Photography: Tracey Ayton
With a plan in hand and some professional guidance, these homeowners take the reins of the modern design of their spacious new home.
Wing Lau and Kevin Teo bought their first Vancouver condo because of its easy access to work and the downtown amenities – charming restaurants, chic boutiques, art galleries and more. The problem? The one-bedroom-plus-den was a tight fit for the young couple and their two dogs. “We were barely ever home because it was so cramped,” remembers Wing. Add the fact that they were recently married and planning to expand the family, and 600-square-feet wasn’t going to cut it. For these IT professionals, though, a house wasn’t the answer. “That’s too much maintenance,” says Wing.
The solution was moving to a larger condo – a new build with panoramic views and breathing room thanks to a second bedroom and bathroom, as well as a den. Being a blank slate, however, it lacked character. “We found someone to inject some flair into the place,” says Wing, referring to designer Jamie Deck of Shift Interiors.
After researching Jamie’s work online, Wing realized the company was a great fit – and not just because she liked her style. Wing is hands-on when it comes to her home. A decor enthusiast and avid DIYer, she needed a design partner, not a leader, and Jamie’s firm allows homeowners to buy blocks of time to customize the level of service, from light guidance to full execution. So Wing requested Jamie’s advice on layouts and furniture selection, and then chose her favourites. She did much of the shopping and implementation herself.
Central to the 24th-floor condo are the living-dining area’s floor-to-ceiling windows, which showcase mountain views. They’re what sold the couple on the home and naturally became a central focus for the open-concept main living area. The room’s muted colour scheme provides the perfect frame for the vista – and also reflects Wing’s personal palette. “I only ever wear black, white or grey,” she says. “So it was an easy choice.”
With its seamless modern scheme, the kitchen was another selling point for Wing and Kevin, and required no design updates. “We got lucky that this kitchen already had a look we both love,” says Wing. The cabinet fronts and island base boast a unique striated grain in warm grey and cool taupe that lends the space artistic interest and texture all on its own – no extra design flourishes required.
Though Wing had originally wanted a concrete-look accent wall in the dining area, they were concerned it would compete with the kitchen. So they settled on a dining room gallery wall – which Kevin took total ownership of – and created the feature wall in the master bedroom instead. Complementing the concrete-look surface, a custom fabric-covered headboard that stretches the entire length of one wall visually widens the space and offers a structured, unfussy vibe.
In their new space, the couple feels proud and happy. There's something gratifying about executing a flawless design as an amateur, even when it's with significant help from a professional. Though the idea of a forever home isn't something they can commit to right now, this will be their domain for at least five years. "Until we outgrow it," says Wing, "or my design bug bites again." Maybe next time she'll brave it on her own.
Homeowners Wing Lau and Kevin Teo didn’t need designer Jamie Deck’s help in designing their gallery wall. Wing has been pinning favourite pieces for years and opted for a combination of personal photos and low-cost prints. Kevin was in charge of installation. “We had painters’ tape all over the floor and outlining the gallery wall to make sure the configuration was right,” says Wing of organizing the graphic black and white pieces in the dining room.
Wing swapped the condo’s living and dining areas to create a larger and more functional living room. After all, it has to handle the couple’s two dogs and, at some point, kids. The carpet was chosen in part for its low, easy-to-clean pile (so the battle against dog hair isn’t too taxing).
For Wing, it was important to mix high and low pieces. The Parsons dining table, for example, was a total splurge. The couple saw the piece in Seattle, fell in love with it and returned to the city two months later to haul it home in the family van. It’s something Wing plans to hang on to for a long time: “My future kids will probably spill on the table,” says Wing with a laugh. “But we’re okay with that.”
Prior to purchasing any furniture, the couple brought home fabric swatches to ensure everything matched with the kitchen cabinetry. “With its interesting grain, it almost plays the role of a feature wall,” says Wing. So it dictated what she and Kevin did with the rest of the space. “We couldn’t choose anything that competed with that.”
The kitchen is the literal and figurative centre of the apartment: It overlooks the living and dining room, benefits from the stunning view out the floor-to-ceiling windows and is a place Wing and Kevin spend a lot of time, doing everything from cooking breakfast to entertaining company.
Jamie suggested multiple furniture configurations for the master bedroom, but they settled on a set-up that takes advantage of the mountain views. The space is a lesson in how to create a successful high-low mix: The head-board was custom-made by Shift Interiors, but Kevin painted the concrete-look feature wall himself. The bedding and toss cushions are big-box-store finds.
