A Glass and Cedar Cabin Looks Out Over One of British Columbia’s Best Views

A Glass and Cedar Cabin Looks Out Over One of British Columbia’s Best Views

Sensitive siting and a green roof keep this house in dialogue with its resplendent natural surroundings.

Set on the north shore of Bowen Island, located 20 minutes away from Vancouver, a modern cabin designed by Steve McFarlane of Office of McFarlane Biggar Architects + Designers glows like a lantern against the inky blackness of the surrounding forest and water at night. The cabin, named the Bowen Island House, was inspired by the client's simple wish: to live in a home that embodied a focused and intentional relationship with nature.

OMB wanted to create opportunities for the client to experience the "intimate moments" with the site, balancing sweeping views of the horizon with a more focused view of the landscape.

The clients, a young couple with children in Vancouver, enlisted OMB to build on a remote eight-acre lot nestled on the island’s north shore. The lot features expansive views in all directions: Howe Sound and the picturesque shores of Gambier Island to the north, the Sunshine Coast of Canada’s mainland to the northwest, and the peaks of West Lion and Mt. Garibaldi emerging from the horizon line.

"The views and access to sunshine were really the key considerations that helped us position the home," says the architect.  The home is sited as far north as possible to maximize the limited amount of southern light that peeks through the forested bluff behind the build.

"It's water, land, mountain, and sky all coalescing into this absolutely stunning view," McFarlane says of the landscape surrounding the lot. "Siting the building in such a way that leveraged the power of that view was our top priority."

From there, it was important to the client that the build sit in harmony with its surroundings. Both the landscape and British Columbia’s history informed the home’s materials palette, which consists of a concrete foundation, stained cedar siding, and local basalt throughout.

"We were interested in this idea of treading lightly on the site. Using a green roof is a logical extension of that. When you introduce a building that supplants a little bit of the forest floor, it's nice to replicate that on the roof as a return gesture to continue to create habitat for birds, animals, and plants, and to help manage the flow of storm water," explains McFarlane.

At nighttime, illuminated roof lanterns beckon to visitors, who must descend a forested roadway to approach Bowen Island House.

"Wood has such a natural compatibility with that approach. Local cedar cladding stains well, so it'll last for a long time in harsh ocean-side settings," explains McFarlane. 

"The other materials drew on local stone—we used basalt in a variety of different forms, and finally [that] little bit of concrete. We try to minimize the concrete as much as we can, but you do need that durability where the building meets the ground in a forest that's busy trying to compost everything organic."

Inside the home, roof lanterns illuminate the kitchen and dining area. They are a low-maintenance alternative to skylights since they don't allow the forest's debris to accumulate and potentially block the natural light overhead.

Inside, basalt stone tiles are used in the bathrooms and the entryway. Locally-sourced hemlock is used for the floors and ceilings, where it imparts warmth, while crisp white walls function as a backdrop to the client's art collection. 

Glass also plays a very considered role throughout the home. Floor-to-ceiling panels in the kitchen, living room, and parents' suite bring in the rich elements of the surrounding landscape. 

"Really the implicit material palette that participates in the interior is just all of the view potential," explains McFarlane. "I can very much see those materials being drawn into the interior experience of the palettes of the forest, the sea, and the rocky shore. They are all things you can't help but experience when you're inside the building as well." 

McFarlane credits the windows system's thin profile and its ability to secure very large panes of glass for the seamless indoor/outdoor effect it achieves. 

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"The stairwell is one of my favorite spaces in the project," says the architect. "It's one of those areas that very specifically frames a view of the mountains and the water and the foreground of the shore, all in a very dramatic way. It edits out so much of the majesty and the monumentality of the overall view and presents a very focused sliver of it."

Two bedrooms, a bathroom, a powder room, and the laundry room share the home’s main level with the kitchen and living area. A dramatic stairwell off of the kitchen leads the way to the lower level, which houses the storage and machine rooms along the south end of the home and the client's private suite and patio to the north.

"As much as everyone loves to be together with their families, I think we all really enjoy those moments where we can escape and just find a space of our own," McFarlane says of how the firm conceptualized the bedroom. "That  suite really affords [the client] the luxury of that kind of escape and offers yet another sort of very intimate relationship with the landscape and the seashore."

The home's off-the-grid functionality consists of a generator, well water access, and an independent septic system, and ensures the client's comfort and safety no matter what their environment has in store.

Two covered aeries located off of the living room and the primary suite (pictured) provide the client with a generous outdoor living space, rain or shine.

"They had this really beautiful ambition of creating a place where they could really experience the natural environment with their growing family," McFarlane says of how the main living area's open, indoor/outdoor floor plan was conceptualized to serve the client's needs.

Bowen Island House floor plan

Bowen Island House layout


More Vancouver Homes:

 A Contemporary Home Cascades Down the Hillside in Vancouver

An Engineer Builds the Net-Zero Passive House of His Dreams in West Vancouver

An Angled Cabin in British Columbia Makes an Ideal Island Retreat


Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Office of McFarlane Biggar Architects + Designers / @mcfarlanebiggar

Builder/General Contractor: West Coast Turnkey

Structural Engineer: Eric Man for KSM Associates Ltd. 

Landscape Design: Considered Design

Lighting Design: Fowlstone Electric

Interior Design: Office of McFarlane Biggar Architects + Designers

Cabinetry Design: Mark's Cabinets

Geotechnical Consulting: Phillips Engineering Ltd. 

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