The rancher - that archetypal housing type that came of age in post-Second World War, West Coast America - has enjoyed a mini renaissance of late in one of its early epicentres - Palm Springs, Calif. But the single-storey, open-plan house with an indoor/outdoor aesthetic is on the edge of a comeback in Vancouver.
Ranchers - typically built on large lots - find their natural habitat in Vancouver's semi-rural Southlands, and in the British Properties, the posh enclave in mountainous West Vancouver.
The British Properties, originally owned by the Guinness family, has gone through a sea change since its origins in the 1950s, when covenant clauses excluding Jews, blacks and Asians were the norm, and since the local property owners' newsletter was called the Tallyho.
Residents these days are just as likely to speak farsi or Mandarin as they are to be members of Masonic lodges, and West Vancouver's first ever synagogue - the Har-El - stands proudly opposite the entrance to the British Properties.
But happily, after a bad patch of eighties and nineties monster homes, some traditions - at least architectural ones - are being revisited. For all its Anglo heritage, the British Properties - and West Vancouver in general - were once hotbeds of mid-century modernism, with residential gems by Erickson and Thom abounding. This was partly due to more relaxed planning laws and less restrictive bylaws than in the city of Vancouver (just try and build anything modern in say, tony Shaughnessy, where architects must bow deep at the heritage altar) and it's still true today.
Just off Rabbit Lane, at the edge of the Capilano Golf Club, the rancher has been stylishly revived in a gorgeous Trevor Euley-designed home by Ed Kolic of Eighth Avenue Development. When a lot went on the market two years ago in the flat, former flood plain, rancher-rich area, Kolic (who once worked with Arthur Erickson on a Fairview Slopes residential project) saw an opportunity for a contemporary take on the fifties and sixties classic.
Like that other recently revived retro-hit - the Vancouver Special (essentially a modernist stucco box with a balcony), the ranch house, with its single-level open plan, is an extremely flexible and intrinsically modern space. Kolic likens it to a "penthouse on the ground" and notes that it's a favourite with empty nesters who find condos too soulless but don't want to deal with stairs and enjoy the convenience of one-storey living.
If the house at 389 Moyne Dr. is any indication, the rancher could well enjoy a contemporary comeback to rival that of the Special.
Situated next to and across the street from traditional mid-century ranchers, the Euley-designed home fits right into the neighbourhood. But the 6,500-square-foot new craftsman revival it faces - a cautionary tale about the dangers of heritage literalism - appears boxed into its lot. With the main living area under 3,500 square feet, this rancher has an attractively small footprint.
From the outside, 389 Moyne Dr. is handsome but modest and unassuming, and its long, low rooflines, large windows and stucco exteriors appear typical of the rancher style. But once inside, it's a drop-dead looker. While simplicity and openness are key, the design details and nuances employed by Euley give it depth and sophistication. The overall effect is a 2009 take on what could have been a mid-century model of Better Homes and Gardens-style gracious living. It's easy to imagine a Mad Men executive's wife welcoming you with a dry martini.
The U-shaped design is a study in symmetry, with a main open-plan living area offset by east-facing bedrooms and west-facing utility rooms. A simple palette of warm limestone-colour porcelain tile - repeated on floors and ceilings - sandstone, fir window paning and walnut millwork creates a streamlined and inviting interior.
Nine-foot ceilings at the entrance way and in the two front-facing rooms give way to a dramatic 18-foot atrium at the centre of the house. Everywhere skylights (great for passive solar heating) and extensive low-paned glazing - often only a few inches from the ground - let the outside in.
There is a sense of procession as one walks from the entrance, through the atrium to the master bedroom - by way of a kind of "light bridge" - a narrow walkway covered by a skylight and flanked by fir paned glazing on both sides that literally opens up (shoji style) to Zen landscaping and water features. The master suite itself looks out on the pool and surrounding fir trees and boasts an actual dressing room (an opportune perch for a languid smoke and one of those aforementioned martinis). The master bath is notable for its cylindrical light fixtures (by Systemalux) and its unusual fleur de lys pewter and silver-tinged porcelain wall tiles, a nostalgic seventies reference coolly contemporized (back then it would have been velvet wallpaper.)
When you look back from the master bedroom to the front entrance there is a satisfying sense of a clear horizontal line and an intrinsic indoor/outdoor connection. Similarly the kitchen (designed especially by Young Meyerberg), with its engineered walnut millwork, neat pull-out drawers and sleek Caesar Stone countertops - is all about horizontal lines. Lit by mid-century-inspired hand-crafted Murano glass lights with transparent amber cylindrical shades, the kitchen literally opens - with the help of a five-panel folding door system - onto the pool and patio. In the generous outdoor space, a handsome brick courtyard is offset by an ever-so-West Coast overhead cedar lattice and a dramatic fire pit.
West of the kitchen, a "great room" is anchored by a sandstone hearth, and the adjacent dining area punctuated by a skylight offering illumination and views of towering fir trees. Despite the open plan, to Euley's credit, each area is delineated by thoughtful design details. Fir-trimmed valances offer a sense of depth and texture throughout. And nostalgic flourishes - like the glass sidelight inserts on bedroom doors (actually glass pieces cast on sand, to pick up its irregular grain) are delightfully current.
As smooth as vermouth, this rancher pays homage to its roots, while remaining open to a stylish new future.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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