Set within the East Asian community of Richmond, BC, Curio House allows two Chinese scholars—the architect’s grandparents—to age in place. "I have a very close relationship with them," says Haeccity Studio Architecture cofounder Shirley Shen, "and it was kind of a family endeavor." The homeowners had lived in a two-story home on the same street for 40 years, but it was falling into disrepair, and the stairs proved a challenge at their age. "So, [the design] was to reinterpret using their cultural background as the basis, but to do it in a modern way."
The resulting design integrates principles from feng shui, a set of spatial laws meant to direct energy, and siheyuan, a historical courtyard house. The home, for instance, lies on a north-south axis, an element that comes from Eastern philosophy—the front door allows you to enter from the south and proceed through the home to the more intimate spaces on the northern end. "Because the clients have a large extended family and regularly receive visitors, we wanted to think of it more as a village than a house," says principal Travis Hanks.
Initially, guests are greeted with a vaulted courtyard space, again borrowing from East Asian spatial principles. "The main concept [references] how Chinese families traditionally lived together back in Asia," says Shen. "So, the central courtyard is a public space for everyone, but people are able to retreat into their bedrooms, or to private quarters along the edges and along the back."
The front garden has a water feature that offers protection, according to feng shui, and an arrangement of volcanic rock that symbolizes mountains. Cedar wood cladding along the entrance wall offers a material connection to the western coast of Canada.
The single-story, zero-barrier layout is wheelchair accessible, and Shen added other features to make sure the home continues to be comfortable and convenient for her grandparents.
"This was an opportunity to build their dream house, and an aging-in-place space—but the main thing was that it would be accessible to them," Shen explains. "Currently, they hang around the kitchen island a lot of the time. That’s sort of the focus of their current home. So, we were thinking, if they can’t sit at a high bar chair in the future, then they would have to roll up to it in their wheelchair." The team struck on the idea of a motorized island whose height can be adjusted via remote control.
The shower is also zero-threshold, allowing for ease of use. Every element within the home has been carefully considered for its holistic effect in the space.
"The basic tenet of Chinese architecture is that the earth is represented by a square, and heaven is represented by a circle," says Shen. "And that’s translated into things like the door hardware: rosettes are a circle set within a square, and there’s a perfectly round table that’s inside of a perfectly square plan."
Ultimately, Curio House is a meditation on family—and the way families regard their histories and come together to build their futures. It’s a synthesis of philosophies both ancient and modern that feels unequivocally of today.
Related Reading: 9 Smart Home Devices For Aging in Place
Builder: Vanglo Sustainable Construction
Structural Engineer: Fast + Epp
Interior Design: Haeccity Studio Architecture
Cabinetry Design: SOMA Millwork & Design, David Rootman
Venetian Plaster: Contemporary Home, Chris Knell
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