High-end Home Renovation: Working with an Interior Designer and a Source of Inspiration

This reef-inspired reno let aquatic inspiration flow freely

Credit: Marcos Armstrong / Styling by Heather Cameron?

This reef-inspired redesign involved structural renovations to create open space

Simple inspirations are key to good design. And so was interior designer Valerie Edwards when it came to transforming this Vancouver condo

Coral, azure, ochre, bottle green…the deep colours from an underwater scene in the ocean off the Australian coast. It’s a dreamy kaleidoscope that materializes in funky chairs in a swish condo in Vancouver’s False Creek neighbourhood.

The seaside vibe is deliberate. It’s cheery, cheeky and easy-going, much like the down-under groove. “I want it beachy,” was homeowner Heather’s renovation directive to designer Valerie Edwards.

Sounds simple, but it took a trip halfway around the world for inspiration to hit. The two women happened to travel to Australia within months of each other, after which Edwards found a piece of bold, multi-hued fabric and showed it to Heather. Her response: “It’s the Great Barrier Reef!”

Combine three rooms into one open living space
Three rooms combined into one, along with 70 pot lights, keep the condo bright

Simple Inspiration the Key to Good Home Design

While the print may not depict any actual reef reference (it’s called Chiang Mai Dragon), it’s all about interpretation and inspiration.

The upholstered chairs set the stage for the 2,250-square-foot condo. Against their punch of colour, the rest of the open space is like an expanse of sky and sand—from the stark-white kitchen to a floor that Edwards says “looks like the ocean when the tide goes in and out and you can still see the blue on the sand.”

Then there’s the slab of granite atop the kitchen island, a medley of greens with tinges of gold that further echoes sea currents and phosphorescence.

Once inspiration hits, don’t harness it; let it flow – especially when undertaking a reno of this magnitude. When Heather and husband Gord purchased the condo, it had been untouched since it was built almost 30 years ago.

There was nothing beachy about the space (except for some 1980s-era sandy beige tile and pink toilets) – despite the spectacular view of False Creek’s waters.

Entrance hall has a punch of colour
A bargain-priced cabinet from HomeSense and an Ikea rug mimic the inspirational “reef” fabric

Beginning the Home Renovation with Interior Designer Valerie Edwards

To bring it up to the level of its vista, the condo needed a major overhaul.
 This is where Edwards rolled up her sleeves. She gutted and stripped the place of walls and a closet, added a couple load-bearing posts and beams, and combined the entryway, kitchen, dining and living rooms into one free-flowing space. No need to obstruct that view.

Now, upon entering the corner unit, you’re met with loads of light, walls of windows, and a jaw-dropping city- and seascape.

In the master bedroom, the reupholstered bed frame and Ikea drapery panels create the illusion of height

Next step: bring the ceiling down, rewire the electrical, add pot lights throughout, re-insulate, run a new gas line in (the homeowners wanted a gas fireplace), and bring in a new floor, kitchen and bathrooms.

Throughout all this Edwards met with her out-of-town client just twice. If you’re willing to defer to the expert, as Heather did, it makes for a smooth reno.

The shared vision – from fabric forward – also helped. “She hit the nail on the head,” says Heather. “There wasn’t much that she and I didn’t agree on.”

Edwards took care of all the details – she designed and sourced everything, worked with the structural engineer, served as the general contractor, coordinated the trades and work crew, dealt with the city, met with the building’s council and placated the strata.

“That’s what the client’s paying for,” says Edwards, “to not have the headache of dealing with this stuff.”

Details Critical to a Creative Home Renovation

Dining room with secondhand table for a rustic feelThe cost for such a top-to-bottom condo reno? “A pretty good rule of thumb,” says Edwards, ‘is that, without furnishing, you’re looking at $100 to $150 per square foot, depending on the level of finishing.” Adding high-end finishes and furniture into the mix brings the tally up. 

But, still, Edwards has a keen eye for sweet deals. Like a used dining table – with that rustic, beach-house feel – for half price. She’s eco-minded too: Edwards reuses lumber from framing, and says, “I’d rather pay a guy to pull nails out than pay for brand-new lumber.”

The swanky stools for the kitchen island are from the site of the former Olympic Village. The gleaming silver rock-cum-coffee table (made of lightweight fibreglass) is a sale find. And the all-white, high-gloss kitchen is Ikea…and looks anything but.

With the Great-Barrier-Reef fabric on the chairs providing the main burst of colour, Edwards kept everything else neutral. Additional pops of colour come from the view.

That monochrome Ikea kitchen – complete with slow-close doors, under-mount lighting and stainless-steel kick, all professionally installed like a top-end kitchen – serves as balance and backdrop, while still looking super sleek.

Of course, the budget-friendly cabinetry allows for a splurge like that green-and-phosphorescent granite countertop on the kitchen island. 

Kitchen with granite countertops

Edwards’ advice: Choose where and how to spend the big bucks. Knock down walls to showcase a juicy view. Make a statement with gorgeous granite that’s a piece of art. “There are pieces of slab that look like a Monet painting,” says Edwards. “It’s so fantastic what the earth gives us.” 

And throughout the condo, that sentiment is apparent. Nature provides the reno inspiration here, turning an outdated and forgettable condo into a reflection of the scenery and surf just outside. It’s the Great Barrier Reef – brought home to the West Coast.

Homeowner Heather Reflects on the Reef-inspired Reno

Why the renovation? We were looking for a place in Vancouver that was on one floor, spacious, open, and had a view.

Our realtor took us to a place that had been on the market a long time and needed lots of work. He told us to keep our minds open. We walked in and said, this is unbelievable – terribly ugly, but unbelievable. After talking with our realtor and designer Valerie Edwards, we put an offer in. 

Square footage? Didn’t change: 2,250 square 

Number of rooms before and after? Two fewer rooms after the reno. The kitchen, dining and living rooms are now one open space. 

IMAGE: The master bathroom, made bigger at the expense of a portion of the walk-in closet, now fits a freestanding tub.

Biggest challenge? Taking out the walls. This entailed having a structural engineer and dealing with the city and strata, but it was more of a challenge for our designer. Val did everything, took control, and didn’t worry us with anything. There wasn’t any grief! 

Must-have change? New bathrooms and kitchen. And the wood fireplace had to go. I wanted gas. That was another challenge. It was a lot of money to do that…but we’re really glad we did it.

Biggest bargain? Val got great deals on everything. We budgeted twice as much as she spent on furnishings.

Biggest splurge? The kitchen-island countertop. We felt it was necessary to have that “pow” because it’s one of the first things you see when you walk in. And it fits the theme with colours from the bottom of the ocean.

Best decision? Blowing out all the walls. And the wood floor…it reminds me of driftwood. I love it.

Worst decision? I don’t think there was one!

How long did the reno take?
 Three-and-a-half months.

Cost of the renovation?

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.