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The thoughtful renovation of a historic gatehouse by homeowner-and-designer Aliki Gladwin straddles Vancouvers past and present.
When the gatehouse at the Shannon Estate was first built back in 1913, it marked the entrance to a grand 10-acre property once owned by sugar magnate B.T. Rogers. Today, the red-brick house, just off busy Granville Street in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood, still sees a steady stream of passersby, this time as the gateway to the redeveloped historic grounds—with homeowner Aliki Gladwin acting as a modern-day gatekeeper of sorts, part of the living history here.
And she herself is a part of the manor’s history—her brother first alerted her to the estate going on the market and let her know that their mother had helped prepare packages with the Red Cross in the mansion during the Second World War. Something clicked, and Gladwin decided to purchase the gatehouse—and put her designer stamp on it.
An interior designer with more than three decades of experience, she negotiated with the developer to do the interior renos herself, along with her colleague Pembrooke Collier. As a heritage-designated Beaux Arts estate, the redevelopment by Shannon Wall Centre Kerrisdale, including Gladwin’s gatehouse, a coach house, mansion, Italianate gardens and mews (added in the ’70s and designed by architect Arthur Erickson), was subject to strict rules. Gladwin had to work within these confines, as well as within the usual building codes. And, in the process, she uncovered a meant-to-be mix of old and new.
The original handrail, sandblasted to remove layers of lead-loaded paint, revealed a lovely, timeworn objet d’art. “It became this texture,” Gladwin says of the gnarled surface, “and I thought, why shouldn’t I just keep it?” In the garden room, originally a porch that’s now enclosed in glass (per heritage architect Robert Lemon’s plans), Gladwin added red brick and cornices discarded and discovered on the site, and painted the original porch ceiling. Juxtaposed with these old elements is a contemporary light fixture from Belgium, mid-century-modern Fritz Hansen dining chairs and a pair of vintage rush-seat armchairs, found in a Parisian flea market. (“I didn’t even touch them up,” says Gladwin.)
Repurposing pieces—whether antique or more current cast-offs—is part of Gladwin’s passion. When a corporate client wanted to get rid of light fixtures above a trading desk, she knew the perfect place for them—in the kitchen, over the stately island she designed (using marble as well as maple counters she saved from a long-gone kitchen). “I always ask, if you have things, how can you reuse them in a different context that makes the space work in a different way,” says Gladwin. A rug she designed 15 years ago is now at home in the den, alongside other furniture she’s long had and still loves: a Barcelona table by Mies van der Rohe, Switzer chairs, a Christian Liaigre sofa.
Even her colour palette is tried and true. The Black Pearl finish of an oft-used commercial-grade laminate is sampled for the almost blue-tinged charcoal of the stairway handrail and millwork throughout the house. “I’ve used that so many times on projects,” says Gladwin, “and it still works well because it’s such an interesting colour.” It contrasts with the soft-grey walls and emboldens elements like the French-inspired metal doors Gladwin designed.
It’s as if this house is a repository for her curated collection, whether gathered from her travels over the years or somehow shaped with the gatehouse in mind. Artwork and accessories range from local artists like Greg Murdock to baskets from bazaars in Turkey, and the wide-board, extra-thick and -long fir flooring (some boards are 20 feet in length) comes from Denmark. After she saw the soap-finish floor at the Saatchi Gallery in London, she knew she wanted it for the gatehouse. “It gives it a different patina,” she says.
Everything’s been carefully chosen and has a story. Decorative glass from her granny is displayed in the powder room above a modern iteration of the dado line that uses Moroccan-inspired tile in place of wainscoting. It’s a very personal take that’s a culmination of Gladwin’s extensive interior-design career, yet is tailored for this gatehouse.
“I didn’t want to do the house really traditional,” says Gladwin. “But the house is 103 years old, so I didn’t want it really contemporary. I wanted it to be a mix in between.” She’s taken this old gatehouse and, while respecting its heritage design roots, reinvigorated it as a gateway between past and present, and made it relevant again.