I've been designing luxury homes for nearly a decade, but I've never owned one. It's a running joke among THE friends who have seen my humble (but well decorated!) west-side apartment I've leased since 2003.
I've procrastinated buying for years, instead choosing to reinvest in the company and travel rather than commit to a mortgage.
I was content to continue doing so, until recently, when the perfect opportunity presented itself. I've purchased one the seven townhouses we've designed on Grant Street, one block west of the east-side neighbourhood Vancouverites affectionately refer to as The Drive.
Yes, it's a departure from the sprawling West Vancouver or Shaughnessy estates that my team spends most of its time designing. But less square footage, and lower budget, don't have to compromise an overall experience of luxury. Luxury is all about value, and we worked diligently to create it in my new 1,100-square-foot pad.
Here's what we kept in mind:
Stay bright, go white
My new place has two bedrooms, and 2½ bathrooms, spread over three floors of roughly 370 square feet each.
The benefit of three levels is that I have very distinct spaces and privacy from floor to floor. But the challenge lies is making the home still feel expansive and fluid.
It means practising restraint. No crazy wall colours, no contrasting mouldings – just a soft wash of white on the walls, ceiling, trim, and window casings. This softens the distinction between each element, making the rooms feel higher and wider.
In the kitchen we used white quartzite on the countertops and splurged on the backsplash: a beautiful dolomite mosaic tile that adds texture and interest to the all-white space.
On the floors, we also stayed light, using wide plank, matte white oak in the common spaces, dove grey carpet in the bedrooms, and a complementary grey tile in the bathrooms. All finishes are close in depth, making for smooth and quiet transitions.
One of our core principles for the project was to integrate as many needs as possible into the millwork. On my main floor, the entire east wall of the room is cabinetry. The media cabinet in the living area houses AV equipment, blankets and books, and floating shelves for display. Next to that, floor-to-ceiling cabinets have hanging storage for coats, shelving for shoes and overhead bins for seasonal overflow.
Replacing space inefficiencies like front hall closets and bi-fold doors with well-designed cabinetry provides far more storage – and it looks better.
Because the kitchen shares space with the living room, it's important it looks less utilitarian and more like furnishing. It's why we made panelling the fridge and dishwasher with cabinet doors a top priority.
Functionally, we tried to put as many drawers as possible in the kitchen, unlike a cabinet, a drawer allows the user to easily access every square inch of its storage space. We even captured the small amount of space underneath the stairs, providing garbage and pull-out recycling bins.
Chose furnishings that fit
The trick to making a small space seem big is carefully selecting furnishings that suit the proportions of the space.
The Edward Sofa from Bensen was the first thing we picked. Just six feet wide and 37 inches deep, it's small scale, but luxuriously comfortable. Its fine metal legs, recessed from the base of the sofa, prevent the piece from looking bulky and also allow sunlight from the window to pass under it. Allowing natural light to bounce around a small space will always leaven it.
The coffee table is a special piece from Brent Comber – 30 inches in diameter, its roundness makes it easy to manoeuvre and its durable surface is perfect for putting feet on or resting a coffee mug, coaster-free.
The bar stools were one of the biggest investments. The Norma Stool by Arper runs about $1,100 (per chair). They are beautifully fine without being flimsy or too delicate. Clunky inexpensive alternatives would have consumed too much volume in the room, making it feel cramped and awkward.
Tell your story
My home is the show suite for this development and hundreds of people will walk through it in the coming months. I know it will be closely scrutinized.
Intimidating? Yes. But I'm embracing it as an opportunity and a chance to show people how important it is to let your space tell your own story.
I've included several pieces close to my heart, on the floating shelf above the TV is a 19th-century etching of a canary I found in a New York flea market. It sits alongside a beautifully rusted hatbox from the Second World War that a friend gave me.
The fifties chair in the living room is one I've lugged around for years, Scandinavian style but manufactured in Quebec, it's made from Canadian maple rather than teak. It's not a designer piece, but I love its roots.
Over the dining table is an image of a boys' choir I enlarged from the Regina Herald, December, 1952 – my dad is in the second row on the right.
And hanging in the kitchen is the linen apron I brought home from Paris a few years ago, promising myself I'd only use it to cook the first meal in my new home.
Cabinet Door Hardware: Chrome pull; Bradford Hardware, bradfordhardware.com
Backsplash: Stone Mosaic; Daltile, daltile.com
Engineered floor: Canvas; Metro Floors, metrofloors.com
Paint (Walls, ceilings, trim, cabinets): Designer White 33-1, Pratt and Lambert, prattandlambert.com
Fridge and oven: Fisher & Paykal, Coast Appliances, coastappliances.com
Gas Cooktop: DCS, Coast Appliances, coastappliances.com
Hood fan: Elica, Coast Appliances, coastappliances.com
Sofa: Edward, Bensen, informinteriors.com
Rug: Silk/bamboo Weave, East India Carpets, eastindiacarpets.com
Coffee Table: Brent Comber, brentcomber.com
Artwork: Joshua Jensen-Nagel, bauxigallery.com
Chandelier: Bluff city, Roll & Hill, Lightform, lightform.ca
Bar stool: The Norma, by Arper, livingspace.com