A renovation adds a modern sensibility to vintage cottage charm in West Vancouver.
A river runs through it. Well, behind it. A fish-filled creek in the backyard provides the setting for this West Vancouver house, but inside, the home also has its own flow, one of modern minimalism and cottage charm. Here’s a tranquil pool anchored by an antique Mongolian credenza; over there is a buzz of activity in an airy family room awash in light and linens. It’s a sleek-yet-organic living space punctuated with worldly treasures.
The 3,400-square-foot home is in the neighbourhood of Cedardale, minutes from downtown Vancouver. “It’s a stone’s throw from the Lions Gate Bridge and Park Royal, Ambleside Village and the beach,” says homeowner Lauren. “But it feels a world away because it’s nestled up against a salmon-spawning creek and a greenway.” When she and her husband Matthew bought the house, there was even a sign out front with the moniker “Creekside Cottage.”
The property’s forest hideaway was a surprise when the couple first looked at the house. And it sealed the deal. “The fact that it is a creekside cottage just fits who we are,” says Lauren. She’s an environmental lawyer who’s the executive director of a local charity for water conservation. He’s a mining lawyer and artist at heart. To make sure they preserved that cottagey charm while incorporating their own modern sensibility, they asked Joanna Vagelatos of The Cross Decor and Design to check out the property before tackling a renovation.
It was a smart move. While the floor plan didn’t change, everything was gutted, revamped and neutralized—kitchen, bathrooms, fireplaces. Joanna measured and went over every piece of existing furniture with Lauren and Matthew to figure out what would work in the home’s new skin. Matthew had lived in Asia for 10 years and had amassed many one-of-a-kind pieces, from an ancient bench to a bevy of Buddhas. “Everything was deep, dark brown and espresso; all of it was Asian style,” says Lauren. “I felt like it was overkill, and I had to slowly break it up with some softness and lightness.” She seized the reno opportunity to be extra selective, editing the furniture down to a few statement pieces.
Then she and Joanna painted some of the anchor Asian pieces white, a la The Cross. “I fell in love with the design aesthetic at The Cross,” says Lauren of the Vancouver decor outpost. Her parents gave the couple 10 hours of design time with Joanna as an anniversary present, and with that they created a look book that became the basis of the reno.
Part of that look book included clippings of actress Keri Russell’s bedroom. It’s one of Joanna’s reno tips: scour magazines and books to figure out your style. Lauren loved the actress’s antique-y yet modern style, brought together in a palette of greys and linens. Her own bedroom now has a similar feel, with a custom-made natural-linen headboard and grey paint. A mirrored side table adds that “little hit of glam,” says Lauren, and a beloved sandalwood Buddha sits atop. A juju, or African feather headdress, above the bed is Joanna’s find. And the big, bold dresser, one of Matthew’s pieces given new life with white paint, displays more treasures.
For Joanna, it was about curating the couple’s existing extensive collection. “I guided them in the direction of minimizing,” she says. To offset the overly Asian, somewhat heavy and traditional vibe, she added playful pieces like a skull pillow, agate bookends, papier mâché trophy and white deer head—which Joanna describes as quirky but not fussy, and which she completed by tying a ribbon around its neck for some softness. The resulting mix is eclectic and very now.
The goal was also to incorporate as many natural elements as possible—linen, wool carpet, silk. Using non-synthetics to minimize off-gassing (as well as zero-VOC paint and water-based floor sealant) was important to both Lauren as a young mother and an environmental steward and to Joanna as a LEED-certified designer. And while the floor’s water-based matte finish is great for kids, it also adds a cool grey to the contemporary palette.
The result is a transitional home, one that fits in West Vancouver and maintains its original charm as a cedar-shingled craftsman cottage, yet is thoroughly modern in attitude. Gold-rimmed dishes from Lauren’s great-grandmother share space with a Saarinen tulip table and a piece of driftwood Lauren found along the Colorado River during a camping trip. It’s that ebb and flow between vintage and sleek, organic and modern. And as a champion of the environment, Lauren recognizes the serendipity of her home ending up right on a salmon creek. It really is as if a river runs through it. —WL