A Vancouver home becomes an experiment in collaborative design between its architects and the artisans they work with.
As an architect designing your own home, you can’t help but want to make it a laboratory. To experiment with all of the “could we, should we” ideas you developed over the years but didn’t always have the willing client to play along. For Measured Architecture principal Clinton Cuddington, his west side home became an opportunity to not only play with ideas he and his business partner, Piers Cunnington, had been developing, but to put them into action—and in doing so, they created a space that now serves as a model for his clients. The millwork throughout the home, for example, is fumed oak, an ecological product with glues derived from the same kind of sticky adhesive that allows mussels to stick to rocks. The result is a soft, European-style cabinetry—and since it requires an annual waxing, a yearly project of turning Ivory soap flakes into a slurry and wiping down the surfaces. “If you were to say to a client, ‘You’re going to have to have a relationship with your millwork,’ most would say, ‘Forget it,’” says Cuddington. “But you can talk to them about the experience—how it’s a meditative moment for me. You can either talk to them from a conceptual point of view, or you can say, ‘It’s a ritual I live.’” Most designers and architects will admit they are their own worst client when creating their own space. (And, in fact, Cuddington and Cunnington—you may already be familiar with the confusing wordplay of their names: this pair clinched the Architects of the Year title in our Designers of the Year awards last month—are still debating the perfect table for the dining room.) But the Measured team upped that ante by taking an unusual approach to this home: active collaboration with the artisans who worked on-site. “We had the confidence to pick our moments, and in this case it was millwork, tile and landscape, where we allowed for much more of an artisanal approach, where people were testing their ideas,” says Cuddington. “My wife Monica and I loaded them up on our needs, but we then granted them the latitude to explore things that were interesting to them.” That fumed oak, for example, was an experiment for the millworker: he tested the fuming of the wood for hours, until just the right shade of pale ash was reached.
The house has become an experimental playground, both for the architects themselves and for the artists they’re working with.The result? The house has become an experimental playground, both for the architects themselves and for the artists they’re working with. It starts right with the footprint of the building itself. Where most properties in its Kitsilano neighbourhood max out the building allowance, this home is smaller than it could be and inset greater than setback, creating space for a landscaped side yard (20-foot bamboo and ferns create a green division to the neighbouring property). But more importantly, the size restraint creates the room necessary to bring light into the lower levels of the home. It allows for a light well to the master bedroom—positioned in the basement to take advantage of natural cooling in the summer and low light at night—lined with a raw steel wall that will oxidize orange, creating a dynamic and changing view through the windows. Inside, the home pairs both modern, open-concept design—a kitchen that opens into a casual living room, and right out onto the back terrace—and private spaces. A pantry in the kitchen separates the dining room at the front of the house, and a 15-foot window with retracting glass allows diners to experience the front garden. “There’s something really satisfying about having a dinner party with music playing, and people walking by,” says Cuddington. A powder room on the main level is the first of design company Dear Human’s elegant tile installations, this one a honeycomb-like design with varying patterns. “We laid out the things we loved about their tiles, and they just played with it,” says Cuddington. “Even the installer is an Emily Carr grad—he worked with it to bring up the general thinking.” Upstairs is all about the family’s two kids, with bedrooms that feature a bunk-like reading area (a request of the kids themselves), and a communal room for watching movies with friends. Another of Dear Human’s tile designs graces the bathroom, this time inspired by Monica’s Hungarian background and love of that country’s needlepoint designs. Those moments of collaboration exist throughout the house—from the landscaping by Aloe Designs outside to the builder they chose to work with, Patrick Powers Construction, who Cuddington says serves as a bodyguard to the overall design. And it’s a system that’s worked to create a very personal home. “In the lineage of architecture, there has been a push to create a level of control built out of suspicion or a fear that individuals cannot aspire to the individual genius,” says Cuddington. “We’ve created scenarios where the artisans themselves can think about how they would bring something alive. And if your ego can allow for that to happen, then everyone works to protect the idea. And it’s a better life to live.” Click to see more photos of Cuddington's family home: