After a Fire Razes a Beloved Cafe, the Owners Build Back—and Better Than Ever
On April 3, 2018, not long before dawn, Jessamy and Jake Freese held hands while they watched a raging fire burn down Fergie’s Cafe at Sunwolf, their riverside resort in Squamish, British Columbia. "It was so loud; there were unbelievable pops and crackles," Jessamy says.
The couple, who have three boys ages seven, five, and three, rehabilitated the flagging five-acre property and its 12 cozy cabins after purchasing it in 2010, though they’d mostly left the rundown—but beloved—blue cafe as is. When the fire razed it, they assumed they were out of the restaurant business because the site—the confluence of the Cheakamus and Cheekye Rivers—is a no-build zone. While they quickly arranged to service customers and upcoming wedding receptions via a food truck, the town’s planning office asked them to rebuild. "We were stunned," Jessamy says. "The community wanted their Fergie’s back."
By June, the couple had met with local architect Chris Hunter of hunterOFFICE to reimagine Fergie’s Cafe. Rigorous building requirements dictated that the cafe, which could not exceed its original 1,450 square feet, be elevated 10 feet so that flood waters could flow beneath it. "Two large rivers converge at the property, and it’s in a volcanic torrent valley," Hunter says. "We had to design something that would withstand that."
Jessamy and Jake were also committed to building sustainably. In addition to using environmentally friendly materials—including exposed prefabricated dowel laminated timber panels by StructureCraft for the floor and roof—the team incorporated earth tubes to passively heat and cool the building. "There are four 150-foot-long tubes 18 inches in diameter buried 10 feet underground in a 20-foot-wide trench," Jake reels off.
How do you get customers to the door of a cafe that is 10 feet in the air? Hunter designed a boardwalk which also has the advantage of being wheelchair accessible. The approximately 500-yard-long, rough-sawn red cedar walkway stretches through the property, leading guests from the parking area to the building. "Instead of being arduous, it’s a beautiful walk," Hunter says. "You cherish the process."
Upon arriving at the minimalist, black-stained cedar-clad structure, the boardwalk transitions into a covered tree house–like balcony. Along the building, long, skinny windows offer a glimpse into the bustling commercial kitchen; on the other side, branches from the property’s 100-year-old walnut tree reach over the rail. The effect was part of the plan. "We stood under the tree to determine exactly where the walkway should go," Jessamy says. "The building is designed around the tree."
At the end of the building, the deck turns the corner onto a cantilevered balcony with seating for a dozen along the edge. The balcony, which hangs 10 feet from the structure, looks to Mount Alpha. "When you're sitting on the balcony, there's a wall of green foliage to your left, the mountain in front of you, and the river to the right," says Jessamy. "It’s like an IMAX movie."
A four-panel slider reveals the building’s only indoor seating: a bar with a black stacked tiled front and a showstopping maple slab top hailing from a locally felled tree. Local designer Jaclyn Walker of Occasus Design conceived the Scandinavian-meets-Japanese scheme, which complements the black-stained vertical cladding of the exterior. "The interior and exterior are so fundamentally integrated with each other and with the landscape," she says. "They had to speak not only the same language, but as a single voice."
An angled steel staircase followed by precast concrete stairs lead people to the ground level. Modern picnic tables offer covered dining underneath the building, where a rusted, steel-clad wall featuring a wood-burning fireplace anchors one end. Like the building, it’s a contemporary riff on the property’s kumbaya vibe. "I’m surprised at how well this big black box fits into the rugged environment," Jake says. "It looks like it belongs here."
Touches of blue, the Fergie’s script logo, and the establishment’s welcoming family-focused feel are odes to the original cafe. But the earth-friendly, contemporary design is pure Jessamy and Jake. "If you try to please everyone, you get something you don’t recognize as your own," Jessamy says. "We went all in—and then we went even further. We didn’t want to end up saying, ‘Imagine what could have been?’"
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Architect: hunterOFFICE Architecture Inc. / @hunter_office
Interior Designer: Occasus Design Studio
Landscape Designer: Considered Design Inc. / @considereddesign
Structural Engineer: Twin Peaks / @twinpeaksengineering
Mechanical Engineer: Archineers
Electrical Engineer: PBX Engineering
Construction Manager: Bear Project Management / @bearprojectsltd
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