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The rough unfinished materials for the exterior age well, are less expensive and require less maintenance. (Darcy Jones)
The rough unfinished materials for the exterior age well, are less expensive and require less maintenance. (Darcy Jones)

Cliff-clinging B.C. house is a home for the modernist he-man Add to ...

In a 100-year-old ranching town called Coldstream, designer Darcy Jones has created a 1,900-square-foot residence that is comfortable in its skin.

Its envelope reflects the same rugged quality of the surrounding landscape in this Okanagan community of 10,000 just south of Vernon. Made of burned fir siding, raw unpainted concrete block and bare steel, its he-man exterior would make any cowboy feel right at home. But the precision of the design and the way it aligns itself perfectly with the contours of the rocky, cliff-side site would please the most fastidious of modernists.

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This design love child of an “odd couple” aesthetic – all Steve McQueen on the outside, and a sort of Albertan Arne Jacobsen on the inside – may just embody a whole new movement.

“‘Crude modern’ is the term I use,” says Mr. Jones, of the newly finished house that enjoyed a four-year gestation.

But besides its aesthetic appeal, the use of rough unfinished materials for the exterior has a very pragmatic purpose. They age well, are inexpensive and require a minimum of maintenance. Unlike the tyranny of perfection endured by many new condo owners who must dedicate themselves to keeping the purity of all white, finished concrete and stainless steel materials, the owners of the Coldstream house can afford to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Details such as exposed screw heads and lacquered rusted steel rails also reference the industrial aesthetic of farm machinery, and “found” artifacts – such as an old barrel, a dog house and a picnic table – have been left in place. It’s a down-to-earth farmhouse for the 21st century.

“I was inspired,” explains Mr. Jones, who runs a five-person studio in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant “by the gnarled and almost burned seeming bark of the area’s Ponderosa pines and the silvery Saskatoon bush that surrounds the site.”

While the house stands out design-wise from its neighbours – mainly sixties and seventies suburban-style ranchers – it also camouflages itself perfectly as it embraces the landscape. The residence it replaced – like many of the nearby lakeside 6,000-plus-square-foot “monster homes” – was much bigger and imposed itself on the site. The Jones house by contrast is all about small footprint, green living.

From the cul de sac it rises out of, all that is visible is a solid fir wall the colour of the surrounding trees, and from the adjacent Kalamalka Provincial Park, it peeks out like a built environment chameleon.

The unusual shape of the single-level residence – two main rectangular wings offset by two courtyards, all angled off the property line – was dictated by the rocky, sloping and at times dramatically plunging site.

A feat of award-worthy engineering means that most of the house is expressed as a wood-and-glass volume that cantilevers more than two metres off the foundations. The ephemeral effect of the floating forms is grounded by the earthy materials and the drama of the drop.

Every space is maximized for usage – beginning with the carport at the entrance way that includes an upper-level pottery studio, moving through to the children’s playroom/guest room and the hallway office space off the master bedroom, and peaking with the custom-built kitchen table with slide-in benches that extend the living area when not in use.

While the outside of the house is all rough-hewn bravado, the inside is all streamlined sleek, although the OSB (oriented strand board) walls continue the theme of the unfinished aesthetic.

The kitchen – with generous “farmhouse” dimensions – in particular has been designed to fit like a glove with custom cabinetry and maximized storage area at every turn.

Built with energy-efficient structural insulated panels (SIPs) the house locks together as if it were a puzzle. In the interior, the exposed surface of the SIPs adds to the textural interplay of materials and continue the contrast between the rough and the smooth. Home Depot-esque OSB walls meet polished concrete floors. And on the lakeview-facing deck, sophisticated bolted glass disappears into concrete slab.

In the large interior courtyard, a richly layered montage of Japanese-style burnt fir and concrete blocks meet the natural bedrock of the site in aesthetic serendipity.

Everywhere-glazing and angling mean the exterior of the house can be viewed from inside, so the residents can watch their home weather the seasons and always be aware of the totality of the design. From the master bath shower, a deep-set window angled like a contemporary take on a medieval arrow slit, offers both view and privacy.

And in a happy accident of economy and style, a decision was made halfway through construction to cut costs by lowering the windows to about 1.5 m in the living room and master bedroom – places where one reclines. The result was more storage space above the mid-height windows and a sense of spatial compression that counters vertigo and makes sleeping in the cliff-edge house feel almost cosy.

From the outside, the wooden overhang winks against the glass as if it were a modernist farmhouse with a lazy eye. This is a house with nothing to hide, and everything to offer – and one whose exterior and interior convey an honest and innovative approach to new country living.

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