An open-concept laneway house in the homeowner’s childhood backyard embraces a beautiful contrast.
They say you can’t go home again. But when one Vancouver medical technologist was ready to downsize—her kids fully grown and in places of their own—she did just that, setting her sights back on the Point Grey house she’d grown up in, and where her parents still lived.
She had visions beyond a basement-suite takeover, though: their lot was zoned for a laneway house. It offered the perfect way to keep her close to family while still allowing for plenty of privacy—and a chance to get creative. She tapped design studio Campos Studio (then Campos Leckie) to create her compact dream home, and principal Javier Campos gave the design some serious thought. While many laneway houses are built as mini- versions of full-sized homes, Campos looked to space-conscious houseboats for inspiration instead, where every square inch of the layout does double duty.
“Our goal was to create a sense of spaciousness,” explains Campos. “We wanted to blend everything in.” The result is an open-concept, streamlined space that makes the most of its mere 592 square feet. The living room is lined with custom sofas that double as storage units, and fir cladding cleverly packs an electrical panel, a front closet and pantry storage into one cozy cubic structure. There’s only one door in the whole home (between the bedroom and bathroom), so spaces are defined by millwork and texture—the main floor an oil-stained concrete, the bedroom floor done with wood.
Campos teamed up with interior designer Barbara McGeough of Blue Design Studio for the interior finishes. Though she sadly passed away this summer, her contributions to this space’s function and flow were vital: “Essentially, you’re taking a full-sized house and condensing it to a quarter of the size,” she had explained. “Creating a design with serious livability was key.”
The good natural lighting helps: windows of all sizes and shapes (a square here, a rhombus there, a porthole-round number, and one that fully wraps around a corner) line the walls and roof, allowing plenty of natural light to stream in, even on a grey day. And these portals serve a second purpose, thanks to Campos’s thoughtful design: open three skylights up top and a window on the bottom level, and the whole house naturally ventilates.
For the exterior, Campos took inspiration from the heritage of his fourth-generation Japanese-Canadian client. “In Japanese architecture there’s a concept called ‘wabi sabi,’ which honours the beauty of asymmetry and imperfection,” says the designer. So he eschewed a cookie-cutter rectangular two-storey and created an angular, sculptural structure that was designed from the inside out: “Everything is defined by volumes: the space and shape of the rooms. We started there and built the exterior around that.”
He layered the exterior walls with hand-stained wood shakes (“The homeowner thought it was crazy to stain them all individually, but she didn’t try to stop me,” Campos laughs) in varying shades of black, which contrast against grey West Coast skies and the bright white interiors that peek through the scattering of windows. The shakes provide a textural contrast, too: while the outside is rough, inside, everything is smooth. “It’s a yin-and-yang thing,” says Campos. “Two opposites make a whole.”
There’s contrast within the interior, too, as weightier materials and hue are balanced with lighter elements. The colour of the concrete used inside was too close to the colour of Vancouver clouds, so it was stained a deeper grey with tinted oil for a richer look and covered with an oatmeal-coloured rattan rug to add some warmth. In the kitchen, white Caesarstone countertops keep things bright, along with white cabinetry, white walls and whitewashed fir (lightened with a process called “blonding” that was popular in the ’50s).
And then, of course, there are the stairs—the centrepiece of the space, though they’re tucked off to the side. “The concrete floor had a lot of substance, so we brought in the floating staircase and lighter wood walls,” McGeough had explained. White-painted metal rails line the wooden steps, adding a layer of pattern and texture to the room while maintaining the clean look. “It has this sense of floating up through the space.”
The furniture and decor are kept simple to let the architectural nooks tell the design story; a glowing Flos orb on the built-in side table and a matching fixture hanging above a plain white Saarinen table are as decorative as things get. But though it’s a space with sophisticated sparseness, there’s still a coziness to be found in this home not so far from home. “There’s a real sense of welcome coming in,” McGeough once said. “It just wraps right around and envelops you.”