Photos by Martin Tessler
If asked to randomly draw two aesthetic options from a hat, not every designer would feel lucky to pull these: mid-century Scandinavian and Western Canadian cowboy. That was the combination Calgary designer Elena Del Bucchia got when she was hired—for her first solo gig, no less—to create a weekend retreat in Priddis for a couple with strong ties to both Norway and rural southern Alberta.
Sitting on 12 acres of land just a half-hour outside of Calgary, the concrete pad under this house was originally poured for the homeowner’s mother’s retirement home. His mother was the daughter of a prominent lawyer and former president of the Calgary Stampede. Sadly, she died before her dream home was built; her son—who was born and raised in Norway but who spent several childhood summers in Alberta “playing cowboys” on his maternal grandfather’s rural property—inherited the land.
Enter Del Bucchia, whose respect for family history and devotion to clean, contemporary design convinced the homeowner to trust her with the aesthetic trifecta of honouring the memory of his mother, incorporating the architectural simplicity of his native Norway, and infusing the place with a lighthearted, upscale dude-ranch vibe that would please the couple’s young kids as much as their constant stream of visiting friends.
“We met at the wedding of a mutual friend, and I learned that they wanted to build ‘a little cabin’ on their family land,” says Del Bucchia. “We just talked about our lives, and I came up with the concept for the house.” Del Bucchia’s concept, the results of which the homeowner feels “just plain lucky” to inhabit, was for an airy, unpretentious, sociable space with a killer view of the Rockies.
She also came up with myriad pleasing ways to unite the couple’s sentimental antiques with the modern pieces they desired. A weathered old bench that once sat in the homeowner’s grandfather’s ranch house looks at home adjacent to a grey Montauk sofa; an enormous Montauk trunk made from recycled tires serves as a coffee table in front of a pair of mid-century Scandinavian leather loungers.
The living room’s ceiling is a soaring 22 feet at its highest point; three huge Douglas fir beams are a warm nod to the tree-lined view out the southwest-facing floor-to-ceiling windows. On the other side of the living room’s two-way fireplace, a sliding barn door conceals a tiny library and media room.
In fact, Del Bucchia has designed a home that, the homeowner says, is reminiscent of the house where he spent his childhood summers. “Somehow, the house has managed to become a loose reflection of my grandfather’s old place that I loved so much,” he explains. (That house still stands on the adjacent property, but is no longer in the family.) “It honours both sides of my family; that was really important to me.”
It’s perhaps the home’s small, galley-style kitchen—all London Fog quartz countertops and grey melamine cabinetry—that reveals the most about the family who lives here. There’s a raised bar separating the kitchen from the rest of the wide-open communal space; it was requested by the homeowner and installed despite Del Bucchia’s slight resistance (“You don’t see them much anymore in contemporary homes”)—but it works.
Guests sit there often, chatting with the homeowners as they prepare meals. There’s also a breakfast nook in the corner where the kids eat their morning meals. Del Bucchia laughs when she points to the nook’s custom fabric cushions, which were recently covered with a thick sheet of “granny plastic”—installed to protect the space from little jam-covered fingers. “They’re all about having fun and relaxing here; they’re not stuffy.”
A seat in the corner of the nook offers a view into the living room and out to the mountains, while a striking oil painting of the homeowner’s mother as a young girl (by Nicholas de Grandmaison) adorns the hallway leading to the bedrooms.
As well, from the kitchen one can see—hung inconspicuously inside the mud room—a 1970s-era photograph of his grandfather chatting amiably with Queen Elizabeth II in the grandstand of the Calgary Stampede. In another era and another home, a “royal” photo would no doubt be blown up and hung prominently in a stuffy dining room. Here, where a fresh, modern perspective meets cowboy casual, it’s just another family snapshot.
Originally published June 2015