An open-concept kitchen and series of outdoor rooms create a seamless indoor/outdoor living space

It’s not often that a home reno starts with the garden and ends with the kitchen. Most homeowners do it the other way around, but this Vancouver couple knew their priorities upon moving into their 1929 Kitsilano home 10 years ago.

Creating an indoor/outdoor living space was a number one priority for homeowner David and his wife, Susan. Before, the backyard consisted of a monstrous deck detached from the patch of land it hovered over. Now, with the help of garden designer John Minty, it’s an intimate and interconnected series of levels, rooms and hallways that extends the indoor living space.

Thoughtful softscape, from a living wall of olive to bulbous corners of hebe, surrounds the hardscape. Stairs lead to and from paths through ferns and lush groundcover to nooks and enclosures. For David’s 50th birthday party last summer, some 80 guests spilled across the garden’s varied spaces.

The go-to spot, though, was the built-in bar, just inside French doors on the edge of the kitchen. This is where interior designer Rebecca Lapres came in. After the garden was revived, and the rest of the home revamped by contractor Cam McLeod (a full gut and reno from top to bottom), David and Susan finally focused on the kitchen area. And last does not mean least.

Opening up the Kitchen

They held off on this final piece of the reno until they could do it right. Once budget and timing came together, and the contractor recommended Rebecca, the kitchen design took off. First up: open up.

Although the couple loves the intimate spaces of old homes (much like their garden), they wanted an open-concept kitchen.

The wall separating the dining room and kitchen came down, and in its place Rebecca designed a huge island, or rather peninsula. Technically, it’s attached to a wall, but the white Caesarstone-topped workspace has the free-floating feel of an island with a lot more surface and storage space. “It’s Granville Island,” jokes Susan.

The multipurpose station is a place where David plays sous chef, friends sip wine and the couple’s two girls, Hayley and Olivia, paint or do homework. They also gather around the adjacent dining table made out of old floorboards. Its “authentic patina,” as Rebecca says, reflects the relaxed-yet-refined style here, where modernist Lucite dining chairs are juxtaposed with the chunky wood.

It’s part of Rebecca’s signature style: nothing too precious or feminine, old with new, and strong, masculine lines. The kitchen’s stainless-steel hardware and gorgeous greys on the walls, marble backsplash, tile floor, custom cabinetry and bar set the tone.

Then hits of blue and orange, whether from a stunning South African painting or Limoges urns, add punch. “I wanted some colour to be a bit playful; I didn’t want it to be too austere,” says Rebecca.

The colour scheme of greys and blues continues throughout the main floor. The living room’s original fireplace is painted a smoky grey that gives it a real presence,” says Rebecca. The steely starburst mirror above adds sparkle. A sleek, custom side table in the same blue-grey found in the kitchen anchors one corner. An orange-framed mirror pops in the entryway. And a sculptural stump side table adds “a gorgeous, earthy texture that’s very elegant,” says Rebecca.

Combining Classic and Contemporary Design

There’s an interplay of classic and contemporary. The grey tufted sofa reflects the traditional bones of the house in a modern fabric and hue. Contemporary art is juxtaposed with the organic shapes of kudu horns. “We have a similar esthetic,” says Rebecca of Susan and David. “We love downplayed elegance...beautiful textures and rich colours and fabrics, but it’s not ostentatious or obvious.”

The home now reflects the couple. “When I walk through the door I feel this is where I belong,”says Susan. The mix of comfort and chic is what Rebecca calls “urban cottage” and it’s also exactly how John describes his garden design that began this reno. The two spaces are fitting bookends, from garden to kitchen, whether you start or finish with it.

John Minty Shares How to Create an Outdoor Living Space

Prioritize: This home’s overhaul began in the backyard. “It is unusual to be the first reno on the list,” says garden designer John Minty. His main directive was to remove a too-large and disconnected deck and “bring the house and garden together by providing an outdoor living space in the garden, not above/separate from it.” The newly grounded garden and “urban cottage” esthetic inspired the relaxed-yet-refined style throughout the home.

Be Patient: Another reason to take on the garden first in a reno? It needs time to grow. Allow three to five years for real changes. In the meantime, place specimen grade/scale plants in key spots to anchor the design before smaller material fills in. “I try to plant a few pieces in every garden that are mature specimens, acting as if the garden had been built around/with them in mind,” says Minty.

Bring the Indoors Out: The layout of this backyard includes two main “rooms” or spaces with “hallways” or side passages. “Exterior design/architecture uses the same tools as interior but with much looser rules/flexibility,” says Minty. It’s not about mimicking, but creating a comfortable/functional living space, much like interior design.

Find Focus: Homeowner Susan’s favourite element in the garden is the centre tree, a Magnolia sieboldii that’s visible from the kitchen. Minty placed it there for its wow factor: “It has an easy branching, umbrella-like habit, soft rounded mid-green foliage, funky fall seed pods and the most beautiful downward-facing white fragrant flowers that bloom for weeks at the beginning of summer.”

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.