A Classic North Vancouver Home Gets a Modern Spin

A couple of serial renovators transform their dated North Vancouver home into a spacious, multi-purpose beauty

Credit: Hamid Attie

A formerly dated kitchen is revitalized with refaced cabinets, quartz countertops and a vibrant glass backsplash

Contemporary esthetics compete with classic design when an ultra-modern couple buys a far-from-modern home

On first sight, self-professed modernist Hamid refused to set foot in what would ultimately become his North Vancouver home.

A traditional 1960s family home, it was the perfect setting for backyard barbecues and road hockey tournaments. But the clapboard siding, awnings over the upstairs windows and curved driveway were almost too much for the professional photographer.

“My first response to my wife was ‘I am not going in,’” says Hamid.

Drawn in by the Neighbourhood

But go in, he did. And once inside, he and his wife, Rachel, were faced with a rabbit warren of separated rooms decked in dated wallpaper. Yet at the same time, they were drawn to the neighbourhood itself and the spacious, private backyard bordering on a creek.

“The kitchen layout was good,” says Rachel, a French-trained chef who likes to cook for family and friends several days a week. “The backyard garden was overgrown, but had been done professionally 15 years ago. We saw a lot of potential to create a great indoor/outdoor living space.”

With that potential in mind, Hamid sketched a new plan of the main floor on the spot and the couple resolved to make an offer on the home. Hamid and Rachel took possession of the property in 2010 and immediately embarked on the renovation – their seventh such project in less than 10 years.

The couple purchased their first property, a modest condo overlooking English Bay, in 2002. Affectionately referred to by the couple as the “house of mirrors” in reference to the wall-to-wall mirrors hung throughout the home, it was the jumping-off point for a succession of projects that extended to the West End and Kitsilano neighbourhoods of Vancouver and later to North Vancouver.

Renovation Plans

The reno-savvy couple tore down wallpaper and sun-blocking walls to reveal their home’s full potential as a spacious retreat (Image: Hamid Attie)

Now tackling one of their largest projects yet, the couple’s most daunting challenge was to establish their vision of a modern, clean-lined living space within the bones of a traditional home. They took cues from their neighbours and kept their cedar shake roof as well as the classic exterior window profiles on the front and back of the property. When it came to creating the indoor/outdoor entrance onto the back patio, the couple opted for side-by-side French doors instead of installing their first preference of ultra-modern, bi-folding Eclipse doors.

“You see those houses where it is staid in the front and party in the back,” says Rachel. “We wanted to put our stamp on it, but didn’t want a traditional home with a glass box out back.”

Hamid believes that the most successful renovations are integrated into their surroundings. “We prefer modern, but it is important to let your home dictate what you do,” says Hamid. “We did a 1911 home in Kits, and we brought it back to 1911 complete with a claw foot tub.”

Drawing from the experience of six previous renos, the couple chose to forgo the services of an interior designer and both were as hands-on as possible; Rachel helped with demolition and did all the interior painting, while Hamid sourced most of the interior finishings.

A country-style kitchen was transformed by squaring off the breakfast bar, removing a valance and corresponding picture window as well as taking out the glass-front upper cabinetry. The remaining cabinets were salvaged and refaced in a warm white melamine. White speckled granite countertops were replaced in medium-grey quartz, and an unexpected backsplash in the form of green back-painted auto glass adds punch.

Focals Points and Fixtures

Great care was taken in specifying the structural elements of the house; extra-wide floorboards were chosen to give a sense of spaciousness and age, while softening the edges and adding character to their renovated home (Image: Hamid Attie)

The focal point on the main floor is a floating fireplace with stainless steel surround embedded in a feature wall of miniature textured Carrara marble tiles. A handmade dining table and matching benches – fashioned by a friend from 100-year-old reclaimed fir floors – positioned in front of the fireplace serves as the family’s main eating and entertaining space. An asymmetrical, architectural light hung low over the table completes the space.

While the lines throughout the home are clean and simple, from the white oak floors to the glass and steel staircase system, the couple has personalized the space with contemporary photography and original artwork by Hamid and several of their artist friends, including Rachel’s brother, Zebulon.

Treating the large backyard as an extension of the interior living space, the couple installed a large flagstone patio for outdoor meals and parties in its lower garden. A set of stairs leads up to a small kidney-shaped pool and hot tub, a popular hangout in the summer months for their six-year-old daughter Sahara and her friends.

Giving Life to the Garden

Rachel and Hamid focused on makeing their backyard a multi-purpose outdoor space, perfect for dining, relaxing or taking a dip (Image: Hamid Attie)

Established hydrangeas, azaleas, red twig dogwoods, rhododendrons and a 60-year-old dwarf pine tree form the backbone of the main garden. Rachel planted a shade garden of ferns and Solomon’s seal amid a variegated ground cover, and a berm rock garden featuring a variety of Japanese grasses, cypress, lavender and sedges borders the pool and hot tub.

Against the back fence is Rachel’s vegetable garden and cutting garden. She also installed a potted herb garden, and this season she plans to introduce a Mediterranean vibe in the backyard with potted olive, fig and Meyer lemon trees.

Managing the Renovation Process

Throughout the extensive indoor/outdoor renovation, which took five months to complete, the couple opted to stay in their home, breaking the project into manageable chunks and completing individual rooms in their entirety before moving to the next step of the renovation. Though difficult and inconvenient, Hamid and Rachel felt strongly that it was important to be there every day.

“When you are doing a reno it is so easy to get bogged down and for things to drag on,” says Hamid. “A lot of people will have a holiday plan and be away while work is being done, but I find that doesn’t work very well.”

“Things don’t need to be fine tuned daily, but hourly,” adds Rachel.

Hamid and Rachel intend to stay in their home for at least the next eight years, so their daughter can grow up in the same house and neighbourhood. But pressed further, Hamid admits bets are on as to when the serial renovators will strike again.

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.