A chic modern makeover brings a Steveston home into the 21st century.

The 1990s brought a plethora of good things: plaid flannel shirts, brown lipstick (before Kylie Jenner claimed it) and Rollerblades. But the decade that brought you Friends was less than stellar in the decor department. Layers of beige upon beige, sponge-painted walls and bulky Jacuzzis reigned supreme. When the owners purchased this circa-1990s townhouse in Steveston, they were enveloped in these hallmarks of  ’90s design, including their own wall-to-wall carpeting, tiered soaker tub and chopped-up floor plan with no flow. 

The family—Joe, a landscape architect; Louise, an investment banker; and their two hockey-playing kids—had been living in their 1,800-square-foot home for a decade before they were finally ready to undertake a substantial renovation. As a creative type, Joe already had a clear idea of what he liked—clean, contemporary, simple palettes. He pored over design magazines and websites to home in on a clear aesthetic; the couple then discussed their vision.

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Geometric tile adds dimension and depth to a fireplace wall, while a navy blue sofa brings a focal point to an otherwise light and airy space.

One of the reasons they moved to Steveston was its proximity to the water and the agricultural land reserve next to it, and they both wanted their space to harmonize with nature. Their house may have been faux 1990s Craftsman on the outside, but it would be 2020s modern and airy on the inside. They set out to interview three different interior designers as part of their process—but they never got past the first one.

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The first step was to postpone the renovation until after the holidays. “Everyone always wants to be in by Christmas,” says McLean. “It’s a crazy rush, the whole industry is ‘working to be back in the house by Christmas,’ trades are busy, things aren’t ordered in on time…” The designer encouraged the owners to wait rather than rush, and while they waited, she set to work ordering all the fixtures, appliances and materials so they could hit the ground running at the beginning of January.

When Tanya McLean of Mango Design Co. met with Joe and Louise, the trio immediately clicked. “We wanted restrained wall and floor treatments but a design that still allowed for something novel and interesting or little punches of things,” explains Joe. “We were trying not to invoke a certain style; instead, we just laid a bunch of images on the table and then Tanya just listened.”

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The designer and Mango co-designer, Nichole Skladan, later returned with three concepts for Joe and Louise—a darker palette in black and white with teakwood, a lighter look with blonde wood and grey tones, and a third featuring layers of white. They chose a light look with pops of dark, and from there McLean crafted a cohesive design. “On-site, there’s a lot of push and play,” she says. “I love this process when I work with homeowners.”

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Because the home is spread out over four levels, the design duo needed to craft a great room that could do dual duty in only 700 square feet. Not only did it need to accommodate a family of four in their busy daily routine (eating, doing homework, lounging and, occasionally, Louise working from home), it also needed to serve as a graceful gathering hub for entertaining friends and family. McLean immediately took the wall out between the kitchen and living area to open up the room and create better flow. “They’re an active family, but they also love to entertain and cook together—the space wasn’t particularly well suited for any of that,” she says. 

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As the design evolved, Joe and Louise carefully avoided choosing anything that fell into a stereotype—like mid-century furnishings. “We didn’t want to fall into the trap of making the home feel like something it wasn’t,” explains Joe. The kitchen cabinetry was an unconventional solution: “We always wanted to do something in birch plywood,” explains McLean, “but we didn’t want the cabinets to end up with that ‘kindergarten yellow’ tone so often associated with public school classrooms.”

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In smaller homes, multi-functional built-in millwork is key to maximizing space and keeping your home clutter-free: a place for everything and everything in its place.

To prevent this, she added a 10-percent whitewash bleach so the wood stayed a softer hue. Quartz counters were installed and the island base painted a dark, dramatic blue. A fold-down desk in the living room allows for a second workspace but neatly folds up out of sight for dinner parties. Benches abound for those extra guests but serve as display space when not in use. Pops of rose gold punctuate the modern, simple space: the kitchen faucet, utensils and an adjacent powder room mirror all add warmth and texture.

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Use unexpected finishes to help balance the masculine and feminine elements of your home.
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The rose gold faucets are an unlikely pairing with the plywood and concrete, but they absolutely make the design.

“Tanya had to sell me a little on the rose gold,” laughs Louise. “But I love it now!” McLean adds, “I love the way the elegance of the rose gold plays with the basic-ness of the plywood—it balances the masculine with a feminine.”

The end result of this compact family space defies a design type or mould. There’s a certain Nordic vibe, but there’s Japanese Zen, too; it’s timeless but also contemporary. There’s an industrial edge but a warmth that envelops its four occupants. “We can all pile in together now,” says Louise, “or have people over more often.” Adds Joe, “Just being able to spend time as a group of four away from the hockey rink is so great—to have some downtime around the centre island. It’s our huddle time and our refuge.”