The imprint of many hands is felt in Sophie Burke’s home during the holidays. There’s her mark, as the interior designer who orchestrated a simple-yet-sophisticated renovation; her children’s playful touch, in handcrafted decorations and Christmas-cookie making; and the many-layered patina of the grande-dame house itself, graced by almost a century of character.
The 1927 property, long overlooked in West Vancouver’s hot real-estate market, was once part of a shingle mill set on a half acre alongside the creek that carried logs to be processed. Many people viewed it as a teardown, but Burke, who’s revamped quite a few homes through her eponymous design studio, saw otherwise: “We can breathe life into this house and make it come alive again.”
She and husband Cameron bought the 3,500-square-foot house and, rather than gut the insides, chose to leave as much intact as possible, from the mullioned windows to the coffered ceiling in the kitchen. “We like that the house had that history and we didn’t want to erase it, we just wanted to update it,” says Burke. So they embraced all the nooks, crannies and oddities—like the various widths and angles of panelling—and coated them in white paint to transform the “fishing lodge” vibe into a blank slate to which Burke could apply her signature style.
“I like a more Scandinavian aesthetic,” says Burke, and its underlying simplicity now anchors clean-lined pieces of mid-century-modern design, like Wegner’s Sawbuck and Wishbone chairs. “I think because it’s a character house it already has a lot of personality you’re working with,” says Burke. “And then you add the more contemporary feel, create that juxtaposition, that tension, and it becomes more interesting.”
This push-and-pull includes natural, handmade elements—a bowl brimming with found objects, like shells and cotton tufts, and her children’s seasonal and holiday creations, such as 11-year-old Tom’s star made out of twigs. Burke also layers in antiques, like an old French butcher block that now serves as an island in the kitchen, the family’s gathering place for craft- and cookie-making. The butcher block’s timeworn, much-used surface reiterates the wood of the original leaded-glass cabinet doors. “We try to create warmth, balance the crispness and cleanness of architecture with that personal touch that comes from natural materials,” says Burke.
It’s all a bit wabi-sabi, a celebration of patina. And to balance this hand-touched quality and the home’s inherent quirkiness, Burke stuck to a minimalist colour scheme. “I had this vision of the house being very neutral in palette: black and white and grey,” she says. Interior doors were painted Off Black (Farrow and Ball) as a graphic contrast to the Cloud White (Benjamin Moore) walls, while tactile textiles are many shades of grey in between—from soft-grey linen drapery and felted-wool art to lambskin throws and charcoal-wool armchairs.
Those statement-making Utrecht armchairs (a 1935 design by Dutch architect Rietveld, co-founder of the De Stijl movement with Mondrian) are a grounding, inspired touch in the living room. “One of my favourite designers of all time, Ilse Crawford, she always uses these chairs and I always admire them in her work,” says Burke. “I just think they’re really kind of unusual looking.”
Such pieces are Burke’s way of adding her own quirk. A pair of vintage safari chairs, tracked down on the 1stdibs website from a seller in Amsterdam, and a Tolomeo floor lamp, which the couple has had for years, also make distinctive marks. These higher-end elements are then juxtaposed with a daybed from Ikea (designed by Ilse Crawford for the big-box retailer). It all works together as a very now and diverse mix within this stately house.
It’s also a home in which you won’t find anything fake during the holiday season. “I just like super-natural. I hate glitzy Christmas decorations with a passion,” says Burke. As with everything else, ornaments are largely homespun. Mobile-like hangings formed out of branches are strung from light fixtures. The fireplace mantel is adorned with magnolia leaves from her sister’s backyard, and pine cones and boughs she foraged and cut herself. This natural greenery is paired with winter fruit and more felted wool: ornaments from Ikea and garlands from West Elm. “Basically, felted wool is the theme for my tree,” laughs the designer. Paper angels, crafted by her kids with an artist friend as part of a Christmas tradition, are another au naturel decoration.
“No bright colours” is Burke’s mantra. “I just feel like there are so many pretty things in nature, like berries to put on a present or dried hops or a piece of fir, little bits of greenery with simple twine or ribbon.” It’s fitting that the words she uses to describe the aesthetic achieved in this home are similarly fuss-free: “A bit Scandinavian, eclectic, warm and natural.” An haute hand-wrought home for the holidays.
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