Grand vistas of the Pacific Ocean, majestic snow-capped mountains, dense, towering forests — the landscape of the Pacific Northwest is awe-inspiring. So how do you design residences to stand up to this staggering natural beauty? Short answer: you don’t.
The concept of West Coast Contemporary design is to create houses that incorporate and complement the stunning landscape with a focus on local raw materials — such as cedar, limestone, and renewable spruce, pine, and fir — thus reducing transport emissions and capitalizing on high-quality materials.
It’s like the farm-to-table dining movement, but for home design.
To learn more about the West Coast Contemporary aesthetic, we interviewed Ken Toews and Peter Streiling at Rockridge Fine Homes, a Vancouver-based design firm that excels in this aesthetic. Toews and Streiling — the company’s president and project manager respectively — discussed with us three of their designs that exemplify the style and tradition of Rockridge.
“Like any artist, whether it’s a musician or builder, everyone has their style or flavour,” says Streiling. “Even though we work with different architects, you see a similar flavour in our homes. We have a good idea of what works out here. We have pretty warm summers and wet winters, which you have to keep in mind. It’s a different style of building.”
Within Rockridge’s tried and true West Coast style, not only does each architect bring his or her unique touch, each of the homes is also built with a different client in mind. “Our forte is building custom homes in Vancouver and based on the unique personalities of our clients,” Toews says.
White Rock: West Coast meets American Midwest
A home Rockridge worked on in White Rock combines West Coast Contemporary style with features from the Prairie School, an architectural style first developed in the late 19th century and especially suited to the American Midwest. For example, its characteristic horizontal lines are meant to match the flat prairie landscape of the Midwest.
The White Rock home is a stratified stunner that updates the Prairie School style and harmonizes it with a Western landscape. It features strong horizontal lines, broad eaves that create significant outdoor entertaining spaces, blocks of horizontal windows, and a flat roof to maximize living space — indeed there are five bedrooms and five bathrooms in this 5,800-square-foot house.
The home was built in what is known as a “reverse plan,” meaning the living spaces where the homeowners will spend the most time are on the upper floor to maximize the view — breathtaking vistas of Mount Baker and Semiahmoo Bay — with bedrooms on the lower floor.
The interior design was chicly executed by Rockridge’s in-house design coordinator, Leah Holmes, focusing on natural dark woods, indicative of West Coast Contemporary aesthetic. These dark woods warm up the stark white design elements.
Mid-century modern furnishings, complete with an Eames chair, are done in a neutral palette to bring them into the 21st century. Large windows connect the indoor and outdoor spaces and flood the interior with natural light.
This place was made to entertain, as it’s equipped with a game room, including a pool table and a home theatre. There’s also a wine room off the kitchen in the shape of a modernist glass cube, which can display a sizeable collection. And when dining on the veranda cools off, there’s room by the minimalist fireplace to warm up.
West Point Grey: West Coast meets French countryside
A home Rockridge worked on in Vancouver’s affluent West Point Grey neighbourhood marries traditional European shapes with the natural materials and ultramodern focus of West Coast Contemporary. The side of the house facing the water is very West Coast Contemporary; its modern, large windows and multiple levels of roof decks take advantage of the sublime views of the Burrard Inlet.
But the side of the house that faces the street evokes a modern take on the splendor of a French Chateau, with its stone façade, steep pitch roof lines, and structures reminiscent of turrets.
The 2,400-square-foot house sits in a relatively small footprint above Spanish Banks Beach. “One of the neat things is that this one is built on a smaller lot, only 33 feet wide. The design is very efficient, so even though it’s not big square footage, it really maximizes the views, and the bedrooms are big,” says Toews. The house has three bedrooms and three bathrooms.
The interior design features the same high-contrast neutral palette of the other homes from Rockridge, with light stone floors and light walls accented with dark woods, but the materials incorporated into this property are softer, with flowing curtains, soft couches, and elegant crown mouldings.
Kerridale: West Coast style with a high-tech, entertainment focus
This home in Vancouver’s Kerridale neighbourhood epitomizes the West Coast Contemporary style, combining natural wood and stone materials with high ceilings and large windows for natural light. Rockridge has installed a full complement of technology, so everything is controlled by remote and touchpad, down to the blinds, which let you put the house to sleep at night and wake it up in the morning.
The property stretches 340 feet back and abuts a mature forest of tall cedar trees. So Rockridge was able to not only build a substantial residence, but also create a resort-type feel behind it, complete with pool, basketball court, and multiple outdoor entertaining spaces with fire features. Inside, the house has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and 6,400 square feet.
The family has two children, so plans were adapted to construct a kitchen with a row of large windows, so the parents can keep an eye on the backyard.
Inside, the palette of light wood and stone are bathed in natural light, warming up the contemporary furnishings. A central staircase constructed from reclaimed fir represents the heart of the house. The bathrooms are clad in a warm-toned travertine stone, and the minimalist kitchen is still spacious enough for entertaining. In the living room, a stone fireplace and exposed timber columns complete the West Coast feel.