One Calgary couple makes a fresh start on a striking Okanagan site with the help of Sturgess Architecture.

You can blame Air Canada for a lot of things—lost baggage, missed connections—but in the case of this gorgeous Naramata property, it deserves a little bit of credit. When the airline stopped flying direct to Thunder Bay, it gave one retired Calgary couple pause: they loved their cottage on Shebandowan Lake, but was the travel still going to be worth it? Ultimately, the pair decided it was time to bring their vacation destination a little closer to home, so they called up Sturgess Architecture to help find them an Okanagan location for a brand new getaway. 

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The steel panels that make up the exterior of the home were inspired by the reds and oranges of the desert landscape surrounding. Acid-etched, sprayed with water and sealed, each panel is unique.

A day of scouting with firm founder Jeremy Sturgess took them all over the region, but it was one last spot in Naramata with questionable potential that stopped them in their tracks. It was heavily sloped down into a gorge, and building would certainly be tough, the realtor warned: overall, not a great option. But all the architect could see was the panoramic views, the potential for a small personal vineyard, and the exciting programmatic potential of the unusual landscape. “This is the one,” Sturgess said. 

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The homeowners repurposed some items from their previous cabin, adding a cozy Canadiana cabin feel to the modern space: a bearskin rug, a collection of heavy blankets and colourful oars.

Soon, the sketches were flying for an 2,400-plus-square-foot home-away-from-home, one that embraced the site’s challenges for the better. “This is the reason we do what we do,” says Kevin Harrison, principal with Sturgess Architecture. “We’re excited by opportunity. The excitement of the gorge and steep slope really captivated us.” 

The design took plenty of cues from the clients’ Ontario home: a relatively modest main living space with an additional guest attachment, something intimate enough to be comfortable when it’s just the two of them, yet large enough to accommodate visiting friends and family. But the new home’s Okanagan locale offered a fresh opportunity to “really embrace the landscape,” says Harrison. “The building needed to complement and enhance the naturescape it existed within. We wanted the house to float above that, in essence.” Now, a dramatic cantilevered building, supported by columns, hovers in the soft forested area above the Naramata Creek. 

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The arid surrounding region provided inspiration for the exterior material choices, incorporating the oranges and reds of the desert with uniquely treated steel cladding. “We acid-etched it and sprayed with water and sealed it, so it gives it this organic, abstract patterning on the panels of steel—not one is the same,” says Harrison. “There’s this idea of movement all along the cladding of the house.” The counterpoint to that are panels of dark stained wood and a full west-facing wall of glazing, all perched atop a concrete base. 

Of course, functionality was just as important as a striking siting. “Nothing is superfluous in terms of rooms,” says Harrison. “We wanted a place where every room would be used readily.” There was no “overbuilding for the sake of overbuilding,” just the essential components to complement how they live their lives. There’s an intimate terrace that captures the early daylight, perfect for the wife’s treasured morning coffee time; another on the other side of the building is intended to soak up the generous afternoon sun. “We used the interactions between them and how they entertain to help the decisions with the layout,” says interior designer Nyla Free, who collaborated on the project.

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The entry bisects what is the main living space and what is guest space; from there, as the public space moves closer to more private areas, it physically starts to narrow and become more intimate. The result is a pure, two-storey volume with a single black box extruding from it, a chamber to house what Harrison calls “the true private spaces” such as the washrooms, laundry and storage. The guest suite—which features a bedroom, a small TV seating area and another beautiful balcony—is surrounded by vertical fins that focus the eye-line west to the lake and mitigates views of the neighbouring properties, all while keeping the space cool during summer months. 

For the home’s interior colour palette, Free took inspiration from a humble rug sourced from the Conran Shop in London. The abstract pattern of rusts and mustards worked perfectly with the steel accents, and so Free was off and running, with a warm red velvet sofa and cheery yellow lacquer kitchen island that pop against black millwork. A crow sculpture, rescued from the previous cabin, perches up top to watch dinner parties unfold.

Harrison’s black box continues into the bedroom (the closet is contained within it) and provides some visual weight in a room that otherwise feels like it’s floating on air. Here, a deck extends toward and over Naramata Creek below, should one want to step a little closer to nature. It’s something the homeowners do often, now that they’re just a few hours from their Calgary home base… all thanks, in a roundabout way, to a certain airline.  

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The skulls on the wall are from Montana, selected by the homeowner. “She really participates in the design selections. It’s very fun,” says designer Nyla Free. “She’ll find unique things and we’ll be able to get our creative juices going.”
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The yellow motif from the kitchen is echoed in the master bath, with diamond tiles in a stunning shade of sunshine. The shower has no door separating it from the rest of the ensuite (though it does feature a floor-to-ceiling window).
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