Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Modernist meets craftsman in a long, cedar pergola and concrete pavers that frame the open-air art studio.
Modernist meets craftsman in a long, cedar pergola and concrete pavers that frame the open-air art studio.

A grown-up space al fresco Add to ...

You have your craftsman-style homes, which are all cedar shake and painted trim; and you have your modern homes - the ones you often see in magazines such as Dwell - that hew to an austere concrete-and-glass aesthetic. It takes creative vision and deft execution to blend the two styles without making a hash of it.

For our client, Renee, creativity was no problem. She's a figurative painter, and she and her husband have raised a family on what I consider one of the most attractive properties in West Vancouver.

Why attractive? Well, the house is on the waterfront, on a sloping lot, with a ribbon of brush and beach between the backyard and the water.

Sad, then, that this backyard, with its spectacular view, had fallen into - not disrepair exactly - but neglect wrought by years of children's bygone whims. A skateboarding half-pipe, a rusty trampoline, several makeshift tents - all of them left naked to the wind and rain, all falling down.

Renee's idea for reclaiming the space was to transform it into an open-air art studio. But her ambitions came with challenges. The first was harmonizing the modernism of the home's extension with the original craftsman style. The second was controlling the amount of sunlight coming into the studio - an essential for a painter.

Keep the following ideas in mind when you're approaching similar challenges:

Look for the easy match

When adding structural elements to a yard, look to the architecture of the existing home for guidance. With the new studio space located in front of the modern addition, we wanted to keep the design of our structural elements to be as boxy and substantial as possible.

Using six-inch-by-six-inch cedar timber we erected a long pergola open on all sides. By itself, the cedar structure was visually stunning, but the warm tone of the wood didn't get along with any of the finishes of the home. So we stained it black, which got the pergola on speaking terms with the black trim and roof on the house.

On the ground, we installed large-format (24-inch square) concrete pavers. The concrete was a plain warm grey - matching the concrete of the modern addition.

It wasn't enough, though. We needed to add softness to the space to draw a connection between it and the craftsman style. To do so, we designed a flowing landscape plan around the yard's perimeter, incorporating drifts of grasses and flowering plants that favour the seaside and low elevations.

Consider how light gets in

Light affects colour, shape and shadow for everyone, but visual artists tend to care more about it more than the rest of us. Renee needed to be able to control the amount of light coming into her studio so that she could regulate the perspective of her subject matter.

Our solution: designing the pergola to accommodate both drapery and a retractable canopy.

The curtains were easy. We sourced a curtain track that had an aluminum C-channel - plastic hooks glide along on plastic wheels; not a single component of the system will rust.

The canopy was more complicated. We didn't have the budget or electrical supply to install an automated canopy, so we had to go DIY. This occasioned several hours at a marine supply store, buying snaps, ropes and tie-offs. It's difficult to describe, but basically we fastened the canopy to one end of the pergola's roof. Then, with the ropes and rods, we rigged it up so that Renee was able to slide the canopy wherever she wanted and tie it down there. It gave her the light she needed, when she needed it - an attractive and effective solution.

Create a highlight wall

We didn't curtain off the back wall of our pergola. We decided with Renee that it should be the backdrop her models sat in front of.

We erected a "living wall" - a vertical garden. In Vancouver, we're seeing a lot of these on the outside of high-end grocery stores these days. Installing one is less complicated than it sounds, however. The plants in a living wall hang from a wooden framework you can easily put together. The plants are placed in small plastic boxes of an identical size, and hanging them is as simple as slotting them in their respective cubbyholes. Any plant with a shallow root system and relatively low profile is good for a living wall. The key is choosing plants with similar needs for light and water.

To make Renee's wall especially low maintenance, we installed an irrigation system - perforated black tubes that ran horizontally, in rows, along the wall. It cost about $100 and was hooked up to the garden hose and a timer - a minuscule price to ensure the health of one of the project's central features.

Looking back at it now, I think our team did a decent job of keeping the spirit of Renee's studio with the style of the modern-type extension to the home - the key was really drawing from the strengths of what was already there. (One thing I'd like to work on just a bit more is the retractable roof, which I think could be a little more slick given a larger budget.)

Renee was thrilled with the space. Not only had she annihilated the chaos of the backyard's previous incarnation, she'd gained a new and versatile space where she can do what she loves most. A victory to savour for client and designer alike.

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories