Loft Living: Redrawing a Crosstown Condo

A Vancouver graphic designer outfits his condo with an emphasis on the architectural angles of mid-century-modern furniture

Credit: Marcos Armstrong

Graphic designer David Wylie mixes modern furniture with his Vancouver condo’s warehouse roots

David Wylie finds beauty and utility in loft living at the confluence of Gastown, Downtown, Chinatown and Yaletown

Vancouver condo owner and graphic designer David Wylie gazes out the set of restored sash windows in his loft and sees beauty and utility in the urban landscape before him.
 No, the scene that’s the object of his focus isn’t a coveted panoramic view of the sea or mountains, but rather a concrete parking garage located in Crosstown, the neighbourhood at the confluence of Gastown, Chinatown, Downtown and Yaletown.

“Looking out the window with the green lights and parkade, it reminds me of a Jeff Wall photo,” says Wylie, in reference to the Vancouver-born artist and photographer known for his gritty, postmodern, cinematic work. “It is what it is; I could be looking into someone’s window. Most buildings downtown don’t have views of the ocean and mountains. If you live downtown, you accept that you have an urban environment.”

Wylie, dressed in black, with a shock of grey hair and eyes framed in black-rimmed glasses, applies this same pared-back palette and understated design sensibility to the interior of his two-storey loft located in the Bowman Block, a converted early-20th-century warehouse developed by the Salient Group.

His home is immaculate, colour has been kept at a minimum, and the emphasis is placed on the functionality and architectural angles of mid-century-modern furniture.

Vestiges of a Warehouse Past

“David’s design has a graphic sensibility,” says Bowman Block interior designer Alda Pereira. “You see the contrast between black and white. All of his things are selected carefully.”

Indeed, Wylie’s choices don’t detract from the restored building’s “bones” and Pereira’s multifunctional design. Starting with the shell of the new space, Pereira maximized storage in the linear kitchen by installing 36-inch-deep lower cabinets instead of standard 24-inch cabinets. The extra foot of space allowed the builder to place a ledge above the counter.

“We had flexibility when it came to width, not length, so we played with volume,” Pereira says.

Vestiges of the loft’s warehouse past are evident throughout the space. The structural columns remain, the original brick was sandblasted, and the fir floors were restored.

Miniature windows cut out of the drywall at the base and top of the stairs are among the details that bring the space into the 21st century. The cut-outs function as modern shadow boxes, providing light and added architectural detail.

On the upper floor, the windows are covered in translucent glass; they mirror the tonal grey mosaic tiles used in both the upstairs and downstairs bathrooms. Hits of mossy green, seen in items such as the bedding and a bath mat, add warmth without disrupting the neutral tones through the loft.

Mixing it Up

While Wylie’s calming colour scheme and design approach remains consistent throughout the 1,217-foot space, when it comes to furniture, he can’t resist changing his mind. He has three storage units chock full of settees, coffee tables and even a Le Corbusier chaise lounge. Throughout the year, he rotates pieces in and out of the loft depending on his mood.

To provide variety within the space, Wylie mixes original pieces, such as an Eames rocker and Saarinen tulip dining table, with knock-offs such as a pair of Florence Knoll settees.

“I look at the quality of the knock-off and decide if I can justify the expense for an original,” says Wylie. “With a habit like mine, you can’t buy original all the time. There is too much good furniture in this world to live with one thing.”

Over the years Wylie has lived in the loft, he has changed his living room three times, beginning with a Bombast flannel grey sectional paired with a custom walnut-and-glass coffee table. He then sold the sectional and brought in a pair of white leather couches and a Nelson platform bench. Today, there is a variegated grey fabric sofa and a stainless steel bench.

A Photographer’s Light

The main living space featuring soaring 17-foot ceilings is further punctuated by a show-stopping lamp, first designed by Mariano Fortuny in 1907. The fabric-shaded lamp, with a steel tripod as its base, envelopes the room in a warm glow that emanates from its 500-watt bulb. It also serves as functional sculpture, not to mention a topic of conversation.

“It speaks to me emotionally,” says Wylie. “It elevates lighting and is a great conversation piece. Everyone thinks it is a photographer’s light.”

With the strains of a Sydney, Australia, jazz radio station audible in the background, Wylie pauses in front of a photograph by Vancouver photographer Jessica Bushey. It’s a documentary-style image of the construction of the Pivotal building, a modern Vancouver landmark. The photograph features an abandoned dolly with a white sweater draped over one edge amid a concrete room strewn with sawdust and pieces of four-by-fours.

At first glance the image appears nondescript, but it commands a second and third glance.

Says Wylie: “I am drawn to the immediacy of photography. Many of my friends are photographers. I love the quietness of this photo. I wonder what is the story?”

Sliding Doors

Shortly after moving into the loft, Wylie installed a sliding aluminum-framed, translucent glass partition to create a guest bedroom on the main floor and better define the loft’s open plan.

“If a room is in an interior space and there isn’t a wall and it isn’t really a bedroom, the sliding-glass partition is an alternative to the traditional screen room partitions or dividers,” says Wylie. 

The aluminum-framed doors come in a variety of widths and heights. Glass, metal or wood can be placed within the frame. If glass is used, a piece of coloured vinyl sandwiched between two thin layers of laminated glass can increase the transparency.

“It is a well-engineered, quite simple system, unlike pocket doors that sometimes stick,” says Pereira. “You can maximize light and easily open up and close off a space.”

Get the Look: Get Wylie’s Sleek Loft Look with these Three Elements 

1. Iconic Appeal 

Invest in pieces that stand the test of time, like this Fortuny lamp by Palucco, now available in a range of fabrics and finishes. From $5,442, LightForm.

2. Double-duty Decor 

Wylie is drawn to mid-century furniture for its clean lines and mass-produced appeal, but also its functionality. The 18-inch-high Herman Miller Portfolio Cognita storage bench in the loft’s entryway ticks all the boxes. It’s made of lacquered MDF, fabric and walnut veneer and features a hidden filing cabinet and extra storage space. 
$1,059, Gabriel Ross

3. Cool Colours

Wrap the walls with neutral tones that contrast and complement. Benjamin Moore Gray Horse (2140-50), Ebony King (2132-20) and Oxford White (CC-30) are top choices. $44/gallon, Benjamin Moore.

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.