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How a townhouse goes from tame to terrific

Vancouver townhouse renovation by Kelly Deck Design.

Photos by Barry Calhoun

Recently, the team at Kelly Deck Design rode the renovation roller coaster with an adventurous middle-aged couple in Vancouver while overhauling their 1970s False Creek townhouse.

They wanted to take their tired, four-storey home and transform it into a contemporary space that easily housed their art collection while retaining a quiet sense of luxury.

Most important to them was the living room on the uppermost floor – the space where the couple spent the majority of their time together, reading, chatting and entertaining.

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Their order was simple – an open floor plan, plenty of seating and a prominent display space for the treasured objects they'd collected on their world travels.

The Big Idea

Our vision was a white room with dark floors, gallery walls and a long run of bookcases well-suited for artistic display.

The room had all the right traits: It was elongated from north to south with patios on each end and the north side opened up to a spectacular view of downtown Vancouver, a vista that should have struck you instantly upon entering the room.

Instead, the focal point was a large corner fireplace that backed onto the stairway. Awkward and commanding, it seriously undermined the room's potential by blocking the view, and its bossy angle unfortunately forced a rather mediocre furnishing plan.

Now, proposing the removal of a fireplace is delicate territory, especially in a city where they're so valuable on a dreary, dark night. It was a conversation we entered into lightly with the clients. Were they fond of the fireplace? Did it function well? How often did they use it?

To our great relief, it hadn't been lit in more than a decade. (So why keep it?) We debated relocating it to the adjacent wall, but quickly concluded that it would encroach on valuable seating area – and ultimately, it would still never get used. Fireplace extinguished, were able to tear down the pony walls surrounding the staircase and install glass rails. This opened up the stairwell to the living room, allowing space for some magnificent artwork that could be enjoyed from both the living room, and the entry below.

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The Big Spend

In the living room, our greatest investment was a set of custom bookcases.

Along the east wall, these carefully designed walnut beauties featured cubbies of varying sizes that could house elegant vignettes of the couple's travel treasures. And because of the angles at the room's north end, we kept the cabinet height shy of the ceiling, which otherwise would have made for a rather tight looking fit in the corner.

We also incorporated closed storage in the lower section of the cabinets to neatly hide the home's AV equipment and extra books. Custom slots were cleverly routered in the end cabinet, allowing the equipment to cool.

Walnut was an ideal choice for the wood. Its mid-toned colour – soft waves of honey and chocolate – add warmth to the room and prevent the bookcases from looking too heavy and commanding.

The Big Save

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The savings ultimately lay in the couple's desire to make a one-time investment, in both the renovation and the furnishings. With unwavering taste and no intention of "flipping" the property, they knew they wanted to put their money into something that would last generations – a rare sensibility in a town where most property is flipped within five years. For the sofas, we selected tailored pieces in a light, neutral fabric. A sofa/chaise combo, rather than two loveseats, made sense, the open form of a chaise takes up less volume, and keeps the room feeling light. It also gives the couple more freedom to reorganize the furnishings at their whim.

For the coffee table, we went with a mid-century classic (1948) by sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Surprisingly well priced, it comes in a selection of wood finishes. We chose walnut. The glass adds reflection and also allows the rug's pattern to be enjoyed from the seating. The table's beautiful organic shape also softens the contours of the room, preventing the space from looking too uptight. It was the slipper chairs that took time to choose, mostly because we had to chose from so many clunky options. Eventually we found the Peter chair by Flexform. It's elegant, striking from all sides, and oh-so comfortable.

The Twist

Inspired by the couple's art collection, we used one work per room as the starting point for each colour scheme. In the living room we selected a landscape by Drew Burnham. Its forest palette of deep, delicious greens were incorporated throughout the room in a custom-made rug of golden olive wool with silk veins, an army green lacquered side table and the decorative cushions – some with a golden-citron hue to add a pop.


Sofas: Custom Kelly Deck Design

Coffee: Noguchi Coffee,

Table Lamp:


Art work:

Walls: Wash Basin CL 3211,

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