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For many architects, designing their own home is a dream and a rare luxury. Brian Wakelin purchased a large East Vancouver lot, with an idea to build an infill duplex and keep one half as his family home. Wakelin, who is a principal at the award-winning firm Public Architecture, created a long and narrow two-storey, two-bedroom home for his family of four, with a footprint of 12 by 50 feet. “It is a little bit like living on a sailboat,” says Wakelin. For the design, he looked at tall and slender Japanese dwellings by Atelier Bow-Wow, Kengo Kuma and SANAA: “They really push what you can do in small spaces.” One of Wakelin’s small-space solutions was a grand built-in storage wall that runs the length of the house, morphing from kitchen cabinetry into a bookshelf and entertainment unit in the family room.
“This room really is in the centre of the house. I think the house is the garden and the kitchen, which are on either side of this room.” The room looks impeccable, but Wakelin explains it’s because the children’s toys that are usually scattered around are hidden in the cabinets. “All the boys’ stuff is just piled in there.” There’s room for the whole family on the Kermit-the-Frog-green fluffy Tufty– Time sectional by Patricia Urquiola. “Her furniture is really smart. This is just a big pin cushion.” Wakelin, who was dubbed “Nature Boy” in architecture school, gravitates toward the saturated green hues he was surrounded by while growing up on Vancouver Island. The pursuit of nature led him to Vancouver-based painter Darcy Mann, whose landscape of lush flora hangs above the couch.
The house, which is a nod to West Coast modernism, provides an ideal home to the iconic Eames rocking chair and the walnut stool, which also doubles as a side table. The plush Persian rug from South Granville’s Mavyan Carpets provides a soft surface for the boys’ enthusiastic Lego sessions. “It has all kinds of liveliness about it. It’s got tons of stuff going on in there. And yet, it has sort of a calming order to it.” The rug also masks the architect’s subterranean crawl space – another ingenious storage solution for a basement-less coastal home. “It really is like a boat, and goes down to the bilge, filled with all kinds of stuff.”
What Wakelin values the most is the natural light he was able to bring into the room. “Windows face south, so it gets a lot of great light, and it’s kind of warm and cozy.” The floor-to-ceiling glazed wall helps, but it’s the Belgian linen custom curtains by designer Ravi Pankhania that create a serene atmosphere. “Until I met this guy, the only place I thought you could have curtains made was Fanny’s Fabrics.” He now has a whole new appreciation for drapes. “Belgium linen sounds like the most pretentious thing possible, but when the light comes through them, they are just dynamite.”
The family room will remain the heart of the house as Wakelin cooks up creative ways to make his compact home grow with his family – he is planning attic and garage conversions sometime down the line. His roots are now firmly planted in East Vancouver, steps away from lively Commercial Drive, where new hipster coffee places and craft breweries exist amongst Little Italy establishments. Having sat on the land for five years before he was able to build, the architect is happy staying put right where he is.