Photos by Ema Peter.
From ancient Buddhist asceticism to today’s KonMari shorthand, the influence of Zen in design has always been about embracing minimalism. To spark joy, a near monastic rejection of clutter may swiftly come about in an hour of HGTV, but in reality, it requires careful study and years of long-practiced principles to achieve bliss via this spare ethos. And for designers Robert Bailey and Massimo Lanaro, it also takes trusted longstanding relationships.
Not only does Bailey count the clients of this west side Vancouver home as friends, he also had the benefit of previously designing their vacation home in B.C.’s interior. As such, they have earned a great familiarity. “We think alike and really connect, which helps the process,” says Bailey. After spending 12 years raising their family here, the homeowners were keen to reimagine their empty nest when their teens decamped to university. They called in their favourite designer to set upon a second journey together.
“It would be a very casual home, but we also wanted to build a forever home,” explains Bailey. For starters, he ceded to their decade-plus experience of living in the space: “The clients had a much deeper knowledge of the site than me,” he says. They told him that the view of the water, harbour and downtown was integral to their vision, but they were also active in sports and travel so would need a place that was comfortable when pressed into various services—a glass box wouldn’t do. Whether it was kids returning from school or, down the road, visiting home with grandkids, the new iteration needed to serve as both current cozy empty nest and welcoming, spacious future multigenerational compound, all while celebrating its location. To that end, the view would remain, the original Tudor house would not.
Architect Margot Innes came on board to create the shell that would orient itself around that view while Bailey set the stage within the envelope. For Bailey, elevating simplicity to an art form has always been an elegant mix of layering tone-on-tone colours, textures and materials, while letting nature take centre stage—one of the hallmarks of Zen design. Zen also emphasizes self-restraint, which, at first blush, could be confused with basic, yet is anything but. “The house overall is meant to be subtle,” says Bailey. “It’s the kind of house that informs while you’re there: initially, you may not see the level of detail, but when you’re in the space, things reveal themselves to you.”
An example: throughout, there’s a precise quarter-inch reveal between the walls, ceilings and floors, which means the entire house had to be perfectly level. “We spent so much time concealing devices, hiding mechanical systems and at the same time creating a seamlessness in materials that flow from one another,” says Bailey. “That precision and attention to detail becomes apparent only after careful consideration.”
The great room serves as ground zero for this understated design philosophy. “Neutrals are where our palette starts,” says Bailey. As the clients love to cook with their kids, the space needed to serve as functional culinary hub, not pristine showpiece. Inset grey oak ceiling panels mirror the durable oak floors; light grey lacquer kitchen cabinets expand the space and “flow with the walls”; a Caesarstone countertop—in “not quite pure white,” says Bailey—adds “a little movement and forgiveness.” It’s a room that’s meant to be used and lived in: “Materials needed to be highly forgiving and easy to live with,” he reiterates.
Although ease of use and comfort was key throughout the process, quality was always paramount. “Everything is crafted and well considered,” says the designer. An inset ceramic panel on the hood fan designed by local artist Jolinda Linden becomes a piece of art; kitchen cabinet interiors are all lined in oak (“It’s like opening a beautifully lined jewel box,” says Bailey); a custom bronze fireplace surround and louvred screen adds richness to an otherwise tonal room. These luxe, subtle details all work in quiet concert to frame an uninterrupted view.
Room after room, thoughtful detail is there if you know where to look: grey oak; Calacatta marble; travertine; antique brass; matte metals; a three-storey, 25-foot custom Bocci light installation that cascades down through the centre of the home’s stairwell. “The uniqueness of each grey, white and cream glass globe keeps it artisanal, rather than ‘pizazzy,’” says Bailey. Such rigorous devotion to minimalism—all without sacrificing luxury—creates a classic home with a Zen foundation that promises to grow with this family for a few hundred years more.
More Photos From This Stunning Home
Warm Welcome For the exterior design of the home, landscape architect Paul Sangha created an inviting outdoor space with a Corten steel fireplace and reflecting pond out back. “There’s a great synergy between his work and our work,” says interior designer Robert Bailey. The garden sculpture is by Brent Comber.
Seamless Design The client’s office houses a sofa bed, Bensen desk, Eames chair and a credenza—designed by Bailey—that’s made in ash and convertible to a desk. In the front entry, a console table with a bronze drawer face and bronze-frame bench was designed by Bailey and fabricated by Lech Podgorski.
Let the Light In In the stairwell hangs paintings from Gordon Smith and Tiko Kerr, along with an elegant Bocci light fixture suspended dramatically overhead. In the dining room , another piece from Tiko Kerr is named Turbo Child. Inspired by a B&B Italia table that’s no longer in production, the extendable wood-and-glass-topped dining room table can seat up to 12 in a pinch.
Open Sesame In the living room, purple velvet B&B Italia chairs gather around a stunning bronze fireplace screen designed by RBI and fabricated by Taplary. Outside, a tiny wood door along the garden fence is a visual reminder of the original Tudor home.
Power Centre The kitchen hood fan transforms into a piece of art by ceramic artist Jolinda Linden, which is framed in the same countertop material. Lighting throughout is thoughtfully placed. “I always like a lot of different light levels,” explains Bailey. “I don’t like seeing a lot of down lights because I find them too shadowy; however, here we’ve used some downlighting for general illumination.”
A Rock and a Soft Place A leather custom bed in the master bedroom is perfectly softened with linen drapery and a limestone fireplace. “There’s a lot of textural richness throughout,” says Bailey. “For example, there are two different stones on the fireplace—a cross-cut limestone on the bottom and bronze Armani marble on top.”
Bathing Beauty The generously proportioned master bath features the same oak flooring throughout the house, and Calacatta marble countertops stay in sync with the rest of the home’s materials. “The materials are always telling you the same thing,” explains Bailey.