"Small,” it turns out, is relative.
For a young couple who loved city life, an 800-square-foot condo in Vancouver was more than enough space. But once Melanie and Will welcomed a new baby into the mix, the cozy suite suddenly felt a little constrained. “Having to constantly reorganize our things to make space was tiring,” says Melanie. “We loved our apartment and our neighbourhood, but we had just outgrown it.”
It was time to spread out a little. With son Max (now a spirited four-year-old) in tow, they approached Vancouver design firm Falken Reynolds for help with their dream of upsizing.
A 3,500-square-foot family-owned property right near Vancouver’s beautiful Van Dusen Botanical Garden technically gave the team at Falken Reynolds the square footage they needed, but an awkward layout made the home feel even more cramped than Melanie and Will’s condo had. “It was a very unique space, but extremely confusing,” laughs Melanie. “There were a lot of separations of the rooms with walls and although the layout had some interesting components, the house didn’t feel unified. There was no flow to it.”
Though the family’s square footage has changed, the designers took care to use a small-space mentality for the functionality of the kitchen. “Everything’s within a few steps instead of extending across the full room,” says Falkenberg. “We were thinking about a pivoting action.” From the stovetop, for example, the sink and a drawer full of cooking utensils are within easy reach.
The house had barely been touched since its construction in the late ’60s: the layout was segmented and choppy, and the living room featured wall-to-wall panelling and carpet (and a built-in pentagonal ceiling light). With the help of contractor Terris Lightfoot Contracting, Falken Reynolds’ principals Chad Falkenberg and Kelly Reynolds etched out a new open-concept floor plan; now the kitchen, living space and Max’s play area are unified, and stack-and-slide glass doors from Western Window Systems part for a 12-foot opening into the back deck.
There’s still a nod to the house’s history in the travertine fireplace that the designers kept as a centrepiece and textural inspiration. “It really was a starting point,” says Falkenberg. “With the wood panelling, it felt very heavy, but in a different context, it feels fresh, like light wood.” They extended the tone and texture of the stone hearth into tall kitchen cabinetry (via custom-stained flat-cut white oak), and the hardwood floors pick up on the same hues. Fresh white walls keep the vibe modern and bright. “We both love contemporary design where things can be kept simple, but oftentimes that comes off cold and sterile,” says Will. “The house is none of that.”
The original travertine fireplace stayed (see before photo, below) and the staircase wasn't movable, but the designers added depth to the stair treads and worked with a fabricator to create elegant grey metal spindles, emphasizing the geometry of the space.
The fireplace, before.
During the design process, the Falken Reynolds team spent a lot of time deep-diving into the family’s needs, discovering solutions to problems they didn’t even know to anticipate. “We got an even bigger appreciation of the level of detail after the house was complete,” says Melanie. "They proposed having a few key high-traffic areas with tiled walls, and we can really see how it makes sense now.” In Max’s bathroom, the designers placed the faucet and knobs on opposite sides to make bath time with a toddler easier.
Ultimately, the family’s wish list was pretty small. Melanie and Will love to entertain and wanted a kitchen where everyone could gather, so the design team installed a 12-foot island beneath a Rich Brilliant Willing Queue pendant and lined it with a quartet of Muuto Nerd counter stools. The light grey colour would make some nervous in a household with an active toddler (who loves doing laps around the island on his bike), but the designers chose ultra-durable Formica laminate and Caesarstone for the cabinetry and countertop: stains, spills and scratches are near impossible. “It’s light and fresh, but Max-proof,” laughs Reynolds.
It’s also practically clutter-proof, thanks to some clever storage planning. There are deep cabinets underneath the island, and a custom wall of millwork by Munro Woodworking that hides what is essentially a giant appliance garage, with room for all of the family’s gadgets: the doors open up and slide into pockets to allow access to the toaster, microwave and blender. Matching panelling conceals the fridge, and hidden vertical finger pulls on all the cabinetry create a streamlined look.
There’s even more storage in the mudroom that the family uses for their comings and goings. “It’s the ‘come-in-and-drop-everything’ spot,” says Reynolds. “It’s a place you have to be, not a place you want to be, so we wanted to make it as nice and practical as it could be.” Here, everything has a place—from the coat hooks to the drying closet. A narrow window above the Caesarstone counter allows natural light to flood in.
The staircase couldn’t be moved, but it also created a huge visual dead zone in the middle of the house. The Falken Reynolds team had to get creative to lighten things up. “It was made up of four runs of steps, all different, because of the split-level design,” says Falkenberg. “It really was a little puzzle.” The duo partnered with metalworker Drummond Industries to find a solution that aligned the geometry of the stairs. Treads were extended to be deeper, and light grey metal spindles were installed, allowing light to flow through.
Up the now-stylish staircase, a cozy master bedroom with an intentionally small footprint awaits. Melanie and Will didn’t want or need a lot of bedroom space: just something that felt like a cozy hideaway at the end of the day. “A lot of young families want their bedrooms to feel like an escape,” says Falkenberg. While the rest of the house is painted a crisp white, here the team used a warm Benjamin Moore Amulet amber colour, paired with Cloth Studio linens, grey wool carpeting and a dreamy print by photographer Brit Gill to contrast the airy and bright common spaces.
The staircase, post-renovation, complete with new grey metal spindles.
The staircase, before.
Another half-flight of the staircase before.
Though the bedroom is simply designed, the master ensuite is a spa-like oasis. A luxe steam shower with fittings by Fantini offers another moment of calm, and features a skylight that bathes the space in natural light; wood-patterned Porcelanosa porcelain tile from Fontile lines a bench with a heated back wall.
With their condo days behind them, this Vancouver family is happily embracing living big—especially its littlest member. “Max is thrilled to have space to run around and have people over,” says Melanie with a smile. “One of his favourite things is to give his version of the house tour.”
The master bedroom and bath were designed as quiet retreats. The former is the only room that isn't a crisp white, but a warm Amulet amber shade from Benjamin Moore.
The master bath features a skylight to bathe the shower in natural light.
The sofa in Max’s playroom (“It’s his area to spread out and play,” says Reynolds) is one of the only pieces the family brought from their condo; all the other furniture was added by the designers.
In the Jack-and-Jill bathroom attached to Max’s room, Mutina Puzzle tile around the bath adds a pop of playfulness for kids and adults alike. “Everything just melds together to form our home,” says homeowner Will.