With its simple mirror, metal console and wooden stool, the entryway announces the muted palette present throughout the space. Floating circular hooks offer a functional yet chic place to hang coats.
The bathroom echoes the kitchen with the same seamless cabinetry, but the countertop adds another layer of pattern that the kitchen lacks, proving it’s easy to be more daring with design in closed-off spaces. His and hers sinks allow for stress-free mornings.
A once tiny starter house is transformed into one family's dream home.
A young family goes from starter home to forever home – without moving! – thanks to two talented and trustworthy designers.
How to Build Your Dream House 101, a case study. Lesson One: Start from the ground up. When these homeowners (he’s a lawyer, she’s a nutritionist and stay-at-home mom) realized that the tiny Vancouver bungalow they’d been living in for the past 12 years was far too small for their family (which includes two growing boys, aged 9 and 10), they had it bulldozed. They loved their lot, but the home had never been renovated, and the foundation footprint needed to be expanded before they could go bigger – so demolition was the obvious option.
Lesson Two: Understand exactly what your dream house entails. Having lived on the property for more than a decade, the homeowners had crystal-clear ideas about how to make the most of the ample light and stunning views. Plus, they analyzed their lifestyle and knew what it demanded – a large open-concept living space (so the family could be close even when they’re not in the same room); plenty of über-organized storage (since this super-sporty gang bikes, skis, swims and plays soccer); a quiet area away from the kids (because, well, kids); and a kitted-out kitchen for the wife, who’s an avid home chef.
Lesson Three (and perhaps the most important of them all): Hire people you trust to deliver the dream. Enter Sophie Burke, whose sister introduced her to the wife (they’re friends). “I felt Sophie would understand the needs of a young family and not make things too precious,” says the wife. “I had seen her clean, elegant and sophisticated style on her Pinterest boards and in other projects she’d done and just knew that if I couldn’t decide on something, I’d be happy with her choices.”
Sophie and the project’s lead designer, Jennifer Millar, were involved from the start – from recommending an architect to build the 2,800-square-foot four-bedroom house to shopping for its finishing touches. “Both designers are smart and talented, and I was always impressed with their selections – unique and interesting yet unfussy,” says the wife. “How could I not trust them?”
With carte blanche to create the family’s dream home, Sophie and Jennifer set about creating a traditional aesthetic (which ties in the exterior architecture) with a clean, contemporary character. “Finding the right balance between the two styles was one of the biggest challenges for us,” says Sophie. But the timeless and trendy palette of black, white and grey used throughout the space helped unify it all. In the open-concept family room, dining area and kitchen, old-world touches like window casings, wall panelling and thick baseboards are tempered by sleek simple-lined furnishings and punched up by of-the-moment elements, such as herringbone tiles, brass hardware, Mid-Century Modern pieces and industrial light fixtures.
The designers also delivered all the practical features the homeowners sought: a quiet sitting room closed-off from the rest of the house, ample storage to accommodate all the kitchen gadgets and sports gear, a separate upstairs bathroom for the boys and a rec room and laundry room in the basement. In addition to the homeowners’ family-friendly requests, Sophie and Jennifer offered up another brilliant idea: to include an office nook in the family room so the kids would have a spot to complete their homework while remaining close to their parents. No doubt the homeowners will be thanking the designers for years to come – not only for delivering their dream home but also for anticipating needs they hadn’t considered. It goes to show how far the words “I trust you” can take you. That’s the best lesson we learned today.
The small sitting room of this Vancouver home is closed off from the rest of the open-concept living space. A retreat where the family reads or the adults entertain, it’s a spot for solitude in this otherwise ultra-active household.
“The homeowner is a really talented baker and cook. Her former kitchen was teeny tiny and cut off from the rest of the house, but she still came up with incredible creations,” raves designer Sophie Burke. In the sprawling new space, with its ample storage, second oven and magic corner (to name just a few highlights), we can only imagine the meals this home chef now creates! (Drool....)
The kitchen’s herringbone-tiled walls offer a dramatic yet subtle look.The trendy pattern is grouted in grey for a more vintage vibe – a testament to the interplay of new world and old in the house.
The family didn’t need a formal dining room, but they did desire a large space for hosting holiday dinners. So Sophie and her colleague, Jennifer Millar, selected a dining table that can extend to seat 16 and stashed an extra pair of chairs in the boys’ rooms to accommodate more bums. The striking light fixture lends the perfect industrial edge to the panelled wall. “Jennifer is a genius at sourcing lighting,” says Sophie.
