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Lessons from a high-contrast, high-traffic vacation home.
‘After’ photos by Janis Nicolay.
The fact of the matter is, if you get yourself a holiday home in Whistler, you’d better expect to be hosting a few friends over the years. Which is why the homeowners of a fixer-upper chalet reached out to Vancouver designer Erica Colpitts with the goal of renovating to accommodate the maximum number of guests possible.
While the home benefited from tons of natural light and spectacular views, the layout was awkward, dark and dated — its 1,500 square feet were split over six mini-levels, making consistency and comfort tough. But with fresh Scandinavian and British-inspired elements and a fresh palette of whites, Colpitts refreshed the kitchen, guest suite and children’s rooms to simultaneously pull everything together and open things up.
The floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the mountains and Alta Lake are as breathtaking as ever (“Watching the sun rise over the mountains from the living room chaise is nothing short of magical,” says Colpitts) but now the interiors offer something special, too. The formerly uncomfortable floorplan, considered in a new light, is now one of the home’s most charming features. “Once we lightened everything up with more minimal steel railings, the multiple levels became a key component of the experience of the home… they’re even quite fun,” says Collpitts. “Even when there are ten people staying in the house, guests can always find a little pocket of privacy and quiet.”
“It is almost impossible to feel stressed in this space,” says Colpitts. “The layered neutral pallet throughout the main living spaces creates a sense of stillness that journeys with you through the home. “ Though she maintained interest with accent elements like black lighting fixtures and steel stair rails, nothing feels out of place. The result is a retreat-like sanctuary that invites you to serenely wander through and explore.
Colpitts pulled in pieces from local boutiques and makers like Wood Shop Vancouver, Provide Home, Gild and Co. and CF Interiors.
Erica worked closely with the homeowners to bring whimsy and a romantic design to the townhouse, incorporating British and Scandinavian elements to make the retreat aesthetically different than the typical Whistler decor.
Scandinavian cottages were influential to Colpitts’s concept—appropriate, given the similarities of the landscape and wilderness in the regions. “I think Nordic getaways should always be considered when designing in Whistler,” says the designer. “This is where we found inspiration for our colour palette and use of naturally finished woods.” (The furnitures, however, were inspired by English cottages, with textural materials and muted colours.)
Space efficiency was a huge challenge for this project, so every square foot needed to be designed for maximum impact. The original kitchen had a challenging layout with an awkward corner sink, and the laundry closet took up valuable kitchen real estate. It was an investment of both time and budget, but the team made the decision to move the laundry upstairs, which required pushing the primary ensuite further into the bedroom.
It was a pain, but ultimately it freed up significant space in the kitchen, which meant being able to widen the back kitchen wall, add a pull-out pantry, and increase counter workspace. Colpitts then added in a peninsula with counter seating—upgrades, she says, that were a game-changer for food preparation and entertaining.
Accommodating the ski gear for multiple people in a cramped entryway was another challenge to tackle. “We needed to ensure multiple people could come in after a day of skiing and have a place to put their gear,” says Colpitts. “However, we didn’t want the space to feel like a locker room when the home is being enjoyed during the off season.” Wood Shop Vancouver sourced some beautiful reclaimed white oak, and built a cottage-like bench that hides a boot dryer beneath (a slot in the bench top accommodates the glove attachment hoses). The upper shelf is sized to fit a ski helmet perfectly, and 24 discrete hooks line the cabinets to hang coats and scarves.
For maximizing sleeping arrangements, Collpits expanded and enclosed the upper floor loft space, and built a triple bunk bed for the kids. That loft—formerly open to the rest of the home—now was a quiet ensuite with an expanded floor space.
“For this home, we needed multiple points of contrast to keep our soft, romantic look feeling fresh and far from bland or overly muted,” says Collpits. The airy-but-striking stair railings, the oversized industrial ceiling fan in the primary bedroom and little one-off accents like the Rina Menardi platter in the living room offer moments of surprise and engagement.
“The loft bathroom is everyone’s favourite,” laughs Colpitts. “The room is reminiscent of a tiny bathroom you might find at an inn somewhere in Europe – petite but full of character.” Libeco linens from Belgium and a handmade wood and leather mirror from the Ukraine add genuine European touches.
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