West Coast Makeover
An open-concept renovation re-imagines this classic West Coast A-Frame home to show off its bright, breezy dimensions. West Coast Editor Todd Talbot tells all
Over the last 70 or 80 years. West Coast architecture has developed a signature look and feel that incorporates the natural landscape into the design, and showcases its spectacular views. This is accomplished through the abundant use of glass as well as the use of local materials like Douglas Fir and Red Cedar into unique post-and-beam construction. Famously linear in shape, this West Coast modern style emerged as early as the 1940s. Strongly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, who believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and the environment—also called organic architecture—you can see this style of home being built all over B.C. to this day.
This kind of organic design gives a home a ‘feel’ or attractiveness that people can’t always explain, but they definitely feel. The attraction to B.C. and the Vancouver area, as evidenced by soaring house prices, has many contributing factors, but the diverse and distinct homes found here are definitely part of the appeal. In my own home, overlooking the ocean and on the side of a mountain, we have embraced these principles. Our goal was to highlight the natural elements that surround us and use our design to maximize the view.
The hard finishes in the house are clean and modern with accents of fir, cedar and stone. We opened and vaulted our main living area to allow maximum light and we cut windows and skylights into the existing structure to help achieve this. The colour palette was kept very simple to keep the focus where we wanted it to be: the view, the architectural design, and the people in it. We laid out the room to have an intimate, inviting feel while still remaining functional. Sometimes called a “great room,” with the kitchen, dining area and living room co-existing in a single open space, this would certainly be the busiest room in the house.
Universal design principles
Regardless of the style of home you are working with, or the location, the principles of signature West Coast design are universal enough to apply to any home. Open, functional, bright, and organic design has stood the test of time and will definitely give you a great return on your investment.
Our room is at the top floor of our “Arched A-Frame”—a pre-fab chalet construction by Pan-Abode that was popular in the 1970s. The main building material is tongue and groove cedar, and it was used for almost everything—the walls, ceiling and floors. The house was dark, dated and divided into multiple closed-off rooms. It didn’t help that the ceilings were artificially lowered to 8’. The house had been on the market for 450 days, but within 30 seconds of walking in, we were excited about it.
From dark and dreary to bright and breezy
To create our ‘open concept’, we stripped out all the walls and ceiling, put in three large fir beams for cross stabilization, cut multiple skylights, windows and sliding doors, and opened access in and out of this space. We decided to use spray foam insulation and bend drywall into the arch to brighten and make the space energy-efficient.
My main challenge was lighting. We tried a number of different ideas but settled with ‘up light’ on the beams, a geometric chandelier in the living area that doesn’t distract from the view, task lighting over the island and an LED strip light. With the LED, I had a bit of fun customizing our backsplash by routering into a 14’ piece of fir, and hiding the light inside, which allowed the counter and backsplash to simply glow.
Just a little more love
I often joke that it would have been faster and cheaper to tear the place down and start again. Every decision and design element had to be customized to fit, which took extra time, money and imagination. But we would have missed out on a great challenge.
We have gotten to a point in this real estate market—and in our disposable society—where we are far too quick to tear down and rebuild. Many older homes are waiting for someone with a creative eye—and some blood, sweat and tears—to re-imagine and re-invigorate them, and give them new life for many years to come. From the guy who says ‘list it’ on TV, I believe a little more love is often all that’s needed.