A move to inner-city Calgary has one couple embracing a smaller footprint—and lots of colour.
On a warm evening a couple of summers ago, Sandy and Larry Martin went out for ice cream and came home with a plan that would radically change the way they live. Admittedly impetuous, and as energetic as a pair of teenagers, the 60-something couple had been perfectly content in the large, deep-southwest Calgary house where they’d raised their kids and lived for decades. That is, until a trip to My Favorite Ice Cream Shoppe in Calgary’s Marda Loop took them “down this random street,” says Larry—and past a house that caught their eye. “It was just so...different,” he says.
To be sure, not only was the house—one half of a still-under-construction duplex in Altadore—set apart from the dozens of modern infills that dominate many streets in that part of the city, it was unique on its own terms. “It just looked so sleek and clean and sophisticated—it’s got a very strong European appeal,” says Sandy. To boot, the house, constructed by David Wilson (of the home building company Envy) and his crew, was energy efficient—concrete structure, solar panels, a rainwater collection system—in ways the Martins had never thought would matter to them. And it was more than 2,000 square feet smaller—and, at four storeys, dramatically more vertical—than the house they lived in. “It’s not the way we’ve ever lived,” says Larry. “But when we walked in, we visualized the way it could be.”
Within days, the Martins had purchased the duplex and begun a year-long adventure in renovating a brand-new house that was very nearly, but not quite, perfect for them. The first thing the couple did was call on designer Paul Lavoie, with whom they’d long had a happy and imaginative designer-client relationship, to help them open up some of the (typically European) compartmentalized spaces and move the master bedroom from the main floor to a loft two storeys up. As well, Lavoie helped them add several built-ins and hidden storage spaces, and designed an entire sliding wall that stealthily conceals the living room’s TV and bar when the Martins want time out from the more obvious entertainment options. As Larry cheerfully puts it, “The duplex was 90 percent done, and Paul and Sandy finished it to 150 percent.”
Click the image below to launch a gallery of this punchy modern space
The master suite was moved to the top floor of the duplex. The bench at the foot of the bed was recovered in cut velvet.
The purple chair, also recovered, was originally a match to the white and silver chairs in the living room.
The ensuite was originally a powder room.
The guest bedroom gets a variation on the purple colour theme with a fuchsia bed and pops of mandarin orange accents.
Sliding walls both close off the living area from the hallway, and reveal a hidden bar and television. The hallways and entry were given extra attention: stairways have mirrors, giving the appearance that the stairs continue on; the glass floor in the landing was once surrounded by railing.
It’s impossible to talk about the Martins’ home without mentioning, as the couple and the designer half-jokingly call the dominant colour scheme, its “hot purple energy” (the name of a California solar-panel company). In the same passionate spirit in which the home was purchased, the colour purple was chosen in a heartbeat by Sandy when she saw it in a home in an inflight magazine en route to Paris. “I just thought, ‘That’s so sunny, I love it.’ I showed Larry and he loved it, too.” When Sandy shared her ideas with Lavoie, he, too, was instantly on board.
“Inspirational photos rarely work in reality,” says Lavoie. “These were absolutely perfect.” His firm set to work designing and building a 10-seat purple sofa, which the Martins refer to as their home’s anchor, and finding myriad other subtle and not-so-subtle ways of incorporating Sandy’s “sexy” colour into the house.
The asymmetrical walnut Urbancase sidebar ($4,150) is a beautiful mix of craftsmanship and quirk (and a handy place to store your cocktail glasses). Mint Interiors, Vancouver, mintinteriors.ca
“The very first thing we did to make sure the colours really popped was repaint every wall in the house from beige to white,” says Sandy. “We wanted high contrast.”
The couple’s pared-down furniture and carefully collected art look like they were chosen not for the suburban family home they long occupied, but for their new, startlingly unconventional digs.
Lavoie likens the richly colourful house to an art installation, albeit a highly practical and comfortable one. He says the vitality of the home utterly suits that of the people who inhabit it. “Most clients are looking for fewer stairs, but not Sandy and Larry. They have so much energy,” he says. Indeed, the Martins have merrily incorporated the home’s three substantial flights of stairs into their daily workout routines. (They did, however, ensure an elevator to their fourth-floor bedroom could be installed someday if need be.)
They think of their duplex as, simultaneously, a precious “jewel box” and their “happy place.” Among the many things they find delightful, including an exuberant rediscovery of the inner-city living they briefly enjoyed some 35 years ago, the couple gets a kick out of watching the jaws of first-time visitors drop as they take in the home’s vivid colour. Inevitably, family and friends end up on the big purple sofa, and never want to leave.