The big craftsman at 1340 Delbruck Ave., North Vancouver, sat on a massive lot, with a forested backyard view and sweeping panoramic views of Vancouver to the south. It was once known as the Marshall family homestead, famous among locals for its massive social gatherings. Today, it’s the site of three ultrasleek contemporary homes that have just sold for a collective $6-million-plus.
When the developer purchased the 130-by-140-foot lot, it was a no-brainer that it would be redeveloped into something denser and highly marketable.
North Vancouver developers Al Saunders and Stefen Elmitt developed the property and hired architect Steve McFarlane of OMB Architects to design three identical contemporary homes. The houses went on sale in late May and offers were accepted in the first week of June. The asking price for each was $1.988-million. All three houses sold within days for either asking price or higher. The houses sit on 43-by-140-foot lots, have six bedrooms, five bathrooms, nine-foot ceilings, hardwood floors and custom built-in cabinetry. Taxes for each freehold property are $8,700.
“People have found out about the outdoor lifestyle, which the North Shore has to offer, so we are seeing more buyers from not only the west side of Vancouver, but internationally, as well,” said Mr. Saunders, who co-owns Harbourview Projects.
One house sold to a couple from Coquitlam, another to a family from West Vancouver and the third sold to international buyers who live and work in Vancouver most of the time, according to Mr. Saunders.
As has been widely reported, statistics on housing are in short supply. The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver offers benchmark prices on homes, which reflect typical prices within a certain market, but with high-end prices removed. Considering that the benchmark price of a house in North Vancouver is $1.167-million – up 17.2 per cent from last year – it’s easy to see why the OMB-designed homes would be a quick sell. For $1.988-million, you get a lot of house.
Each house has 3,540 square feet of interior living space. There is also a 1,300-square-foot laneway house with kitchen, useful as a guesthouse, for an aging parent or teenage dependent, as a nanny suite, or as a mortgage helper. Mr. Saunders guesses it could be rented out for around $1,000 a month, but that seems low.
“It would also make an awesome sports room for all your bikes and skis,” he adds, noting that his typical North Shore buyer is between 45 and 55, and an enthusiast of the outdoors.
Mr. Saunders’s friends, the Marshall family, owned the 4,600-square-foot craftsman house that was built in 1912 and once stood on the corner lot. It featured a conservatory and established garden, but the house was rundown, according to Mr. McFarlane.
Mr. Saunders purchased the house in a private sale, after owner Harvey Marshall died in 2013. His wife, Betty, had died several years previously. The Marshalls, who had four children and 10 grandchildren, were renowned for their lively gatherings. Mr. Saunders recalls Ms. Marshall playing piano at their big Boxing Day parties.
“Some of the best parties were held at the old house over the years, and with three boys, all outstanding football players, they tended to be rather large gatherings,” Mr. Saunders said.
The house had been listed for sale as land value only in 2002, for $825,000, but only for 72 days before the listing expired. The 2002 listing advertised it as having redevelopment potential since it could be subdivided into three lots. Back then, the taxes on the big lot were $4,187. With the redevelopment, the taxes have gone up to $26,100.
Mr. Saunders had has his eye on the property for many years, according to the architect.
“When old Harv passed away, the family didn’t want anyone else living in the old home, so they asked us to buy it and redevelop the property,” Mr. Saunders said. “Working with the City of North Vancouver, we were able to subdivide the site into three lots.”
The architectural challenge in building the houses is that they face onto the lane. The property is uniquely situated with a ravine to the rear. The forest garden around the ravine has been recently renewed by the city, with salal, sword ferns, Oregon grapes, maples and cedars.
Fortunately, the houses are on a hill, with a five-foot increase in grade between each of them. Mr. McFarlane designed the three-storey houses so that the living area is on the top floor, looking far above the lanescape and straight ahead to ocean views. If you should look down, there’s Astroturf on the laneway house rooftop to deflect from anything as unsightly, boring and grey as a rooftop. As well, the laneway houses and two-car garage act as a physical buffer between lane and main house. At the centre of the property is a tranquil courtyard with rows of mass plantings and concrete pathways, not the sort of yard for a game of ball, but rather, an elegant entrance for guests. By the time they arrive at the courtyard, guests won’t even notice they entered off the lane.
Mr. McFarlane has also cleverly dressed up the entrance by continuing the pathway paving bricks into the lane itself.
While we stood in the lane talking about the challenges of working with a lane entrance, a neighbour slowed his car and asked how the work was going.
“I’ve been watching this house with a lot of interest,” he said. Mr. McFarlane told him the houses were finally ready for sale.
“I’ll see if I have an extra couple of million,” he said dryly, before waving and driving off.
Inside the laneway house, the view of garage doors along the lane is forgiven with details such as a bright floor-to-ceiling window, nine-foot high ceiling, quartz countertops, high-end appliances and a skylight in the bathroom. There’s not a hint of “the Home Depot approach” anywhere. Every detail is high-end.
“In an odd way, these coach houses are the front face of the project, so we were trying to create a pleasant lanescape, if you will, where there are eyes on the street, in contrast to typical garages,” Mr. McFarlane said. “We wanted to make it feel like people lived here, just by opening it up.”
It’s clever design, making the most of the uniqueness of the property. Each level at the rear has a floor-to-ceiling picture window of the forest, which occasionally features a deer wandering by. The ground-floor living area opens up to a large patio, which is like an extra outdoor room. The houses aren’t zoned for a basement suite, so Mr. McFarlane turned the below-grade level into another huge living area with nine-foot ceilings. He brought as much light as he could into the space with a deep well that doubles as another outdoor patio and leads back up to the front courtyard.
With another floor-to-ceiling window in the large master bedroom upstairs, occupants will wake up to the sight of soaring firs and cedars. The open-concept kitchen features top-end appliances and a massive island, and is surrounded by more floor-to-ceiling windows and stellar views. At the rear of the house, it feels secluded and quiet, as if the house is located on one of the Gulf Islands.
The rooftop deck is the crown jewel, the sort of sigh-worthy view that increasingly makes the North Shore a draw. “North Van is changing, I’d say,” said Mr. McFarlane, who’s working with Harbourview on two other projects in the area. “As real estate goes higher in the Lower Mainland, living on the North Shore is more and more sought after.”