Photos by Ema Peter
When vintage houses like this come on the market in the heritage-light city of Vancouver, one question inevitably arises: is it important to save them? Architect Clinton Cuddington is no stranger to the preservation discussion. He spent years on the Shaughnessy design advisory council, discussing the value of older homes. His argument? Each should be assessed by its true assets rather than by its birthdate. “There’s another, more hysterical approach to conservation,” he says, “which is the ‘endangered species’ approach. That we must save all predates because we’re losing the fabric of our neighbourhood. I don’t subscribe to that.”
Instead, Cuddington and his firm, Measured Architecture, look at predate homes like the one here, and figure out what’s worth saving, and what isn’t. “It allows for a grafting and alteration of the home, which is clearly contemporary, but drawing inspiration from the past,” he explains.
In a lot of ways, it’s a very old-world approach—to modernize a space while respecting its past—which made Measured the right fit for the U.K. transplants who purchased the home. “That’s the condition in London,” says Cuddington. “They’re not looking to mimic the past, they’re looking to contrast it—to preserve it while adding contemporary flourishes to the structure.”
Ground zero for the reno really was ground level (or just below it). Rather than adding an extension to the home, the team was able to expand the usable square footage in the house by digging out the basement, and creating proper height on its lowest level. The space now leads out to the backyard, and provides a play area for the kids, along with a guest bedroom.
And the second, equally important focus of the reno was access to light, says Cuddington. Older buildings tend to have smaller windows, to compensate for how inefficient single glazing was: big windows equalled big heat loss. “For these projects, we’re always looking for space to rip the skin apart, to find those moments where we can increase connectivity to the landscape and beyond,” says Cuddington. “We really focused on opening up the back side of the living room.” A new Eclipse door system folds open to a new outdoor balcony when the weather warms, the deck itself lined with trellis hoops for vines to grow up along.
Upstairs, the team restructured the upper floor so that the master bedroom received an updated balcony, too, and its adjoining master bathroom was given extra attention. Rather than finishing the shower with a classic tile, they opted for something a little more unusual: hand-finished Venetian plaster. “We’re always looking for an opportunity to work with local artisans,” says Cuddington. “In this case, we worked with a true Venetian plasterer, who splits his time between Italy and Vancouver.”
Throughout, the home is furnished with an eclectic blend of new classics, like the Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs in the dining room, and refurbished antiques scouted on 1st Dibs online. (The homeowners collaborated on the design of the interior, says Cuddington, and were great sleuths in finding many of the final pieces.) Soft colours were selected for the walls throughout. “All of them were meant to be easy on the eyes, with a lot of pastels and more historic, traditional colours,” says Cuddington. “There was a goal to bring colours through in a manner that was not accent, but to bring weight to the rooms.” The crown moulding, wainscotting and fireplace surrounds were brought into the new design as well. “The original 1930s home was quite modest,” he notes. “We adorned it in a way that was a bit whimsical, drawing from a number of styles. It’s a real mash-up.”
Renovation complete, the formerly humble space is now a home that’s both a celebration of the modern and a reclamation of the best of its history—a design that might surprise followers of Measured’s other work. “People know us to be that contemporary firm,” says Cuddington. “They’re always surprised this when this comes off of the end of our paintbrush.”