Condos Photo Credit: Tracey Ayton

Inside a Fashion Designer’s Eclectic Work-Live Space

Award-winning fashion designer Lorraine Kitsos and her family turned a modern townhouse into a celebration of both work and play.

It’s become a rite of passage for homebuyers in Vancouver: that endless search for the right space, finally discovering said perfect place, submitting an offer—only to lose out along with multiple other unsuccessful, crestfallen bidders. And so another dispiriting round begins.

Rob and Lorraine Kitsos were no strangers to this despair. Along with their two young children, they were living in a basement suite in Kitsilano and “kept looking at houses, inevitably falling in love with places but losing everything we bid on,” says Lorraine. Just when she and Rob had all but given up on finding their dream home, they received a call from their realtor, who told them they needed to get to Fairview post-haste for a new listing—they’d hit the jackpot.

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The catch: it was a townhouse, not a house—but it was the gorgeous Choklit building by Arthur Erickson. (They had long admired the style of Erickson’s nearby Waterfall building, but not its smaller condo square footage.) The townhouse was large, airy and contemporary—“a very New York feel,” says Lorraine of its soaring ceilings and industrial live/work vibe. They had felt so claustrophobic in their temporary Kits home that the new space’s 2,800 square feet felt large enough for everyone to carve out their own corner to create “a strong sense of place,” but not so big that it interfered with their busy lifestyle.

Serendipity was at play when they discovered the building was commercially zoned. Their ground-level room now serves as a design studio as well as the family HQ.

“We don’t need 4,500 square feet, because we couldn’t maintain that with our focus on so many other crazy things,” adds Lorraine. It was the perfect fit for the family of four.

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It also happened to be the perfect space for a couple that works from home. Rob, a professor at Simon Fraser University in the contemporary arts department, is also “a painter, the family cook and a dancer who also plays in a band and is writing a book,” laughs Lorraine—though she has a busy schedule of her own, as the creator and designer (named Western Living’s 2014 Fashion Designer of the Year) behind children’s fashion label Redfish Kids. “When you’re a creative person, you tend to work all the time. You never stop,” she explains, so serendipity was at play when they discovered the building was commercially zoned. Their ground-level room could now serve triple duty as a retail space and design studio as well as the family HQ.

The townhouse’s white walls and concrete floors offer the perfect gallery-like blank slate for work to dovetail with their personal lives. “I’m always affected by the beauty in all things—right down to the condiment containers and shampoo bottles,” says Lorraine. Dress patterns dangle from an antique Indian door picked up from a flea market in Seattle. Bolts of vibrant Redfish fabrics line the walls, awash in a riot of colour that electrifies an otherwise serene space. Mood boards serve to spark imagination; photos and memorabilia are constant reminders of the family that lives here. “There are little bits of us everywhere.”

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Elsewhere in the three-bedroom home, the personal and the public, the modern and the historic intersect. An ornate chandelier hangs over the spare living room, while a punch of red comes from an antique chest purchased when the couple lived in Hong Kong. Navy blue velvet chairs from The Cross mingle effortlessly with a Persian rug picked up at an estate sale, all set against the backdrop of modern architecture: a tidy wall of books, floating stairs and lofty ceilings.

While most of the artwork throughout the home is Rob’s, the children’s works also hang alongside. No heirloom or creative output is too precious to mix with splatter paint or crayons—or toys on the ground. “The kids feel free in all the spaces,” says Lorraine. “And it works for everyone because the basic lines are so clean. It doesn’t bother me that there’s a skateboard or a basketball on the floor, or, worse, right next to something precious of mine.”

That relaxed, anything-goes approach works well when you have a dog, two kids and two busy professionals whose day jobs require artistic flow. “I do have friends who worry and fret about scratches and dents,” laughs Lorraine. “But I see the therapy that will inevitably come down the road from all that stress. In here, it’s the creative unleashed!”

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The high-modern kitchen cabinets - made by Snaidero in Italy - look right at home with a distressed wooden table from an antique store in Seattle, flea-market cushions and dining chairs from one of Rob Kitsos's SFU performance collaborations.
The high-modern kitchen cabinets – made by Snaidero in Italy – look right at home with a distressed wooden table from an antique store in Seattle, flea-market cushions and dining chairs from one of Rob Kitsos’s SFU performance collaborations.
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Oversized windows and strategically placed skylights (above) fill the space with ample sunshine even on the dreariest Vancouver afternoon. A floating staircase (below) allows light to filter through the space unobstructed.

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Treasures from the family's world travels have even made their way into the bathroom; vintage lanterns sit atop a curved and shimmering tiled wall.
Treasures from the family’s world travels have even made their way into the bathroom; vintage lanterns sit atop a curved and shimmering tiled wall.
The concrete floors and white walls of this Arthur Erickson designed townhouse provide a gallery-like setting just right for showcasing the work of the artists who live here. A wire, strung down the front hall, provides a space to hang fresh masterpieces.
The concrete floors and white walls of this Arthur Erickson designed townhouse provide a gallery-like setting just right for showcasing the work of the artists who live here. A wire, strung down the front hall, provides a space to hang fresh masterpieces.

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Lorraine and Rob fell in love at first sight with their contemporary townhouse, despite the fact that it had only had one bedroom for both their son and daughter. Their solution: split the large room in half to create mirror opposites that are perfect for the kids.
Lorraine and Rob fell in love at first sight with their contemporary townhouse, despite the fact that it had only had one bedroom for both their son and daughter. Their solution: split the large room in half to create mirror opposites that are perfect for the kids.

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