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The 1953 Plommer Residence, designed by Fred Hollingsworth, is part of the sixth annual West Vancouver Modern Home Tour on July 9, 2011. (Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail/Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail)
The 1953 Plommer Residence, designed by Fred Hollingsworth, is part of the sixth annual West Vancouver Modern Home Tour on July 9, 2011. (Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail/Hadani Ditmars for The Globe and Mail)


Life in a West Vancouver modernist classic Add to ...

West Vancouver, among Canada's wealthiest postal codes, has long been perceived as a somewhat exclusive enclave, a gated community in disguise. But with Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones championing higher density development, and hipster residents such as Elvis Costello and Douglas Coupland, it may be in for a sea change - or at least a rebranding. How about "birthplace of B.C. modernism?"

That's the image the West Vancouver Museum is promoting in its sixth annual West Coast Modern Home Tour on Saturday, July 9 (westvancouvermuseum.ca).

The tour, led by a group of architects including Jennifer Marshall (Urban Arts Architecture) and Elena Chernyshov (Blue Sky Architecture), features five houses this year, spanning more than 50 years of residential design. Last year the tour attracted almost 200 people, including design-savvy visitors from Europe who marvelled at a modernist heritage many British Columbians may take for granted or simply be unaware of.

Museum curator Darrin Morrison says he started the tour as "a way to extend our exhibition program out into the community." Its 2006 exhibition West Vancouver Modernist Homes examined the area's key role in the emergence of the "West Coast style" in residential architecture. It also documented how the principles of "design for living" saw the boundaries between art, architecture and design blur. For example, Mr. Morrison says, "Fred Hollingsworth's design extended beyond the shell of the home to include furniture and lamps" and "the artist and educator B.C. Binning, one of the first proponents of modernism, also designed his [and several other]houses in West Vancouver." So the homes tour became an extension of museum programming.

Mr. Morrison's intent in starting the tour was also to raise awareness about the important architectural work of "the early pioneers of West Coast modernism" as well as that of contemporary architects in the community "carrying on this legacy. …

"And we want to show people how it's possible - through sensitive renovation - to preserve some of these houses that are now over 50 years old," he adds.

This year's tour features a 1959 house built by Lauder and Tate, a lovely example of mid-century post and beam design, oriented toward the surrounding forest and sensitively renovated by architect James Hancock for his family. It also includes the stunning 1983 residence by architect Dan White, built dramatically over a rocky outcrop near Gleneagles, with amazing ocean views.

A 1954 house, restored to its original modernist glory by landscape architect Don Vaughan, is a highlight, as is a contemporary residence by Mason Kent, built on modernist design principles.

But what is it like to live in a well-preserved mid-century classic in 2011? Francesca Patterson, who lives with her family of five in the 1953 Plommer Residence (also on the tour) designed by Mr. Hollingsworth, says: "It makes it easy to have everything you do be very beautiful."

Indeed, the 2,200-square-foot cruciform home with extensive glazing, large overhanging eaves, horizontal cladding and a clever play of pane on pane, is a monument to mid-century modernism. Set on a 3/4 acre forested lot near the Capilano Golf & Country Club, with Japanese-inspired landscaping, it epitomizes the indoor/outdoor aesthetic at its best. South-facing glazing allows for a delicate interplay of light, with different aspects of the interior illuminated at different times of the year, depending on the path of the sun.

There is not a square inch of drywall to be found, but rather horizontal cedar panelling, met occasionally by brick and terrazzo flooring. Valances with built-in pot lights shine down on the living space while florescent tubes illuminate the bleached plywood ceiling. Built-in furniture, cabinetry and even an original vine-like plant that hangs down from the master bedroom skylight imbue this mid-century dream home with a sense of nostalgia.

But living in a museum-like construct of a young Mr. Hollingsworth's architectural vision (he was in his early 30s when he designed the house), Ms. Patterson says, is surprisingly "intimate."

Compared to the three-level, 3,500-square-foot Edwardian home she and her family left behind in Toronto when they moved to the West Coast in 2001, the Hollingsworth home allows her to keep track of what her family is doing. "I like that [because of the home's somewhat radial design]I can see one part of the house from another." The fact that the kitchen, living and dining area merge allows for more family togetherness than in a home with more delineated spaces.

As her two teenage daughters Maud and Honor sit engrossed on Facebook, their laptops perched on an exquisitely designed Hollingsworth dining table that ends in a rather precarious point, Ms. Patterson concedes that "maintaining this place is a labour of love."

She recently had to replace the original bridge in the garden, a rather costly - yet essential to the integrity of the design - affair. The brick has never been painted, the bathrooms never changed, and Ms. Patterson recently had to wait four months for a mid-century colour correct fawn beige toilet (ordered from a supplier in Kentucky).

Still, she is "determined not to interfere" with Mr. Hollingsworth's original vision.

And she worries what might happen if she ever sells her beloved home. With a new 10,000-square-foot house nearby, this mid-century jewel could easily end up as a tear-down. That's why she's participating in this tour for the third time. "These houses are very valuable," says the transplanted Torontonian, with a unique appreciation for West Vancouver's wealth of modernist heritage.

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