Homes Photo Credit: Martin Tessler

Stunning Renovation of a 1930s Home

Once dark and cavernous, a West Vancouver home gets a light-filled renovation.

This is ridiculous, they told each other. Cedric Burgers, an architect, and his wife, Mary Burgers, an interior designer, were sick of the car-clogged commute from Vancouver’s east side to their offices in West Vancouver. To boot: Mary was nine months pregnant and “in serious nesting mode.”

They wanted a home closer to work, but also something with a proper yard. “Something,” says Mary, “where I could look out and see my kids playing.” When they stumbled on this 1930s home—a kind of orchard house, complete with gabled roof and clean strips of cedar shiplap down the side—their interest was piqued. A massive backyard, surrounded by laurel bushes for privacy, seemed promising. But there was zero access to the lawn from the house itself: no back door, no stairs. “This house,” says Cedric, “is a reflection of a different time, when you simply wouldn’t want to invite nature into the home.” The main floor of the house even floated a good eight feet above ground level. This, too, was ridiculous. But it was a ridiculous they could work with.

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“Our original reaction,” says Cedric, “was one of shock and delight, because in this relatively dense neighbourhood there was this glorious amount of overgrown land around the house.” Now they just had to figure out how to access it. Roughly 100 dump-truck loads of sand and rock were required to make the backyard flush with the main living space of the house.

In order to gain some elbow room (you could barely fit a table in the dining area before), the Burgers extended the house’s linear shape by 20 feet, replacing ceiling shingles with long panels of galvanized steel and chopping off all overhangs to produce an unorthodox but pure form.

The house faces north, so light is at a premium. “We kept thinking about how we were going to bring in as much light as possible,” says Mary. “Every material had to help us light it up from the inside.” The first step was the floor: eight-inch planks of white oak set the tone. Mary added a bit of whitewash to the stain to maintain the wood’s bleached quality, and the 16-foot kitchen island was topped with invincible, glacier-white Corian. “I didn’t want any marble or patterns that might detract from those beautiful floors,” says Mary. Cabinets, in turn, have been given a pearl finish, to bounce light around the room.

Walls, too, have mostly been left white and bare. “This is how you make a home feel bright in the midst of dreary Vancouver winters,” notes Cedric. Of course, a couple of colourful paintings by Cedric’s sister, the acclaimed painter Bobbie Burgers, were inevitable.

A floating staircase of salvaged pine-beetle wood leads to the home’s most innovative spaces. Since the house features a gabled roof, the hips of the upstairs might have been written off or walled over. But Cedric and Mary found they could move non-essential functions to the sidelines; closet space, a counter for laundry, and the bathtub don’t require full ceiling heights. This new arrangement allowed the Burgers to bring the bedroom and master bath into the core.

As for that glorious backyard: Eva, their daughter, is now three years old and can toddle among the rhododendrons. Cedric and Mary, who ride their bikes to work now that they’re so close, are thinking about reuniting their house with its orchard roots: “We’d like to put in some apple trees,” says Mary. WL

Cedric Burgers

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