“We just went all in,” says Sophie of covering the main-floor powder room walls in chic gold polka-dot wallpaper. While the brass picture light and faucet follow suit, the simple mirror and sink temper all the glitz and glam.
With a cubby for each family member along one wall and meticulously laid-out closets on the other, the mud room is an ultra-organized treat for the active family.
The cozy family room, which has its own office area, is open to the kitchen so the homeowners can keep an eye on the kids, whether they’re doing homework or watching TV.
Grey paint not only modernizes the traditional panelled wall but also blends in with the TV.
Simple, serene and pared back, the master bedroom, with its layered textures and neutral hues, is one of the most feminine rooms in the house, says Sophie.
Don't let the dark depths or the sloped ceiling heights stop you from turning this precious square footage into your dream space.
Basements and attics are precious square footage that can be transformed into whatever your heart desires. Don't let the dark depths or the sloped ceiling heights stop you from designing your next family room, home office or guest room!
Photography by Ashley Capp
1 Problem: I want to finish the basement, but don’t want the rustic lounge room treatment that most basements have.
You can make your basement area just as grand as your high-style spaces above ground, high ceilings or not. Hang oversized artwork, arrange sleek modern furniture and light it up with ornate fixtures.
Photography by Ashley Capp
2 Problem: I have small windows in the basement and have no idea how to cover them.
You can still make a lounge in the basement appear spacious despite low ceilings and grade level windows. Hang full-length drapes to make it appear as though there’s a large bay window hidden behind.
Photography by Virginia Macdonald
3 Problem: There’s no natural light in our basement and it just feels dark and dull.
The quickest and easiest fix for a dark basement is a fresh coat of paint. Whilst walls painted in a pale grey will lighten the space, a ceiling brushed in a fresh coat of vibrant coral will give it that extra boost.
Photography by Stacey Brandford
4 Problem: Our basement has 70s paneling – yuck!
Natural-hued wood paneling can look pretty dated, especially in a basement. If stripping it off is too big of a project, simply paint it white or a pale grey for that bright beach house look.
Photography by Janis Nicolay
5 Problem: Our furniture in the basement lounge creates an awkward corner.
When dealing with an awkward corner, draw the eyes away from it by reflecting the rest of the room. Place a floor mirror on an angle in the corner so it mirrors the space around it rather than draw attention to itself.
Photography by Magdalena Bjornsdotter
6 Problem: The space under our stairs isn’t being put to use.
The empty space under your basement stairs is a hidden gem rather than an awkward nook. Use this space for seasonal storage (like Christmas decorations) or convert into a wine closet. You can also use it as a functional space, creating a cool hangout for the kids or building a laptop station.
Photography by Kim Christie
7 Problem: We have a finished basement, but it’s too cold down there to enjoy in the winter.
Because they’re underground, basements have the tendency to feel chillier than the rest of your home. Turn your basement into a cozy hideaway by installing an electrical fireplace and laying down plush rugs underfoot.
Photography by Mark Burstyn
8 Problem: My basement ceilings are too low to have fun with lighting.
Not true! You can still introduce unique light fixtures in your basement even if you don’t have those grand 9-foot ceilings. Put up vintage wall sconces, and if you do want pendant lighting, hang in low traffic areas like corners or above the coffee table.
Photography by Robin Stubbert
9 Problem: Our bedroom is in the attic and gets incredibly hot in the summer, even with the air conditioning.
With the summer sun beating down on the roof all day and air conditioning working overtime to reach the top level of the house, the attic can get pretty toasty. Keep the door to the attic closed during the day to trap the cool air in and install a ceiling fan overhead to move the air around at night.
Photography by Barry Calhoun
10 Problem: We have a finished attic but the sloped ceilings make it difficult to use it for anything.
An attic is the perfect space to build a quiet getaway for the end of a long workday or a lazy Sunday. Cover the space with floor poufs and create a family movie room by projecting films onto the sloped ceilings. Or, if you’re a yogi, transform the room into a home studio for stretching and meditation.
Find helpful decor and design inspiration from our list of the year's hottest trends.
Decor and design trends: Get the inside scoop on the year's most popular decor and design trends.
Lead image credits (top to bottom); Virginia Macdonald, Stacey Cohen Design, Donna Griffith