Whistler Designer Debbie Evans Applies Her Modern Touch

Debbie Evans overhauls everything from tourist resorts to high-end bachelor pads

Italian travertine, limestone and Cararra marble are some of designer Debbie Evans’ favourite materials

Debbie Evans discusses her favourite materials, going modern at Whistler, 
and designing high-end bachelor pads

Award-winning interior designer Debbie Evans, president of Whistler Interior Design Ltd. and Northface Kitchens & Bath, delivers her do-it-all style to as many multiple-family resort properties as mega-mansions that border them. What sets Evans apart from others is her comfort level with downright technical construction. 

A house you designed in Pemberton was featured in the book Spectacular Homes of Western Canada.

Evans: It is a rustic home with antiques, reclaimed barn floors, hickory bar stools, and a live-edge wood bar countertop. Live-edge refers to the bark left along the edge of a slab cut from a tree trunk, which is varnished. A standout feature is a winding staircase with hand-forged railing and wood steps that floats from a massive stone wall. The staircase extends from a loft clad entirely in hand-curved wood. 

In addition to single-family residences, you’ve designed resort interiors for almost 20 years. 

Evans: Yes, I recently designed the Athlete’s Village, and Rainbow House’s interiors at Whistler, and I am currently refurbishing The Legends, a 120-suite Intrawest property. Because Whistler’s development has always been further advanced than other North American resorts – its massive revenue is spent getting the best, most progressive design – I have been hired as a marketing and design consultant for other resorts. 

What are the trends at Whistler?

Evans: Very modern. That means the look is less “Western chalet” and more clean lines, open concepts, boxy shapes, white quartz countertops, flat-panel cabinetry, high-gloss finishes, very contemporary furniture, and large windows with very little window coverings. 

A designer has to make it work with the casual Whistler lifestyle, combining modern architectural elements with comfortable rustic ones. The bathrooms are very contemporary: monochromatic colours, 24-by-24-inch tiles, minimalist faucets, large rectangular sinks…. 

When did you go modern at Whistler? 

Evans: I designed one of the first contemporary homes found in Whistler 10 years ago. It was clean and open to take advantage of the view, and had bluestone tile – unknown there then – extending from outside to inside. 

There were many negative comments about it at the time because it was so different; people said the owner would never be able to sell it when it was completed – it sold immediately. 

Do you ever have projects that go very differently than planned?

Evans: Often. I was hired by a Whistler client to redesign his home’s fireplace, and ended up redesigning the entire house. His house had been done in stages and didn’t have continuity and flow – in start-and-stop projects, you shouldn’t be able to tell where one stopped and the other started – and the owner’s requirements were not being met. 

I divided the open-concept great room to create the separate formal dining room he wanted, completely changed the kitchen’s layout so that it worked better, took out one of two fireplaces and turned the space into a beautiful wood wine cellar, showcased his art by creating niches around statues and wrapping wainscotting around large wall art, and customized lighting to make the rooms’ details pop. The house looks larger but is cozier. The owner has several homes (the designer who created his London home designed Mick Jagger’s home), and he says that this is his favourite. 

Why did you first specialize in kitchen design? 

Evans: I love designing kitchens and bathrooms, which involve much planning, technical design and millwork. I worked for a kitchen design company when I began my career in Cape Breton, so I became a certified master kitchen designer in addition to a registered interior designer. 

But it wasn’t enough. I would complete the home’s kitchen and then wouldn’t like the way the adjoining areas looked. The work seemed unfinished, or another designer’s work didn’t connect well with what I had done. As I grew in my work, I was able to recognize details that were missed by others or weren’t what the client had envisioned. You need to ask a lot of questions and be able to really listen. If you work with someone just selling tile or cupboards or appliances, you’re given the product that you ask for, but no one has taken time to find out if it is the best product for your needs. 

What problems do you often see in kitchen designs?

Evans: People sometimes choose elements because they are trendy, not necessarily functional. They can usually get the layout to work because it’s drawn during the design process, but then the finishes aren’t practical. For example, white stone countertops may look great when clean, but if you have kids or you don’t have time to take care of them, they aren’t a good choice. 

What does your newly renovated kitchen look like?

Evans: I love my kitchen. It is not an open concept. It is a large L-shaped space that we wrapped around the dining room. It’s big enough that I added a second full-sized sink on a counter across from the main sinks, which I use all of the time. Open concepts aren’t always practical; you can’t easily hide messes. When I come home from work, my 10- and 12-year-old kids have left a disaster in the kitchen, but it’s around the corner out of sight from guests that arrive in the separate living room. Also, I can deal with post-dinner- party cleanup after guests have left because it’s away from their view. 

You design lighting. What type do you prefer?

Evans: A rail system. It is more expensive, but the light that you receive from it is superior, especially in typical Whistler homes with very high ceilings. You can do almost anything with rail lighting to highlight any area. 

What is your favourite material to use in projects?

Evans: Stone. I love Italian travertine, limestone and Carrara marble. I recently used 18-by-36-inch travertine tile on a very contemporary Whistler bathroom’s wall, floors, and full-surround for bath, and it is stunning. 

For a historically themed bathroom on South Granville, I covered the entire room in white Carrara marble: countertops, subway wall tiles, floor, and large shower stall. A freestanding white tub with a stained-glass window behind it and white cabinets make the stone look traditional. 

You’re renovating your own bathroom.

Evans: I am good at space planning to maximize every inch. Our bathroom was converted from a linen closet and tiny room with toilet and tub. 
I found space for two sinks, a large frameless glass shower, a full tub, and a toilet room separated by a frosted glass door, which we find very convenient. I used travertine-look 18-by-18 stone tiles on the floor and walls. The glass detailing makes the space look larger.

What is your dream project?

Evans: All of my most creative, upscale and award-winning projects have been for bachelors. Without a wife present, who tends to be the one involved in the design process, they trust my judgment and allow more freedom, which has worked out very well.

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