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Introducing Western Living’s 2023 Designers of the Year Award Winners
WL Architectural Designer of the Year 2023: SMStudio
Arthur Erickson Memorial Award winner Scott Posno designs irresistible modern homes that make you stop and stare.
Scott Posno began his career the way many young architects do: after graduating architecture school, he was hired by a firm and incorporated into a team of designers tackling large-scale projects. But that kind of work wasn’t for him. “I was not enjoying working on big buildings—I had little interest in schools and hospitals,” he admits. “You don’t feel like you’re having any input.”
These institutions were nothing like the spaces that Posno dreamed of designing while earning his bachelor of architecture at UBC. “When I was in architecture school, I admired cabins and houses,” he explains. Creating homes that were entirely made to meet the needs of a specific person or family was far more interesting to him than developer or spec projects. “I like solving problems and juggling spatial requirements,” he says, “and I soon realized I wanted to work for myself.”
Of course, starting your own firm doesn’t come with unlimited power: there’s budget, construction bylaws and even climate to consider when building a home. But Scott Posno has earned our 2022 Arthur Erickson Memorial Award for an emerging residential designer in part because he sees every constraint as a challenge.
His 48th Avenue home, for example, had a modest budget compared to some of the other projects in his portfolio: it was a standard-sized home on a standard 33-foot-wide Vancouver lot, and the clients, a young family, were looking to make the most of it. “I’m always thinking efficiency when it comes to floor plans,” says Posno. “I don’t like any excess space wasted.” The architect created an extra flex room in addition to the home’s three bedrooms for the kids to study and play in, plus a covered outdoor deck off the dining room.
That said, the home isn’t solely about function. “Sometimes when people want to max out the property, there’s no space for design left over,” says Posno. That’s not the case in this home: a floating cantilevered wood staircase and stunning three-sided glass fireplace bring the drama.
Then there’s the exterior. Corrugated metal was both a bold and cost-effective choice for this home: it’s stable, durable, waterproof and won’t fade or warp in the sun. “There’s almost zero maintenance on this material, and that’s what we needed,” says Posno. Unlike stucco or wood, metal requires very little upkeep—and the black creates a striking effect.
Posno’s John Street home in Vancouver also embraces the dramatic, thanks to an all-black board-and-batten exterior and sloped front window. The clients, a professional couple, wanted a beautiful home office incorporated into the floor plan. Posno delivered: the expansive space has exposed timber ceilings that are reminiscent of the cabins he’d always felt inspired by, and the vaulted roof makes the space feel bright and airy. The architect credits the asymmetrical window to the clients: “We had the whole front in glass before, and they suggested we try something different—and, graphically, it really impacts the way the house looks,” he says.
It was the clients’ input that made the tambour oak veneer happen in the dining room as well—they have family in the restaurant industry, and fell in love with the wood siding on the walls of those relatives’ restaurants. It emphasizes the woodsy vibe as well, as does the back garage. “The garage is like a little cabin unto itself,” says Posno.
That garage is an example of Posno’s thoughtful design on a small scale, and his 12,000-square-foot Marine Drive home in Vancouver is proof that his strategies work on more substantial spaces, too. From the street, it looks like an almost windowless two-storey abode. But the home—which faces the Georgia Strait—is three storeys, all covered in windows, and sports several balconies. The “business in the front, party in the back” design was prompted by necessity: the street the home sits on is very busy, so Posno kept the road-facing windows to a minimum both for noise control and privacy.
Black brick masonry and a boxy, geometric silhouette give the home a futuristic, fortress-like vibe. But the inside is bright, thanks to those back windows and a centre skylight that lets sun shine down on the three-storey solid-oak staircase. “It’s a stunning centrepiece,” says Posno.
The architect’s work stands out—both from neighbouring homes and in the hearts of our judges. Judge Farida Abu-Bakare, director of global practice at WXY Studio, said Posno’s projects display “so much design strength in such simple form and palette.” Regardless of the rules a space lays out, Posno is game to play. “Sometimes, a really challenging site is going to give you a lot more to work with,” he says.
What was your first design project?
My first modern house design is what we call the Pink House. I did many houses before I ever really sank my teeth into the kind of project I wanted to work on. When my twins were young and I was just starting my practice, I took any work—spec homes, traditional homes and renovations. But I knew that eventually I wanted to work on modern homes. The Pinks were the first clients who gave me that chance.
What’s your dream project?
I have been going to Georgian Bay in Ontario with my family my entire life. Where we go is a community of tiny islands that can only be accessed by boat. The wind is relentless. I would love to design a cabin on Georgian Bay.
READ MORE: Meet the Winners of Western Living’s 2022 Designers of the Year Awards
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