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Designer Robert Bailey reimagined the classic B.C. cottage while subtly respecting its roots.
Cabin culture is so deeply woven into the fabric of our summers that it’s earned its grammatical stripes as a verb: cottaging is about family togetherness, tradition and childhood memories. All things that get upended when placed in the context of a city where soccer schedules, deadlines and traffic conspire to unhinge them all. For one Vancouver family, these values were enshrined at their Naramata cabin on Okanagan Lake, a veritable temple of family and fellowship—but, after 12 years, it was time for a change.
Picturesque views of the sparkling lake, idyllic swimming and blissful playtime in the sand were savoured from their pint-sized wood-panelled cabin; entire summers centred around these iconic moments. But as the years progressed, the children grew and extended family and friends lingered longer, the homeowners realized they had outgrown their two-bedroom clapboard classic. For them, the key was to build something that could continue to tell their story but from a fresh new perspective that remained faithful to cabin DNA.
With a napkin sketch, the homeowners reached out to Vancouver interior designer Robert Bailey with a vision they’d been incubating for years: a cabin masquerading as a house. Which is exactly how Bailey loves to work. “It’s so uninteresting working with just my vision; my idea bank is always fertilized with other people’s imagination, wishes and desires—it adds challenges and layers to a project,” he says. “Our best work is always collaborative.” Bailey’s task was to take that sketch and bring it to life, but honour the patterns, routines and traditions that had formed over a decade within the original walls.
Throughout the design process, he says, the question remained: what is a cabin? Its principles—ease of use, rugged purpose, low-maintenance materials and places for people to pile into—are now referenced throughout. “The home needed to be super relaxed, where nothing would be precious—everything had to be easy to live with, but all in an elegantly finished and sophisticated package,” says Bailey. As such, the sturdy French white oak floors with grey stain are all pre-distressed with knots and dents—traipsing kids with sandy feet can easily come and go while damage and upkeep are kept to a minimum. The bathrooms feature quartz counters—solid and strong—yet softer in tone than all-white (“White is harder to live with”). “We always start with a shell, which is the supporting character for everything else—furniture, decor, art. It needs to be strong, but also still connected in terms of its colour and its feel,” says Bailey.
The same oak flooring mirrors the ceiling for a continued thread. “We wanted to have consistency of material and colour, as woods are difficult to manage—there’s often an orange and yellowness to them,” says Bailey. Plus, a small palette of materials helps to keep things cohesive and calm: wood clads every ceiling of the house, as well as the walls of a teeny powder room, where the result is “a delightfully modern (and clean!) take on the classic cabin outhouse,” Bailey laughs.
The new vacation home also needed to factor in the homeowners’ university-aged children and also welcome extended family and visiting friends. In other words, it needed to be like a hotel—homey and inviting but not so heavy on personality that a great aunt couldn’t sleep comfortably in a kid’s room. “Like a hospitality project, it’s meant to be less specifically designed for an individual so that rooms could be utilized in various ways by various people,” explains Bailey. “Even though the private space upstairs is personal, rooms don’t have specific names attached to them.”
As a result, there’s an elegant thematic flow and connection throughout. A teenage hangout room converts to a sleepover space with trundles tucked underneath the beds; a separate den and lounge area is for anyone needing quiet contemplation time; all sofas are hide-a-beds that allow for flexibility for visitors at the drop of a hat. “We didn’t want bunk beds everywhere,” says Bailey. “We still wanted it to appear like a sophisticated home.”
There’s a distinct indoor/outdoor flow that comes from copious windows and that continuity of materials. The yellow-and-gold local Kettle Valley stone on the wall both inside and outside ties the space together visually while referencing the sunshiney colours of the Okanagan. The great room accommodates big dinners with a long table flanked by a glass curtain wall; a living room, too, sheds picture-wall views to the lake.
There are other homages to the cabin—subtle, but there for all who happen to notice. A round outdoor firepit echoes a campfire; an indoor fireplace sheathed in acid-stained steel channels a cast iron frying pan; unadorned furniture with timeless appeal hearkens back to basic necessities. “This house will be around for the next 100 years,” says Bailey. “We never wanted it to be kitschy—we just wanted it to be authentic to time and place.”
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