The harmony between elements in nature — such as earth, air, water, and fire — has inspired many cultures throughout the ages. This harmony was also the guiding inspiration behind the design of Elements House.
This six-bedroom family home on Vancouver’s Marguerite Street is heterogenous, yet balanced.
A wide variety of materials give the exterior a mixed look. Yet, like the elements of nature, these disparate features commingle and complement each other. For example, wood siding meets sleek, black metal in what architect Peter Rose calls “an interesting juxtaposition of cool and warm tones.”
Glass adds to this mix, with many of the home’s rooms having three out of four walls made entirely of glass. The outside and inside spaces seem to blend together throughout the house.
This balancing of opposite or disparate elements is part of what earned the house its name. But the analogy goes further, with the house divided into three parts to represent three of the elements.
David Pritchard, the senior designer for Peter Rose Architecture + Interiors Inc. who led the Elements House project, explains how earth, water and fire manifest in the exterior design.
When facing the house from the front, these three elements can be viewed from left to right. The left side of the house represents earth; it is made of solid, opaque materials and it protrudes from the main body of the house — like mountains rise from the earth.
The middle section of the house represents water. It is more transparent, with glass used as a more prominent material. It recedes from the earth-section of the house like waves lapping at the foot of a cliff.
By the time we get to the right side of the house, the structure has all but melted into the background; it’s like fire in the bowels of the earth. Pritchard described this section as “disappearing.” It is diminutive with its low, flat roof next to the two higher, gabled roofs of the earth and water sections.
The yard also reflects these elements, Pritchard says. A sunken garden represents the earth, a pond filled with koi fish represents water, and a fire bowl completes the balance of elements.
When you enter the house, an outstanding helical staircase is a strong feature that seems to draw everything together. It’s captivating and mesmerizing like a whirlpool, fittingly located in the water section of the house.
Rose says, “When you walk in, it’s an immediate wow.” Building it required ingenuity: it is supported by a central steel spine worked into the stair, keeping the structure thin.
A skylight at the epicentre of the helix floods the home with light by day. At night, a unique chandelier shaped like a fir cone provides illumination. “The chandelier is a type of axis mundi,” Pritchard says. “It is sculptural in its presence and really commands the whole entrance.”
Throughout the house, windows create natural “paintings.” As Rose shows us the house, he points to a window and says, “The window almost looks like a painting… That’s not a happy accident. That’s a very deliberate act, creating that particular view.”
The trees and gardens surrounding the home thus become elements of its interior decor. The line between exterior and interior is pleasantly blurred in other ways too.
The aforementioned glass walls are a big part of bringing the outdoors inside. Rose’s team used other means to create a sense of continuity between an indoor living area and a roofed outdoor dining terrace.
“The outside roof is detailed in such a way that it appears to come into the house as well,” Rose says. “It completely blurs the line between the inside and outside.” An outdoor fireplace on the dining terrace gives it the homey feeling of a living room. The home’s master bedroom also has its own terrace with an outdoor fireplace.
The 6,314-square-foot home includes a home theatre and wine cellar.
It used to be popular for home theatres to include decor and design elements reminiscent of a public movie theatre, says Rose. “We’re really seeing a move away from that now, where the theatre rooms are becoming more like lounges. So they’re having big sectionals, super-comfy couches and are not so rigidly set up.”
Rose says his firm has also shifted its approach towards wine cellars, as evidenced in Elements House. Instead of building big, deep cellars, “where it really felt like a cellar,” Rose now prefers horizontally mounted racks.
These don’t require as much depth, and Rose says they are better than traditional wine cellars because instead of just seeing the caps of the bottles, “You can see the label. It makes the wine display come alive a little bit more because you get the colour and you get the graphic artistry on the labels.”
English Text by Tara dos Santos