Energizing a Small Space Kitsilano Loft

This 900-square-foot, vintage-inspired, mid-century-modern apartment has absolutely no clutter but is full of life?

Credit: Tracey Ayton

This small-space loft in Kitsilano is energized by vintage decor and Carter the dog

A heritage building, neighbourhood vibe and modern-vintage finds 
combine to create an energizing small space

Granite kitchen counter. (Image: Tracey Ayton)

“What you see is what you get
.” James Boileau uses this adage to describe his home, a loft-style, ground-level apartment in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. And by that he literally means there’s no storage and he’s designed the space to a T.

What you see is a 900-square-foot, vintage-inspired, mid-century-modern, open-concept space in a 100-year-old building – and absolutely no clutter.

“Living in a loft, there is no storage, so if I own it you see it,” says Boileau. “And I don’t own much; it weighs you down.” When he moved into the space three years ago, he only brought two vintage solid-oak chairs with him. That’s it.

And even today, after his careful collection of each treasure-hunted piece, he’s not attached to anything here. If he doesn’t use something on a daily or monthly basis, he gets rid of it, sells it or gives it away.

He points to a plain pillar candle on the sideboard. Boileau placed that there a month ago but still thinks it may be too cluttered and better if he left the surface completely bare. If he moved tomorrow, he’d get rid of everything and start fresh. Is Boileau attached to anything? 

“The dog.” 

Life at Street Level

Boileau’s dog Carter sits in the living room.
(Image: Tracey Ayton)

Carter, his chocolate Lab sidekick, sits on the threshold of the street-level apartment, where the front door is wide open, and wags his tail as people walk by. There’s a café next door and West Broadway is steps away. Life is milling about just outside on a late-morning Saturday. There’s a definite community atmosphere; a neighbour pops by and Carter follows him next door for an impromptu visit. 

It’s what Boileau loves about living here. His streetfront home may be on display for all to glimpse, but he’s also free to do the people watching. “I feel really grounded and close to the world. It makes me feel connected rather than living in a highrise. I interact with people,” he says. “Life is circulating around me here.”

Minimalist Living

Connection is an integral part of Boileau’s professional life, too. As a personal coach he helps clients connect with their hopes and fears. And part of that is how important one’s living space is to well-being. “Your environment is incredibly influential on your life and your psychology of being, and when you live in a space that you really enjoy both physically and mentally, your life just feels more at ease, it feels calmer, and you feel like you’re able to create.”

He comes back to minimalist living here. “I think one of the biggest things about the space that you live in or any space that you occupy – whether it’s a home, a car, an office – is how much stuff you have there. When you’re in clutter, your head is in clutter,” says Boileau.

And he practises what he coaches.

Boileau is joined by his chocolate Lab Carter at the front door of his apartment. (Image: Tracey Ayton)

“I wanted it to be really simple and minimalist,” he says of the space. The century-old building may be heritage, but the style is mid-century modern mixed with retro and contemporary. It’s masculine but warm and inviting. The strategy was to complement existing elements, including the stand-out chandelier (originally from the Hotel Vancouver, it was hanging here when Boileau moved in), soaring ceilings, original fir floor, high picture rails, vintage bar (with brass kick-rail from late-1800s New York City), old stove, clawfoot tub and corner bathroom sink (with separate hot and cold taps).

Claw-foot bathtub. (Image: Tracey Ayton)

Every piece Boileau brought in was carefully chosen to work within this existing mix: a long-sought teak sideboard with spindle legs, vintage coat rack, classic desk chair, cream shag rug, rustic white fir-door-and-trestle desk, contemporary chocolate-brown sectional sofa, ornate gold-frame mirror and old theatre seating. “From the beginning I knew what I wanted it to look like and where I wanted stuff to go. It was just a matter of finding those pieces.” And he found them all second-hand.

Lots of Room in Little Space

Midway between the dinning room and living
room showing vintage theater-style seats.
(Image: Tracey Ayton)

That means every piece has its own story and patina (Boileau can tell from whom and where he purchased each item). And each piece has its place. With a keen design sense (he worked in advertising before becoming a coach), Boileau has created distinct areas in the open-concept space, from his immaculate office to his spectator seating for sports get-togethers. 

Everything is just so. A polished pair of wingtips is placed at the edge of a wardrobe, perfectly aligned. They don’t fit inside (“That’s the only pair of shoes that’s allowed out.”) so they’ve become part of the overall esthetic – retro yet very now. It all melds beautifully and complements the age-old building, which was, after all, the inspiration. What you see is definitely what you get.

Tips for Small Space Living

Asked if he has any small-space-living tips to share, James Boileau responds with an emphatic and enthusiastic “Yes!” He is a personal coach, after all.

  • Be Minimalist: It’s a “tough one,” he admits, but less really is more. “Fill your home with less than you need.” Because, over time, those everyday trips to the store will inevitably cram your space with more than you need. 

  • Light it Up: “Small space is about light – both real and electric – and how you use that to accentuate areas and pieces,” says Boileau. You may not have a vintage show-stopping chandelier in your space like he does, but find your own statement light fixture, and then, even if you don’t follow his lead and leave your front door wide open all day, expose your home to the natural light of the outside world.

Get Shapely: Boileau has a thing for shapes and lines, and thinks every small space can benefit from more attention to alignment and fit. “I’m a bit meticulous about how I live, but I think when you’re in a small space it’s important to have things be in their place.” (Like those shoes.) So, once you find your inner minimalist, keep him or her in line.

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.