Nearly six decades after it appeared in this magazine, a Vancouver home is lovingly restored to its original glory.
More than half a century ago, we featured a home in the pages of this magazine that belonged to a pair of bright young UBC professors: Sydney Friedman had recently been made head of the school’s fledgling anatomy department, and his wife, Constance, was a professor at the same. It was Fred Lasserre, director of the university’s architecture department (and a friend to the couple) who designed the novel space for them—on a pointed corner lot near the campus (on Chancellor Boulevard, no less).
The surrounding grounds became a debut project for Cornelia Oberlander, who went on to become a legend in landscape design. This was a place and time for great beginnings. Busy lives and optimistic outlooks radiate from old photos of the mod, split-level home, with its bright window walls and colourful interiors. The couple delighted in the changing light and shadows.
Today, Dr. Friedman still lives in his dream house (his wife passed away in 2011). Now 98 years old, Friedman is looking toward his legacy and has chosen to leave the home to the university for the use of visiting professors. But he’s decided to first return his home to its glory days.
Oberlander—now 92—was rehired to restore the garden, though its heather, azaleas and raked gravel had been lovingly maintained. Meanwhile, a new firm was needed for the interior. Mercedes King, of Kenorah Construction and Design, worked closely with Friedman, who regularly visited the site during construction to see that his home’s renovation was faithful to the original. “He was deeply committed to this,” says King. “Money was no object and he was quite vocal about getting things right.”
Those red tiles surrounding the fireplace, for example? King tried eight different times before Friedman told her she’d found the colour he remembered. In the dining area, carpet was pulled up to uncover splashes of the original shade of light sage that had adorned the walls. (Matching custom-coloured Brigade appliances were then ordered for the kitchen.) Friedman had in his head a picture of his old home; this wasn’t just a renovation—it was a kind of return.
Of course, it wouldn’t be true to the mid-century spirit if a couple of nods to the future weren’t allowed. A brass trim on the fireplace was replaced with black powder-coated steel; all the house’s dozens of windows were replaced with glass that meets today’s eco-standards. And, most notably, King worked with local design firm Propellor to create the custom chandelier that now hangs over the dining table in an assemblage of ruby-red resin pieces. (Friedman approved the colours.)
Mostly, though, this is a labour of real restoration. Cedar ceiling beams were sanded and refinished to a golden hue. Plush new carpeting was laid throughout. (A less faithful restoration might have swapped in hardwood floors.) Original stucco on the fireplace surround was touched up rather than torn down.
And why not stay true? The Friedmans clearly made smart choices in the first place—as evidenced by those 1959 B.C. Binning artworks in the living room (Binning was one of several artist acquaintances, along with Bill Reid), and by the fine selection of lovingly maintained Scandinavian teak chairs and sideboards throughout.
King tried to switch out the vertical cedar beams on the living room’s far wall for en vogue horizontal beams, but Dr. Friedman wasn’t having that. The result of such faithfulness to the 1950s vision is that, one day, this home will be enjoyed by those visiting professors as a modernist gem, a piece of design history. In the meantime, Dr. Friedman is living in a smartly refurbished home, where the past appears to be very much present. —WL