A cramped waterfront condo is remastered for a family of five.

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It’s not a big ask, to be able to see the ocean from your waterfront condo kitchen—but it is a bit tricky when said kitchen is surrounded by walls, as was the case with this Yaletown number. With a somewhat compartmentalized layout, the 1,500-square-foot condo actually felt cramped, small even, so designer Sarah-Marie Lackey, principal at Sarah-Marie Interior Designs, was brought in to liberate the kitchen, take the plan open-concept and bring the home into the present day. 

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The vintage Vancouver condo was one of the first luxury apartments to be built along the seawall in the 1990s, and its last full-scale reno, performed by none other than Robert Ledingham in the late ’90s, had lost its lustre for the homeowners. “They just couldn’t see past the designer features that had come and gone,” says Lackey. A mid-century-modern teak armoire with Lucite handles, a custom rounded-edge, high-gloss gilded console table, a brown marble bathroom with gold fixtures—it was all too dark and dated for the family of five, and it all had to go. 

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But dark was exactly what the home needed. With the kitchen walls knocked down (hello, ocean!) and that area now open, the panoramic semicircle of windows in the living room were flooding the entire space with natural light. Combined with white walls, “it was a total whiteout,” explains the designer. “It turned out the kitchen could handle a dark contrast.” And so, one whole wall was painted black, along with one side of the new supersized kitchen island, and paired with rich walnut and black millwork against the mid-tone oak floors—all balanced with light Corian countertops and a marble mosaic backsplash. “I think a lot of people are afraid of black, but I find it works exactly the same way as white,” says Lackey. “It works as a neutral palette you can build on.” 

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A new Scandinavian-inspired kitchen island, with multiple heights and materials, was another twist on convention. Lackey designed an almost console-table-like countertop at the end of the island in walnut to easily seat the family’s three children close by and at table height but keep them well separated from the hot cooktop. (The black backing also hides even more storage.) 

The living room redesign was a further extension of the modern, family-forward imperative that says living with kids doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things. Sure, they could tuck away a playroom elsewhere in the house, but the homeowners wanted their kids to be able to be where they were so they could live daily in all spaces together as a family. Lackey’s solution? A dual living room. Two easy-to-move-around distressed leather chairs in deep cognac, along with a new grey sofa and poufs in soft materials, make up the adult conversation area, while a smaller kids table and chairs sit next to it with Ikea baskets for in-plain-sight toy storage. “It’s tidy but child-friendly,” says Lackey. “We wanted to incorporate the family and the kids into the whole space entirely.”

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Octagonal tile in the entryway might look like a purely decorative touch, but it was chosen over hardwood to resist damage from the youngest’s stroller and rough-and-tumble kid scuffs. The white armoire holding court by the front door is actually a dresser, and a favourite design trick of Lackey’s for families. “I put dressers in hallways all the time; they’re amazing for things like mitts, hats, keys and all the kids’ small things.” She used baskets inside the dresser to divide up more storage space for each family member. 

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The brief for the master bath called for efficient utility—a nice big tub for family baths plus two shower heads and two sinks so the busy parents could get ready in the mornings at the same time. But Lackey also saw an opportunity for drama. Turning the space into what looks like a hollowed-out cave of marble, she opted for unencumbered wall-to-wall grey-veined Calacatta with a whitewashed walnut vanity and regal pops of gold hardware. “We didn’t want it to be so over the top that it lost its serene spa appeal, but we wanted to do something playful and a little unconventional,” says the designer. 

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Lackey acknowledges that the design risks were big, but notes that the homeowners were brave enough to trust her. “My favourite moment in this project was trying to draw out what the kitchen would look like with all the different counter heights. It was a challenge trying to sell my client on this idea which was based on something she couldn’t see and had never seen before—that I hadn’t seen before,” explains Lackey. But the gamble paid off, and the family loves their unorthodox black kitchen, with its island that’s uniquely tailored to their needs: to be together, to entertain, to enjoy their space to the fullest.