Roblin House: Canadian Artist Richard Roblin’s Home as Art Showcase

Tucked inconspicuously into a Cowichan Valley subdivision, the Roblin House was designed to exhibit and reflect art

Credit: Jo-Ann Richards?

In Roblin House, the fireplace is placed along the midline of the room

Richard Roblin’s artwork and architectural design blend seamlessly, as illustrated in his home, which functions as a gallery and exhibit in its own right

Tucked inconspicuously into an otherwise 
typical subdivision in the Cowichan Valley is Roblin House – 1,900 square feet of beauty, refinement and harmony that could hold its own anywhere in the world. Painter and architectural designer Richard Roblin was lured to the Cowichan Valley by the rolling landscape and warm community the area is famous for. With the move came his first opportunity to design a home for himself and his family, from the ground up. 

Roblin’s background as an architectural designer is primarily related to domestic design with influences ranging from Frank Lloyd Wright to Luis Barragán to Tadao Ando. His art mirrors his love for design, recalling universal symmetry, tribal spirit, and life on the West Coast, with the linear precision and complex planes of shape and colour. 

“Essentially a modernist, I focus on functionality, harmony, and fluid sightlines to achieve a clear esthetic vision,” says Roblin. “My design style is a synthesis of my lifelong visual and artistic pursuits.”

A painting from Roblin’s Icon collection adds a burst of colour to a serene space

Designing Roblin House

Roblin House was designed to showcase art in two ways: the walls and lighting systems are designed for exhibiting the paintings, and the home’s overall design mirrors the shifting planes and linear complexity that personifies Roblin’s work. For him, the two are intertwined.

“The relationship between architecture and art is integral, just as the architecture is integral with the site,” he says. “The interaction between art and architecture brings a functional space into the healing realm of esthetics, transforming walls into windows.”

Most of the art in Roblin House is placed against white walls and a neutral palette, giving the five- and six-foot-high pieces permission to be large in a relatively small space. The paintings provide a peripheral focus in each room that is essential to the illusion of spaciousness. Lighting systems created specifically for the functionality of each room also focus on showcasing the art. 

Roblin’s painting Muse 2 pops against the neutral palette

Natural Light Facilitates Flow

Every major room grants access to the outdoors, providing natural light and facilitating flow. The house was designed on an east-west axis with the entrance facing the rising sun, and the living room and bedroom windows facing the setting sun. French doors in the south-facing dining room open to an exterior courtyard and herb garden. Roblin’s studio enjoys northern light – the preferred light for artists – and the kitchen windows extend across the room, providing natural light and garden views. 

Although the basic structure of the exterior of the home melds into the neighbourhood design criteria, the interiors respond to a more soothing modernist theme, integrating natural woods and intricate detailing. Hints of Japanese architecture throughout add a sense of simplicity and quietude.

The dining area welcomes guests with a seven-foot-long forest green leather base table topped with glass. Above it is a three-tiered Japanese paper lamp, suspended four feet from the ceiling. While large in scale, these pieces successfully integrate into the 11½- by 11½-foot space, leaving the focus to large canvases on either side of the room. The paintings – ­Muse 2 from Roblin’s Monogram series, and Marblehead from the Fallingwater series – are showcased under recessed halogen lighting. 

A skylit, vaulted ceiling brings openness to the main living space, while a partial dropped ceiling of fir frames the vault at seven feet and leads into the lower ceiling section over the kitchen. The partial drop draws a sense of intimacy beneath the 14-foot vault and houses an integrated lighting system.

“Varying the ceiling height is a key design concept used throughout the house to sculpt the various rooms and to perform triple duty: separation, connection, and effectiveness,” says Roblin.

Roblin in his north-facing studio

Objects as Art

Each object in the room has been carefully collected and combined to provide visual cues that shape the space with vitality and a refined ambiance, while lending function as an intimate gathering place.

Area rugs, designed in Roblin’s Artwalk rug series, pull together a black leather and lacquered-wood Transat lounge chair and red sofa that are at home among a curated montage of pottery. Marble-topped, steel-framed side tables, also designed by Roblin, and an antique art glass Handel lamp add a stroke of elegance. 

While it’s common to see fireplaces centred in a room with symmetrical bookshelves flanking, in Roblin House, the fireplace is placed along the midline of the room, presenting asymmetrically against its encasement wall. 

“Proportional relationships using symmetrical and asymmetrical elements illustrate the delicate balance that is achieved in this space,” Roblin explains. A cantilevered black lacquered platform extends across the room in front of the fireplace, providing display space for a collection of ceramics and glass. 

The kitchen joins the open living space with an island that stands just beyond a stretch of windows that wrap around the length of the room. White lacquer from the cabinets extends to the walls, creating continuity and fresh lines. Stainless steel appliances add sleek elegance, while wood finishings stand out against olive green glass tiles and pale green countertops. 

“The use of complementary colours, contrasting elements, and a mixture of materials, including glass, different woods, lacquer, stainless steel, and flat and glossy furniture finishes, all help to create a variety of moods in a given space,” says Roblin. “Art works, lighting, area rugs and strategically placed accessories influence the dramatic effect.”

Objects and architectural elements, like the pivoting door, add flourish

Expanding Vision through Architectural Design

The star attraction of the house is Roblin’s studio, separated from the rest of the house by a sliding glass shoji door that opens to a 7- by 13½-foot mezzanine that provides ample space as a library and office with floor-to-ceiling shelving. This area looks down over the main studio area, which features a wall of windows and 14-foot ceilings. A fir-framed pivoting glass door leads to an exterior courtyard surrounded by terraces, a stone garden, flowers, and a bamboo grove. 

The master bedroom’s prized feature is its orientation. The bed lies east-west, which is most conducive to healthy sleep, says Roblin, and the fir-cased alcove window looks out at a lush garden and welcomes the setting sun. 

Beyond the master bedroom is the master bathroom, designed as a spa measuring 14½ feet by 10½ feet, with radiant heating under the porcelain tiles. A large mirror above the white lacquered vanity expands the room visually, as does a glass-enclosed shower stall. Roblin’s painting Spa, adds colour and life to the opposite wall. The soaker tub looks out through a sliding shoji window onto a serene stone garden. 

According to Roblin, design is about expanding vision. “It is always a magical process creating art and incorporating it into a vibrant living space.”

Blue-green tiles evoke sea and sky in the master bathroom

5 Tips for Designing with Art

Designing with art is process-oriented, says Roblin. “The incorporation and integration of works of art into the architectural context is an empowering agent, for it identifies and amplifies the soul of those who reside therein.”

He offers these five tips as essential to successfully designing a playful, creative oasis with art:

  1. Sculpt the space using good horizontal and vertical sightlines throughout.

  2. Design walls specifically to accommodate art.

  3. Good natural and designed lighting systems are key.

  4. Choose the appropriate scale of art for the setting.

  5. Choose art that you love.

Originally published in BC Home magazine. For monthly updates, subscribe to the free BC Home e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the bi-monthly magazine.