A Low-Key Landscape Gives a Vancouver Family a New Lease on Outdoor Living

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By Amara Holstein
A simple fence helped produce this secluded oasis.

With its sleek linear form surrounded by massive vine maple trees, Sharen McLean and Mark Derraugh’s house on a quiet street in Vancouver feels like a faraway escape in the heart of the city. Yet until recently, the landscaping was "lackluster" and didn’t fall in line with the modernity of the house, says Sharen’s daughter, Andrea McLean, an architectural designer with her own practice who is working toward becoming registered. "The front yard was literally just a way to get from their cars to the front door," she explains. "And the backyard was in such bad condition, they didn’t want the grandkids playing out there."

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A black-stained Western red cedar fence now runs along the perimeter of Sharen McLean and Mark Derraugh’s property in Vancouver, part of a complete revamping of the couple’s outdoor space. The project was spearheaded by Sharen’s daughter, Andrea McLean, whose daughters and nephew make the most of the urban oasis. 

A black-stained Western red cedar fence now runs along the perimeter of Sharen McLean and Mark Derraugh’s property in Vancouver, part of a complete revamping of the couple’s outdoor space. The project was spearheaded by Sharen’s daughter, Andrea McLean, whose daughters and nephew make the most of the urban oasis. 

After spending the previous 15 years slowly renovating the home’s interiors, Andrea tackled the front yard in 2013, starting with a Western red cedar fence that both visually encloses the whole space and keeps the grandchildren—including her own kids—safe from the street.

Hana Bea, 6, follows the concrete pavers that lead from the front yard to the side entrance.

Hana Bea, 6, follows the concrete pavers that lead from the front yard to the side entrance.

A mass of rhododendrons was replaced with a wood seating platform next to a patch of easy-care artificial turf, and such traditional touches as topiaries and boxwoods were removed. "It was all about taking out finicky things that didn’t serve us," says Andrea, who tied the new fence and house together with a coat of midnight-black stain.

The cedar decks were left to bleach in the sun for one summer and then finished with a light gray wash. Metal Solair chairs are in keeping with the tricolor palette of black, white, and green. 

The cedar decks were left to bleach in the sun for one summer and then finished with a light gray wash. Metal Solair chairs are in keeping with the tricolor palette of black, white, and green. 

Then in 2015, a massive storm blew down the back fence, and the rickety carport toppled over. "So we were like, Andrea, now what do we do?" says Sharen. Bulldozers came in, the old deck went out, and a capacious deck now slides through a wall of glass from the kitchen, stepping in tiers of increasing privacy down the back of the house. A new garage was built as a "mini-me of the house," says Andrea, and then painted white to lighten its girth.

For plantings, landscaper Aaron Teer helped select leafy specimens like the lion’s mane Japanese maples on the lower level.

For plantings, landscaper Aaron Teer helped select leafy specimens like the lion’s mane Japanese maples on the lower level.

Instead of bright flora, all the plantings have a monochromatic forest feel. "It was a conscious decision not to have any colored flowers—it’s more about textures, the way things move in the wind," explains Andrea, who worked with landscaper Aaron Teer to select the plants. White concrete pavers run along one side of the house, three giant katsura trees wave over a basalt pathway next to the garage, and verdant ferns abound.

McLean chose artificial turf for the front yard, where Hana Bea and her sister, Pilar, 9, play as Sharen looks on. 

McLean chose artificial turf for the front yard, where Hana Bea and her sister, Pilar, 9, play as Sharen looks on. 

"Enclosing the house could have detached it even more from the neighborhood. But instead, my parents are out there all the time now, and neighbors stop to chat with them over the fence." Andrea McLean, architectural designer

Katsura trees, climbing hydrangeas, and basalt stepping stones create a pleasing passageway between the lower back deck and the new garage. "What could have been leftover space, I wanted to be a promenade," says Andrea.

Katsura trees, climbing hydrangeas, and basalt stepping stones create a pleasing passageway between the lower back deck and the new garage. "What could have been leftover space, I wanted to be a promenade," says Andrea.

Now, the grandchildren romp around in the daytime, while Sharen and Mark sip wine and chat with passing neighbors in the evenings, owls hooting overhead. Mornings are spent puttering around with coffee on the back deck in their robes. "The outside has become our living space," says Sharen. "It’s just created a different dialogue with the house."   

A Low-Key Landscape Gives a  Vancouver Family a New Lease on Outdoor Living - Photo 7 of 8 -
A Low-Key Landscape Gives a  Vancouver Family a New Lease on Outdoor Living - Photo 8 of 8 -

Project Credits:

Architectural Designer: Andrea McLean Studio (@andrea_mclean)

Contractors: Woodquest Construction Ltd. and PWS Contracting

Landscape: Teer Co.  

Structural Engineering: Formosa Engineering

Photographer: Ema Peter (@emaphotographi)