Banff isn’t Manhattan, but that’s exactly why hockey legend Glen Sather is here. It’s been a decades-long love affair: he first fell for the mountain retreat while working summer jobs here as a teenager. And while his day job as general manager of the New York Rangers is full of frenetic plane schedules and the cacophony of crowds, Banff is the steady rhythm of the outdoors, the natural cadence of the Bow River running behind the little cabin that he and his wife, Ann, purchased in 1974. That charming little house saw decades of family time, but when the children grew up and had children of their own, Glen and Ann knew it was time to think out of the historic box. To reimagine a new version of their 1913 heritage house, the couple hired Bill Weber of Artwood Design—a craftsman and designer well versed in the mountain vernacular Glen had grown up with. They’d originally met in the late 1980s when Bill had just completed the lobbies for the Post Hotel in Lake Louise and for Buffalo Mountain Lodge.
Back then, Glen tasked him with his holiday home’s first renovation; in 2004, Glen called up again and said, “Billy, I’m building a new house in Banff. Do you want to help?” First up, the old cabin was removed with care and trucked to the Banff Centre to be used for its artist-in-residence program. With a new site and a base building plan from Marshall Tittemore Architects in Calgary, Bill then set about designing the finishes both inside and out. The components would be built in his workshop (now based in Victoria, B.C.) and then later installed in Banff. But Bill is quick to point out that Glen and Ann were integral parts of the design process. “Glen has always challenged us to be resourceful,” he explains, “and to think of new ways to execute the design goals.” For example, Glen wanted a dining table big enough for 20—family gatherings in Banff at Christmas are one of the Sathers’ most cherished traditions—but Bill felt that such a table would overwhelm the room.
Instead, Bill designed an adjacent pantry to roll—“like a ski gondola”—into the library when a bigger dining space is required. (It’s motorized and suspended on concealed rails built into the ceiling beams.) Once the pantry is out of the way, the table can then be extended (rollers are concealed inside table legs) and the overhead chandelier even slides across so that it hangs centred over a table for 20. Bill remembers first presenting this idea to Ann and Glen: Ann said, “You’re going to do what?” and then Glen said simply, “Let’s do it!” References from the surrounding mountain terrain and dramatic natural light effects all inform the painstaking handcrafted design. A 30-foot-high “water-wall” in the foyer features a two-foot-wide “sheet” of shimmering water that evokes a flowing river over a polished stainless steel backdrop. A niche above the fireplace mantel shows a silhouette of a buffalo and bear legend, while a wren’s birdhouse is connected into the eave of the house.
Meanwhile, Ann’s friend and interior designer, Gina McGuire, helped with fabrics, furniture and fixtures. “She insisted on spa-like pebble floors in all the showers,” says Ann, “because she knew, like Bill, what we were looking for—a mountain contemporary home that maintained the integrity of the national park.” And, wherever possible, indigenous materials were used. A huge, gnarly maple log lying in the mud was destined for firewood but “ended up being the most noble and generous piece of wood” Bill had ever worked with. Out of it came maple slabs and leaves for the dining room table, several feature doors and panels throughout the house, the dining room buffet cabinet and a large lower-level bar top.
For Bill, the commitment to such a bespoke process took five years, each day of which was a creative and rewarding challenge. For the Sathers, it’s a lifetime commitment in a house that reinterprets what’s always been there: majestic surroundings, and friends and family to share time, stories and a new mountain adventure. “My heart has always been and will always be in Banff,” says Glen.
This story was originally published in April 2014.