A cliffside residence in West Vancouver is designed for both public gatherings and quiet reflection.
The quiet Sentinel Hill neighbourhood is tucked neatly up the mountainside at the entrance to West Vancouver—it’s always been an ideal place to escape without quite retreating. Several houses here are small, mid-century gems designed by Ron Thom and his circle; almost all are screened behind vegetation. But locals know this is also a launch pad—in a minute they can be cruising into downtown along the arc of the Lions Gate Bridge.
It made perfect sense to designers Matthew McLeod and Lisa Bovell (of McLeod Bovell) when their young, educated clients chose this site for their new home. “They’re entrepreneurs,” explains McLeod. “They need to be involved in day-to-day business, but they also have a very private and religious life, so they needed this house to let them do both. That’s the drive for this building.” The home would be a gathering place for their religious community as well as for themselves—to be an expression of both their personal and public spiritual lives.
Pools of water maximize light in the home’s front and backyards. The concrete patio out back (above) includes an infinity pool that seems to be suspended over the neighbourhood. The entrance to the front door (opposite top) is an asymmetrical collage of beams and concrete gilded with bouncing sunlight from the pond. Cantilevered stairs (opposite bottom) descend from street level, delivering visitors to a well of light and water. All this needed to be accomplished while building on a hill so steep that the house’s roof is at the same height as the road; the result is a miniature canyon between the street and the front door. Happily, the lot is 16,000 square feet (most in the area clock in at 10,000), so they had some room to play. What could have been an awkward entrance—other houses nearby simply dump visitors down to the front door—became a private courtyard “well,” arrived at via cantilevered stairs and concrete steps that meander across a minimalist pond. But, inside the home, the street and neighbouring houses all but disappear. A palette of meditative greys and whites—plenty of raw concrete walls—was assiduously maintained across the main floor’s three tiers. A precise selection of furnishings creates a calm, peaceful atmosphere: in the living room an arcing Ligne Roset floor lamp dangles its discreet head over a smoke-grey Minotti sectional, and a frosty grey rug by Kymo seems to be merely a soft variation on the polished concrete floors. In the dining area a minimalist white-shade Luceplan pendant looks like a modernist cloud above the straight-edged walnut table and chairs by De La Espada. Subtle shifts in height across these rooms allowed the designers to match the hillside’s grade while also freeing up a pocket of space above for the bedroom. Wide-Open Spaces
The main floor is split between three sub-levels. The dining space (above) steps slightly down into the kitchen to create a division that still feels open and connected. From the kitchen (far left) there are views of the Lions Gate Bridge and Siwash Rock in Stanley Park. “They can literally plan their trips by looking out the window and gauging traffic,” says McLeod. Up in that bedroom, there’s a quiet view of Siwash Rock in Stanley Park—but the main floor indulges in a mixture of scenes. A 21-foot wall of retractable glass opens the living room onto the rear patio, where both city and ocean views are laid out below. And why not take a plunge in the infinity pool while you’re there? “Water is one way we tried to make this home reflective—both literally and metaphorically,” says McLeod. The result is a quietly peaceful design, where one room seems to effortlessly flow into the next. “This is the simplest of all the houses we’ve done,” explains Bovell. But, as any designer will tell you, simplicity is complex: creating a cleaned-out and spare space can take more work than creating a baroque one. (Note, for example, that the house’s subtle exterior is actually made up of cement resin panels, raw concrete, grey-painted cedar and aluminum, all brought together into a single serene expression.) But the effort was worth it. “They will meditate in this space every day,” says Bovell. “People casually call their homes a place where they escape, where they can centre themselves—but here we took that idea very seriously.”