“Everytime I come back here,” says Lorne Rubinoff, who has owned the only residence Paul Merrick ever designed for himself longer than the iconic West Coast architect did, “it's a whole new house.”
For Mr. Rubinoff, the experience of living in the 1972 home of cedar, fir, glass and stone, perched precariously on a steep site in West Vancouver's bucolic Eagle Harbour and surrounded by trees, has been “magical.”
“It's such a part of its environment,” he says of the house he purchased in 1982, “that every time the forest changes or the weather changes, it's reflected in the house.”
At different times of day, the house is like a canvas for shifting patterns of shadow and light, and its organic shape and indoor-outdoor aesthetic blur boundaries in a through-the-looking-glass way.
“A lot of people come here,” explains Mr. Rubinoff, who first put the home on the market in 2007, but took it off to ensure it made the heritage registry before listing it again last month, “and they can't quite understand the place, but they know they like it. It doesn't change its language to accommodate them, but it's welcoming. Everyone seems to feel at home here.”
But it's hard to tell what the language of this place is – exactly. It is the architectural equivalent of the Umberto Ecco character in The Name of the Rose – who can understand all languages but speak none.
It is neither rectilinear nor curvilinear, but rather an organic response to site. It is undeniably West Coast with Japanese elements, and yet it is not post and beam like many of its West Vancouver mid-century neighbouring homes, but rather composed of “dimensional lumber” – a range of 2x4's and 3x8's that give it a richly textured intricacy.
It's a home that defies description, says Mr. Rubinoff, “it has to be experienced.” And now the total experience of owning a Paul Merrick original – what Mr. Rubinoff likens to a Canadian “Falling Water” – can be had for a mere $2.3-million.
Concerned that developers might simply buy the place for its lot value and tear down the genre and gravity-defying Merrick original, Mr. Rubinoff embarked last year on a nine-month renovation, designed by the architect himself. By adding more “creature comforts” like a master bath refashioned out of a former garage, complete with soaker tub looking out onto forest, and radiant heated Indiana limestone floors, he hoped to encourage potential buyers to keep the place intact. He also further enhanced a reno that Mr. Merrick did in 1981 when he expanded the lower floor – marked by bedrock that literally fuses the home to its site – by two bedrooms – one with a bed built over natural stone – and added a master bedroom on the main level.
But with so many twists and turns – tiny staircases leading to rooms in dream-like sequences – it's hard to tell exactly how many different levels there actually are in the house. “Paul and I once counted 16,” recollects Mr. Rubinoff.
From its east-facing entrance, the home appears as a child's fort, its interplay of geometries imbued with a quixotic innocence. A semi-circle of towering fir and cedar trees lend a sense of procession and protection as you are drawn inside. A solid fir door – in fact Ron Thom's old drafting table – leads up a tapered staircase into the main room and the big reveal. A 40-foot high ceilinged room is part living space/ part cathedral in the woods. Sliding glass doors open up onto a deck that embraces water views. A skylight brings in forest canopy, and a balcony – a kind of wilderness mechitza – offers a bed where you can dream of heaven.
In the middle of the space, a Merrick-designed sofa bed has an almost gravitational pull for the dozy visitor – especially with a fire in the hearth opposite, whose 45-foot chimney is both sculptural piece and structural element. A mirrored wall opposite the deck with a spectacular view of forest and Eagle Harbour further blurs indoor and outdoor.
A winding bedrock stairwell leads down into the master bedroom that opens up onto a deck and hot tub, while the kitchen juts off the north end of the main room. Everywhere glazing offers framed views of the surrounding greenery, inviting union with the elements. A 50-foot fir soars up past the pitch of the main roof, its trunk revealed by angled windows on the lower floor. Forest is not fetishized here but rather celebrated.
Viewed from the south side, at the foot of the steep incline, the house emerges organically out of bedrock and forest, its wooden stairwells angled around the fir trees its glazing reflects back. House and site merge into a singular creature made of wood and sky and greenery.
Parting with the home he has lived in for almost three decades will not be easy, says Mr. Rubinoff, and in an ideal world, where classics of West Coast modernism were more highly valued, an architectural institute might purchase it. But for now, he's hoping that it will be bought by “someone who loves it and will take care of it.”
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