Photos: A Nordic-Cool Cabin That’s As Beautiful As It Is Sustainable
This light and bright home in Whistler is also deceptively futuristic: its passive design creates a home that’s at once elegant and ecofriendly.
Whistler has a reputation for being a laid-back, outdoorsy paradise heavy on Gore-Tex and river rock, light on cashmere and cutting-edge design—which might be partially true. But when interior designer Sophie Burke introduced architect Cedric Burgers to a certain eco- and modern-minded client of hers, the newly assembled team had one mandate: to create a home that would be mindful of the environment and über-contemporary, yet just as cozy as any other lumber-laden mountain home. The result? A refined take on the cabin: a clean, simple dwelling that’s simultaneously warm, high-tech and elegant.
“Houses are all going to look like this in 10 to 15 years,” says Burgers, principal of Burgers Architecture and the architect on the project. “It’s incredibly energy-efficient and uses only 10 percent of the energy of a code-built house.” Made by BC Passive House, Canada’s first facility to prefabricate structures in line with the rigorous European Passive House Standard, the home has a functionality that renders conventional air conditioners and furnaces obsolete. The homeowners, deeply interested in renewable energies and passionate about cleaner living practices, wanted their mountain home to be a reflection of their commitment to these daily principles.
As such, every minute detail had to be strategized and plotted long before the first hammer could fall. Passive houses are prefabricated off-site in Pemberton, B.C.—about a half hour northeast of Whistler—and then assembled on-site, so, unlike a conventional build, there’s no margin for error or a midway change of mind. First up, the siting would need to be carefully considered: the homeowners cherished the property’s view of Rainbow Mountain. (In fact, during the planning, the homeowner rented a 30-foot ladder to climb to the hypothetical second floor: “I want to see what I’m going to see out my bedroom window!” he told Burgers.)
“It would have been so much easier to site the house facing Whistler and Blackcomb,” admits Burgers. To capture that view, the house required “a sort of twisting action” to turn it 45 degrees, which meant it would no longer sit at a right angle. “That was initially tough for me to wrap my head around because I love right angles,” laughs Burgers. “But in the end, it was the right thing to do.”
Once the design was inked, the next steps fell into place seamlessly. In autumn, a hole was dug on the property and the foundation poured. As the snow began to fall, construction stopped on-site, but that momentum carried on behind the scenes at the BC Passive House warehouse. Come spring, two flatbed trucks arrived at the property with a crane to lift all those prefab panels into place; some 18-inch screws affixed them all together. “It’s a bit like putting together a gingerbread house,” explains Burgers.
The resulting abode, while designed to rigorous specifications that ensure all parts fit together snugly, still feels very much a part of nature. Each strategically placed window was designed to frame perfect views, but there’s another benefit to those high-efficiency German windows, too. “The first thing you notice when you walk in is that it’s mausoleum-quiet,” says Burgers. There’s virtually no “leakage” in the house, he explains, thanks to the triple-paned wood windows, which also work to keep temperatures perfectly uniform throughout: standing next to one of the windows is equally warm as standing in the middle of the room.
Once the shell was complete, it was time to turn to the interiors. From the outset, the team at Sophie Burke Design began to conceive of an interior that would perfectly dovetail with the exterior’s darker palette, which features shou sugi ban, or Japanese burnt-wood cladding. Because the homeowners follow a clean-living ethos, everything would need to be as natural as possible inside as well—the result of which is an airy, light-filled space that feels all at once both Nordic and Zen, and contrasting harmoniously with the darker exterior.
The calm, serenity-steeped interior was the result of preparation equally intense as the outside form had required. The homeowners requested that local and green materials be faithfully sourced and, when that wasn’t possible, they expected materials to come from ethically minded or fair-trade companies. “We worked for so many months trying to find the right wood that met this criteria, but we were also trying to avoid any local wood that would give us orange tones, like cedar,” says Sophie Burke.
“We wanted something Nordic and whitewashed, but, being mindful of local materials, foreign white oak wasn’t right either.” The team, including senior designer Jennifer Millar of Sophie Burke Design and Leon Lebeniste Millwork, worked for months to achieve the winning look: local hemlock wood was carefully whitewashed after weeks of R&D trying to effect the perfect light stain. Now hemlock ceilings, cabinetry and furniture all tie together in one seamless, sophisticated space that could easily be a home on the Coast, a Scandinavian cabin or a New York apartment. It’s far from the usual Whistler suspects.
“When the interiors are clean and minimal, the details are key because you really notice them,” says Burke. One detail that was required was durability because of the family’s plethora of skis, snow boots and even bikes (one of the homeowners is an avid mountain biker). The marble counters hail from Vancouver Island, while other notable details follow a natural ethos—wood, linen and cotton fabrics, wool wallpaper and natural ceramics abound. They all work in concert to create a peaceful, family-friendly getaway that’s warm and welcoming even on the coldest of winter days.
There’s a yin and a yang to the home—a sense of balance with the darker shell that envelops a light and natural interior. “Sophie and Cedric tuned in very quickly to the different styles my husband and I are attracted to and did an amazing job of harmonizing them,” says the homeowner. “My husband prefers darker colours, metal, lots of glass and raw materials—which Cedric and his team reflected in the architecture; I dreamed of soft, light, natural colours and textures that felt like a calm, warm embrace, which Sophie and her team magically brought to life.”