We're done - hallelujah! Our top-to-bottom redesign of the Vancouver General Hospital & University of British Columbia Millionaire's Lottery home is complete after an eight-week headlong sprint. And the result, if I say so myself, is magnificent.
In the front yard of 13063 Crescent Beach Rd., South Surrey, is a 200-foot Douglas fir, indication that you are on the West Coast, yes - and also a hint that something grand is afoot.
The home that sits on the property is a beautifully-built, 5,000-square-foot craftsman-style structure - grand in its architecture, but it was the victim of many poor design decisions, inside and out. When we arrived at the home in mid-August it was a garish red on the outside and a phantasmagoric series of yellows on the inside. We wanted something lower-contrast and easier on the eyes. To that end, we chose furniture and finishes in a colour palette that refers to the terrain outside - mute browns, soft greys, and subtle whites.
The Crescent Beach Road lot isn't fantastically large, but it overlooks what I've come to regard as the best view in any house I've designed. When you walk to the rear of the home, most of which is glass, you're staggered by a 180-degree panorama of the Nicomekl River emptying into Mud Bay, framed by grasslands and farms. In the distance glint the office towers of Burnaby and Vancouver.
As I've talked about before, the best way to create a West Coast look is not by designing it. It's by doing the opposite; by making the human elements of the design defer to the view. With its 25-foot-high windows, the great room makes finest use of the view in this home. With so much to look at outside, our design focus was on creating a subdued feeling with the room's furniture. Restraint doesn't mean picking individual pieces that have no personality, only ensuring that their voices work together, and that they don't clamour and argue.
To play on the sylvan theme initiated by the gigantic trees that surround the home, we chose for the great room a hand-knotted and dyed carpet in a dark brown colour called "smokestack." Its pattern evokes the humus layer of the forest floor - a salad of decomposing sticks, leaves, and bark. We extended this leafy reference to the fern detail on the accent cushions.
Our work of building a West Coast feeling wasn't accomplished with fabrics alone. There's actual wood in the room, too - lots of it. Much of it comes in the form of two large and enormously heavy cedar cubes, two feet deep, high, and wide, made by the Vancouver wood artist Brent Comber.
Some people walking through the house - and, believe me, no people are pickier than the potential "buyers" you find at a lottery-home open house - may find the geometric and material bluntness of cubes jarring, especially in so even-tempered a room, but that disagreement is the point.
I wanted the pieces to articulate an informal and unpredictable counterpoint to the room's architecture, which is refined and sleekly classical. (In the vaulted space, for example, stand three tall and very shiny neoclassical pillars.) The cubes are by far the plainest objects in the room, but they're the most interesting ones, too. I could have put a couple of beautiful chairs in their place, but I felt that in doing so I'd have been striving to complete the room - and nothing spells disaster for a design more than a striving designer.
The uncarved blocks sit there dumbly, and their bluntness effectively neutralizes any lingering sense of aspiration. At least that's the idea.
For all the thought that went into the great room, though, the kitchen is my favourite room. It's the size of a tennis court and so, not surprisingly, the overwhelming feeling is one of openness. Within that bigness, though, is some smart use of space.
Without any discomfort or rubbing of elbows, you can seat 18 for dinner: four in the breakfast nook, four on the adjoining deck, four in bar chairs along the counter, and six at the broad bishop's table.
The breakfast nook captures the essential comfort and luxury of the kitchen. It's here that you imagine yourself in that delicious, easy morning mode - coffee on, light chatter with a mate, tinkering radio, stocking feet drawn up beneath you, morning paper. The nook, which occupies a kind of bay window looking out at the water, is filled up by a plush white loveseat, two chairs, and a stunning, low-slung table made of chunky cuts of cedar.
We didn't have wheelbarrows of money to spend on wall furnishings for the house, but in the kitchen we struck on an inexpensive solution I liked so much that I'll consider using it on jobs where we're green-lighted for pricier art. It's text. We had screened onto the wall over the dining table a homey recipe for blackberry crumble. Rendered in three-inch-high Times New Roman, the text stretches nearly from ceiling to floor. It's visual art, but more than that it's a hymn to the pleasures of Canadian domestic life - of dessert and conversation and family and the clinking of teacups, and of rain falling while all around are the smells of bark and earth.
Kelly Deck is the director of Kelly Deck Design, based in Vancouver, and the host of Take it Outside on HGTV.