We've been on a year-long streak of designing and building traditional-style homes. Construction on one – a 6,100-square-foot home in West Vancouver's Caulfeild neighbourhood – has now wrapped, and we moved furnishings in last week. The client, a long-time home builder in the area, asked us to decorate it to sell on the fall market.
When we designed the home last fall, the clients had several requests. They wanted the timeless formality of a traditional interior, but hoped the space would feel easy for a busy family. That meant two things. The design scheme needed fine detail, but not so much that it felt fussy. And its maintenance requirements had to be low.
Our team spent a long time discussing how much character detail would be right. We wanted to juxtapose the decorative minutiae with sweeping lines and enduring finishes. The living room is a good example of the balance we achieved. Here are some questions we had to answer on the way to doing it.
Why do a coffered ceiling?
Our living room is part of a great room – a shared living room, dining room, and kitchen. The entire space is long and narrow. It's 22 by 50 feet – the dimensions of a bowling lane and twice the size of my Vancouver apartment.
In a modern home, where you want the atmosphere pared down and austere, a flat ceiling is best. But in a traditional home, broad swaths of ceiling make a home feel vacant. (In either space, imperfections in the drywalling are painfully clear.) To add architectural detail, we designed an oversize grid of decorative six- by six-foot beams that we finished with crown moulding. This traditional detail elevates the character of the room and prevents it from looking "builder basic."
Why the unusual
We used white oak hardwood throughout the home and had it stained, on site, matte grey. Doing the staining in the home – rather than the more common method of using prefinished product – allowed our design to team to work with the finisher to achieve the perfect colour. We spent a full morning reviewing test patches. The disadvantage of this method is the delay. A stain-on-site floor needs several days to cure, and little other work can take place in the home in that time.
We chose a mid-tone grey stain in a flat finish. The reason is its forgiveness of scratches, dust, and wear. Darker floors, although rich and sumptuous, reflect more light and so become a canvas for imperfections. They need more maintenance.
Why the concrete fireplace?
The Caulfeild home had light walls and ceilings, and sunlight streamed into it during the day. An airy room, though, threatens to float away. It's important to ground it with a weighty architectural element, like a stone or concrete fireplace. We chose concrete for its contemporary look. A stacked stone façade would have felt too much like an alpine resort. Working with a local concrete artisan, we custom designed the façade to feel proportionate in this overscale space. Once we'd finalized the design, he mocked up one side of the fireplace in foam and we fine-tuned from there. I'm very happy with the result. The façade is beautiful and velvety, yet strong.
Why is the millwork so large?
As I've often said, one of the great investments you can make in a home is custom millwork.
We put floor-to-ceiling cabinets on either side of the fireplace for three additional reasons.
First, open bookshelves are great for the display of books and framed art.
Second, they create storage for blankets, games, and other children's playthings. And, third, the lower cabinets provide a home for electronic equipment. (Their interior depth is a uniform 22 inches.)
We debated whether it was better to match the millwork's finish to the floors (which would have increased visual weight) or to go with paint-grade white. We decided on the white to maintain the airiness of the atmosphere, counting on the fireplace and furnishings for their heft.
How did you choose
your furniture plan?
Our aim was to create a room that easily did double duty: Comfortable enough for family lounging, elegant enough for entertaining.
The symmetrical arrangement of the furniture gives the room its formal feel – twin sofas across from each other another, matching chairs adjacent, and a large ottoman in between.
The tailored look of the upholstered pieces keeps the room looking polished, and the ottoman acts as a great footrest when lounging.
The chairs' patterned slipcovers create interest when you happen to glance into the living room from the dining room and kitchen.
In each corner of the room sits an open-frame side table with a substantial lamp. We selected the side tables for their farmhouse feel; the chunky lamps give the space weight, balancing out the dark grey flannel of the sofas. In the evening, with all four lamps aglow, the room is deliciously inviting.
Aren't those drapes too long?
Ordinarily, I'm no fan of romantic indulgence in interiors, but when my star designer Lindsay Guenter suggested pooling drapery for the living room, I knew it was an inspired call.
Pooled drapes are made about six inches too long so that they spill onto the floors.
It's a luxurious touch normally made (in silk or satin) in formal living or dining rooms.
But here, in linen, it looks pert and unapologetically casual. Perfect.
Sofas: Mitchell Gold, www.mgbwhome.com
Chairs: custom Kelly Deck Design, www.kellydeck.com
Chair fabric: Schumacher Fabrics, Ambala Paisley Ash, www.fschumacher.com
Wall paint colour: General Paint CLW1048W "Spray River," www.generalpaintcanada.com
Ceiling paint and millwork colour: Benjamin Moore OC-17 "White Dove," www.benjaminmoore.com
Fireplace facade: Landry Design, Roger Landry, Surrey, B.C.
Lamps: Pottery Barn, www.potterybarn.com
Side tables: Country Furniture, www.countryfurniture.net
Art work over fireplace: Halo #5 by Gordon Wiens, Bau Xi Gallery Vancouver, www.bau-xi.com
Drapery: custom Kelly Deck Design, www.kellydeck.com
White art work in shelving: Jennifer Kostuik Gallery, www.kostuikgallery.com
Rug: Burritt Bros., www.burrittcarpets.com