Renovating One of Vancouver’s Best-kept Park-side Secrets

Three decades after an eighties update, the same design team transforms a Shaughnessy condo

Credit: Terry Guscott / Styling by Heather Cameron

Bahaus-inspired cabinetry and stainless steel drawers keep essentials close in this Shaughnessy home

Three decades after an eighties update, the same design team transforms a Shaughnessy condo

As you stroll through Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden, a 55-acre serene escape resplendent with rare plants, you will round a corner of tall evergreens and suddenly stand before a condominium that borders a small lake.

Karen Walker, who recently purchased a home within this complex, says, “Even though it’s inner-city, it’s isolated and private – a place to watch ravens working to build a home, and great blue herons landing on our deck.”

Renovating a la Arthur Erickson

Walker’s 3,000-square-foot penthouse has been reborn, like much of this 35-year-old, asymmetrical Shaughnessy building. Its interior harmoniously blends old and new with a renovation strategy that honours its Arthur Erickson-influenced architecture. “I love the building’s modern Japanese styling and the way light and shadows hit its rectangular shapes. It’s one of Vancouver’s best-kept secrets,” says Walker.

When B.C. Lieutenant Governor Clarence Wallace owned this condo in the 1980s, he hired architect and interior design team Pat and Chart McCulloch to design the interior; and when Walker purchased it, she hired the McCullochs to redesign it 30 years later. 

“I hired them because I’d seen the streamlined concrete-and-glass houses they currently build. Pat has gone through different phases in her long career, and when we bought the Wallace residence it was very traditional, with small rooms and a separate suite for hired help,” says Walker. 
”I had no idea that the McCullochs had designed it, but when Chart walked in, he laughed, immediately recognizing it.”

Creating Versatile, Open Space

After gutting the home in 2009, Walker moved in 10 months later. It took communication, imagination and the tenacity of the design team to realize her vision: an open and airy gallery-like space that amplified natural light and would playfully contrast her collections of modern art and rare Georgian antiques. She also wanted a versatile space so she could entertain friends and her three grown sons.

Upon entering the home, it’s easy to grasp how the McCullochs embraced their client’s personality.

The glass-and-wood interior offers a neutral backdrop against which Walker’s collectibles and colourful paintings pop. High ceilings with soaring windows offer views of century-old trees complemented by living walls – vertical gardens of lavender, wild strawberries, grasses and sage secured in sacks – on the patios.

The front door opens to the great room, which flows into the dining areas, kitchen and laundry-bar, where a dramatic Haida totem pole grabs attention, luring visitors into the home.

Stretching beyond the living area, the linear kitchen features a white 12-foot-long island with stainless steel drawers and built-in Bauhaus-inspired beech cabinetry. It’s an ultra-modern twist on the prepare-cook-wash-store principle, with steam oven, induction stove, and a massive counter and sink made from one continuous piece of steel that’s easily wiped down. 

This room, like the others inside the home, meets Walker’s need for flexibility. In fact, the interior offers little division between each room and there’s an absence of hallways. Instead, generous, integrated cabinets and concealed storage rooms harvest unused space. 

Bringing the Outdoors In

To capture the natural environment, Walker chose colours in the tones of sand, forest and ocean for the walls, floors and in materials like glass and tile. Inside, concrete tile floors complement the exterior walls. “I chose two-foot square tile because I had to re-sand the hardwood in my last home three times when well-travelled areas became worn, and large tiles reflect the European look I wanted,” says Walker. 

Mid-toned woods, including beech used for cabinetry, millwork and oversized doors, contrast the mahogany and oak antiques. A 12-foot diameter Georgian table greets guests upon entering. The dozen 1720s mahogany chairs surrounding it are hand-tooled with floral motifs. Walker admits, “I consider these a valuable gift I’m taking care of during my time, to be given to those after I’m gone, to do the same.” 

Beyond the table, a custom-designed sectional can seat 16 in front of a 56-inch TV, which can be viewed even from kitchen and dining areas. Also here: a trio of 18th-century milking stools that double as coffee tables; two reupholstered Gainsborough chairs from the 1720s sit at either end of an oak butler’s serving tray; and a buffet from the same era adds presence. “I started purchasing these at 23, and paid for them by monthly installments,” says Walker “Heirloom-quality pieces have substance and patina that show well and won’t end up in a landfill.” 

A Liveable Gallery

Primary hues in large Bill Reid, Maxwell Bates and Ted Harrison paintings take the edge off the home’s contemporary lines, and high-voltage Jack Shadbolt paintings inject punches of colour, too.

“This Jack Shadbolt now takes centre stage, but was hidden in a hallway between two staircases in my last house,” says Walker. “This home is clean-lined because the art makes enough of a statement that it shouldn’t compete with walls,” she explains.

Walker says that after she started collecting art, she began to see everything around her as art. Her valuable and eclectic collection also includes large Inuit sculptures by Judas Ullulaq, British lead model soldiers, porcelain tea sets and W.P. Weston 1930s landscapes.

A visitor might miss the interior art as they head straight for the courtyard and plant themselves on a chaise facing the living wall – a vertical herb garden designed in a wave pattern to add movement. The courtyard both joins and separates the great room and master bedroom, where floor-to-ceiling glass offers views of VanDusen and of the living wall, through panels of clear and seafoam green frosted glass.

Large, glass seafoam floor tiles and tiny recycled-glass tiles in the shower continue the theme. Everything else is wrapped in soothing white, except for an ancient hand-painted Asian garden stool. 

The sum of all these design details is a sanctuary in the city that captures the contemporary tastes of its new owner while honouring its history as one of the first buildings that Arthur Erickson assisted in designing.

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.