A well-curated home typically comes about in one of two ways. You hire a great design mind to compose your space—someone else’s well-trained, singular vision applied to your four walls. Or you live a lifetime of rich experiences, then layer your home yourself with your gathered treasures. What do you do, then, if you’re a great design mind and you also have a life well lived? For architect Robert Lemon, you get the best of both worlds.
A white-oak screen separates the office and living room and serves as both feature and room divider. The fabric pillows—designed by Sandrine Lejeune, a former colleague of Ledingham’s—first saw life as table runners in the 1880s-era log-house farm that Lemon used to share with late partner Robert Ledingham. The farm was sold, the fabric reimagined. (Photo by Ema Peter.)
No stranger to exceptional design nor life experience, Lemon is a long-time architectural heritage advocate whose life partner of over 30 years was the late legendary designer Robert Ledingham. As Vancouver’s senior heritage planner from 1991 to 1996, Lemon was key in spearheading new provincial heritage legislation for the City of Vancouver, as well as its density policy. Restoration and rehabilitation are his calling cards: he’s consulted on such landmark projects as Chinatown’s Wing Sang building, the historic Shannon Estate, Christ Church Cathedral, the downtown YMCA and the Hotel Georgia. That storied experience, coupled with his world travels alongside the talented Ledingham, afforded him the ability to approach his new home with a keen eye honed over decades.
Architect Robert Lemon sourced the circa-1946 Danish felted sofa in egg-yolk yellow in Winnipeg; it’s now the focal point of the architect’s “morning room." (Photo by Ema Peter.)The map of Rome on the morning room wall has been with Lemon for over 35 years. He first hung it in his apartment and at city hall (as an employee) before his West 10th house; it was then displayed at the Vancouver Heritage Foundation before reappearing in Lemon’s new condo. (Photo by Ema Peter.)
At first blush, Lemon’s circa-2000 condo might seem an unlikely candidate for someone steeped in architectural pedigree. “I never thought I’d be a condo person,” he says. But the airy space with its large outdoor terrace spoke to him after nearly two decades spent in a stunning art moderne abode in Point Grey with Ledingham. “I wasn’t interested in moving from our beautiful house after Bob passed away in 2013,” says Lemon. “But it was a little big for one person.” He put word out to his realtor that should something come up with a terrace, he’d be interested. Shortly thereafter, his realtor touched base: there was a condo with 85 feet of frontage and a 1,400-square-foot deck not yet publicly advertised. Lemon was indeed interested.
The new multicoloured vases by Middle Kingdom are from Bacci’s; the vintage Murano glass dining room chandelier arrived courtesy of Lemon’s hand luggage from a recent trip to a Montreal vintage lighting shop. (Photo by Ema Peter.)A striking wooden sculpture called Adagio—recently purchased at the Splash art auction—is designed by Federico Méndez-Castro of Dalbergia Wood and Fine Objects on Granville Island. (Photo by Ema Peter.)
To a less trained eye, the expansive new space could have felt daunting. But at 18 years old, its dark, gloomy kitchen, dated carpet and “funny configuration of walls and rooms” were all pure potential to Lemon. Across from a park with abundant southern exposure, “I saw North Shore mountains and beautiful pine trees,” he says. “And I could see that the structure of the layout would be improved with some internal walls moved to make it more livable.” And so he put in an offer.
(Photo by Ema Peter.)The blue vintage Swiss USM bookcase adds a pop of colour to an otherwise neutral scheme. (Photo: Ema Peter.)
As one chapter in his life closed, the next one opened—and it happened to overlook the Granville Street Bridge. First, walls would need to be removed to open up the view, the tiny kitchen incorporated into a great room, the office delineated by a slat-screen wall, and a corridor reimagined as a master bedroom dressing room. After the bones were sufficiently modified, Lemon took stock of what he had to work with, decor-wise. The buyers of his art moderne home had been keen to purchase much of the existing furniture and some art; this allowed Lemon to conceptualize his new interiors from scratch. To set the literal stage, he ruthlessly limited the number of background materials. White-oak flooring, Corian and off-white walls create a gallery-like backdrop to allow objects to pop: “The background is neutral, so all the furnishings show more clearly and tie in together,” he explains. Handsome bronze door hardware and track lighting serve as an accent colour for neutrality and consistency.
A white-oak panel door leading to the master bedroom seamlessly shuts for privacy when Lemon entertains, but it also serves to expand the room visually. (Photo by Ema Peter.)
There’s an eclectic, masculine ethos that permeates Lemon’s home; it’s well edited and subtle, but with a richness that dovetails with that restraint. “A lot of Bob’s work was contemporary and clean, but we always had a shared interest in Scandinavian design, modern pieces and Asian influence,” says Lemon of the aesthetic. And it all started with a wool carpet, courtesy of a trip to Turkey in 2000: “Bob said don’t buy it, but I still did,” laughs Lemon. Its rust, indigo and beige colourway served as inspiration for the rest of the palette throughout: beige linen drapery unifies the glass that surrounds the space on three sides, while the rust-and-Indonesian-blue chenille pillows were handcrafted with fabric remnants from Ledingham’s old office. The leather and chrome dining room table was Ledingham’s former boardroom table; Lemon now pairs it with classic fabric chairs from Inform Interiors. Thoughtful reminders reimagined.
The master bedroom is a study in textures, from the Persian-style red rug and the sheer drapery to the cozy gingham bedspread and beautifully worn cushion fabrics. (Photo by Ema Peter.)
Photo by Ema Peter.The home’s careful, composed mix of old and new honours the past while gracefully expressing an exciting new future. “I’ve got more stuff than I know what to do with, but it all seems to work together,” says Lemon. “But I still keep collecting things in my travels.”
Robert Lemon's Design Tips
Embrace the art of blending. In an open kitchen, downplay the cabinetry and details so that they blend with the rest of the space. “I almost always defer to plain Corian countertops,” says Lemon.
Art direct your meals. Food looks terrific on blue plates. “I have a wide range of dishes—Japanese, Chinese, Italian and Danish—that all have a deep indigo colour,” says Lemon. “Mix and match the plates through a meal and all food will shine.”
Ask an expert. Use an interior designer. “As an architect, I like the challenge of rethinking a space, but a good interior designer will also think about lighting, texture and the nuances of colour,” Lemon says.
Unify through materials. Different elements work together if they share a common colour or material, like bronze. “I have many things in that metal, like dark bronze door hardware, cabinet pulls and track light fixtures, plus old bronze vases, napkin rings and other decorative pieces,” says Lemon.
Go big and go home. If you’re going to do something foolish like buy a rug in Turkey, don’t just get a little postage stamp: go big. “My living room carpet is nine feet by 12 feet, but I bought it because the dealer could pack it up into a suitcase-sized piece of checked luggage so I could bring it home with me.”