After years of living in a downtown Vancouver condo and with their first child on the way, Dolly and Chris Howard were ready to move north across Vancouver Harbor to a quieter, more residential neighborhood. As lovers of contemporary architecture constrained by a fixed budget, the Howards realized they’d need to take their time. "We just weren’t finding anything," Dolly recalls.
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Then, scouting West Vancouver neighborhoods one weekend, they happened upon architect Mark Ritchie’s house in West Vancouver. Though clean-lined and teeming with glass, it wasn’t gargantuan like the other contemporary houses they’d found.
Just as appealing, it had a front porch, "which was important to me because I’m from the South," says Dolly, a Texas native. "I like the idea of neighbors and hanging out." Ritchie’s house wasn’t for sale, but they knew he could design a new home for them.
The lot the Howards found was tricky: a triangular property sloping downward from an adjacent railroad track. Yet with mature pockets of forest on either side, it offered tranquility.
"They were interested in a house that could take advantage of the natural setting as much as possible with quiet bedrooms," Ritchie recalls, "but they were also interested in entertaining their friends."
The design offers just this duality of solitude and sociability. Boomerang-shaped, it wraps around a front courtyard, which southern exposure bathes in summertime sunlight. (Had they configured the house around a backyard courtyard, the opposite would have been true: perennial shade.) A fire pit, hot tub, and communal seating prompt the couple to linger there with their baby son, Henrik, to invite friends over, or even to chat with people passing by.
"Our neighbors will be walking their dog and come say hello," Dolly says. "Even if they’re just passing by, it feels like they’re part of our experience, and that we’re part of the neighborhood."
The interior is divided into two intersecting wings. To the south, a two-story wing provides space for a guest suite and the couple’s home office; the latter looks down from a mezzanine onto the double-height kitchen in the center of the house.
To the north, past a glass-ensconced hallway along the front courtyard, is a single-story wing with three bedrooms.
At the end of the house is the master suite, which is cantilevered over a small ravine; its floor-to-ceiling glass is partially shaded by vertical exterior shades, which act like a semi-opaque drape for the bedroom.
"Waking up in this house, you’re just surrounded by nature," Chris says. "And that was the intent. We really wanted to de-stress. But I think it’s also the only house here where the neighbors feel comfortable waving to us. Because of that front courtyard, it really interacts with the street."
Related Reading: An Ordinary Suburban Home in Vancouver Is Given a Modern Edge
Builder: Calrudd Construction, Ian Rudd
Structural Engineer: Allester Engineering Ltd., Jeff Allester
Civil Engineer: Creus Engineering, Fred M. Ciambrelli
Landscape Design: Architecture Building Culture
Lighting Design:Architecture Building Culture
Interior Design:Architecture Building Culture
Cabinetry Design: Architecture Building Culture, Fisher Custom
Geotechnical Engineer: Phillips & Associates, Ward Phillips