For 18 months we've been designing and building a six-bedroom family home on Vancouver's west side. Exciting: We've just moved in the last of the furnishings and begun to put the final touches on a number of important rooms. Chief among these is the living room, which the clients wanted as a space for elegant entertainment and occasional retreat.
Here are five questions we had to answer along the way.
Why the absence of colour?
The home is traditional, with a Georgian-inspired exterior and a floor plan comprising a series of smaller, connecting rooms. It's a layout that communicates warmth and stateliness, but at the hazard of fragmentation. If we approached their design carelessly, in the small rooms, one to the next, we risked fostering a feeling of disconnection.
To head that off, we deployed a consistent colour scheme – dark wood floors, ivory trim and ceilings, linen walls, and feature wall papers with ebony and ivory prints – to create unity of tone.
The living room, at the front of the house, adjoins the dining room through a large archway; you see both as you come in the front door. Dealing in black and white, we wanted to effect a natural punctuation, the space neither too light, too dark, nor too phonily "balanced." Since the dining room was wallpapered in a strong print, we knew the living room had to speak softly. We kept the walls light.
With a neutral base, it's easy to add hits of seasonal colour. This spring it was soft lavender. Reiterated in a cushion, a pashmina, books, and flowers, it brings the space to life. Come summer, we'll do the same with chartreuse or lemon; and later, for the holidays, deep red.
Why the cast stone fireplace?
Choosing a fireplace was challenging. Not only was the home's big personality out of scale with its smaller rooms, we couldn't accommodate both a robust fireplace and all the windows recommended by the architect.
After much deliberation we decided on a cast concrete fireplace façade with a simple profile. It achieves a delicate balance. The material's weight echoes the home's substance while its finish accentuates the muted elegance of the room's furnishings.
Why this particular rug?
A rug is as personal a choice as a piece of art. And the investment can be comparable.
In this room, once the furniture was in place, we tested a series of rugs. The first was slate grey, with a tone-on-tone geometric pattern. The client agreed that it was attractive, but underwhelming for the high price point. Next was traditional pattern in a light colour that made the space feel uptight and dated. Last came this dark and handsome winner.
It works for a couple reasons. Its dark hues compliment the tone of the floor, giving it a layered, luxurious look. And its organic pattern creates a charge set against the room's traditional elements, activating the space with a contemporary jolt.
Why the two-toned chairs?
The chairs for this room formed a big part of our conversations with our client. They'd wanted to use an heirloom high-backed armchair, and hoped we could find a chair that would pair with it well.
Their chair had great shape, but its girth dominated the room while its high back blocked the view into the dining room. It was more obstacle than asset.
In the end, we arrived at identical, custom-built slipper chairs, upholstering them in grey and white on the front side, and midnight linen on the black. Our intent was simple: from the living room, the chairs' pattern should add visual intrigue to the space; and from the dining room (the rear), their darkness should give the room weight.
Why the polished lamps?
A black and white colour scheme applied to tasteful furnishings will produce a sophisticated atmosphere. What buoys this look is its reflective surfaces.
The dining room has a huge polished-nickel drum hanging over the table. Against the black-and-white wallpaper its surface reflects natural light exquisitely. The form of the fixture absorbs enough of the room's volume to prevent its feeling too fussy or feminine.
For the living room we wanted the lighting to play a similar role. It needed substance, not fineness or delicacy. Our search produced two large lamps with spherical bases. Bookending the sofa, they brighten the corners of the room and create a visual connection to the dining room.
We also incorporated the client's mirror over the fireplace and selected a fine bronze coffee table with a glass top and antiqued mirror base. The variation in reflective surfaces gives the room visual depth without making it seem overdressed.
Sofa: Kravet Inc., www.kravetcanada.com
Chairs: Custom made by Kelly Deck Design, www.kellydeckdesign.com
Lamps: Arteriors, www.thecrossdesign.com
Rug: East India Carpets, www.eastindiacarpets.com
Fireplace: Blenard's Decor Ltd., www.blenardsdecor.ca
Books: The Cross Décor & Design, www.thecrossdesign.com
Bird: Liberty Design Inc., www.libertyinside.com
Drum light: Chintz & Co., www.chintz.com
Wall paper: Crown Wallpaper & Fabrics Ltd., www.crownwallpaper.com
Blinds: Hunter Douglas Canada, www.hunterdouglas.ca
Wall colour: Wind's Breath OC-24 by Benjamin Moore, www.benjaminmoore.com
Trim: White Dove OC-17 by Benjamin Moore, www.benjaminmoore.com