fashioned from rift-cut white oak. The sandy tones, featured there and in a stack of (decorative) logs by the gas fireplace, reference the beach, of course, but also work to warm up an otherwise all-white space. The custom bed sits parallel to the trapezoidal angle that animates one side of the beach house—all of which nudges sleepy-eyed residents to take in ocean views. Walk toward that wall of windows and the anchoring of the building’s rear starts to shimmer and break up; an original glass block skylight that was installed on the lower level is now a transparent walkway for the top floor.
It’s a balancing act between safety and freedom; you’re held tight in the curtain-ensconced dressing room, which sits beyond a pair of white oak doors, or your hair is whipped by ocean breezes as you step onto the patio and into an ocean-wide vista. And there’s another balancing act at play, too. Everything floats a little. The volume of the fireplace hovers off the floor; the large custom sofa was lifted, too, and set upon a polished steel plinth, which reflects the flooring, giving the illusion that the floor continues under the sofa. But, again, Freedland anchors you when you need it. The marble jetted tub may have a subtle toe-kick to keep things buoyant, but its sculptural mass is necessary for true relaxation. Overlooking bathers is a bust of the Roman emperor Hadrian (he was a developer, too, like the homeowner) who gives his own counterpoint of gravitas to the otherwise strictly contemporary interior. Children and pets are known to need small, controllable spaces in order to feel safe. They like dens and secret hideaways under the stairs. But there’s a childlike pleasure we can all experience in an adult (and luxurious) variation on that theme. Freedland’s beach house does away with the weighty baggage that so often goes along with “dream” homes, leaving his clients to pare things down, commune with the elements, or simply hibernate. Standing out on the patio one can consider the private cove. In the middle distance, there’s a naked rockform called Seal’s Island; jutting in that direction is a miniature man-made peninsula, as precisely manicured as the rest of the lower lawns. A pair of baroque figurines guard the circular platform at the end of it. Do the homeowners take tea down there? It seems an ideal setting. “No,” comes the reply, with a surprised smile at the idea. In fact “the breakwater” will be expanded and further landscaped—they’re waiting for the next designer to present them with options. Then there’s a grin again, as though to say it’s still okay to dream big.