Homes Photo Credit: Photos by Janis Nicolay

Simple Touches Bring Holiday Spirit to a Modern Home

Sweet and simple holiday decor is the perfect fit for a modern renovation in Vancouver.

Everyone says they’re determined to have a no-fuss holiday (this year, at last) but most of us, by mid-December, find our homes choked with tinsel and our minds just as overwhelmed. But designers Chad Falkenberg and Kelly Reynolds spotted a chance to break that cycle when they were invited to decorate this mid-century Craftsman-style home in Vancouver’s South Cambie neighbourhood.

The duo had recently renovated the main floor of this home, delivering a sweep of clean, modern spaces for the young professional couple who lives here. While the homeowners wanted those Craftsman bones to speak for themselves, they were ready to simplify. The results made for the perfect backdrop to this clean and contemporary holiday decor scheme.

In the living room, for example, a monolithic grey stone fireplace (a remainder from the mid-’90s) had overtaken the room. “Really oppressive,” says Falkenberg. “You’d be afraid the thing was going to crush you.” It was swiftly dismantled. Instead, the original chair rail, which circles all the rooms, was extended around new millwork, creating the impression that the gas fireplace had always lived there. (As a bonus, the television mounted above is now a touch recessed, which keeps it from becoming a focal point.)

Marble surrounds the fireplace, tying this light living room to the nearby kitchen, where a slab of honed Bianco Carrara marble was installed so the couple would have a pastry chef’s island—a cool slab of material perfect for rolling out pie crusts.

The kitchen features a pastry chef island: a cool slab of marble that's perfect for rolling out pie crusts and cookies.
The kitchen features a pastry chef island: a cool slab of marble that’s perfect for rolling out pie crusts and cookies.

The milky whites and feather greys found in Carrara marble then determined the palette for the entire floor. “They both have super-demanding jobs,” explains Falkenberg. “A neutral palette that would help them decompress was key.” Darker-stained maple floors are offset by crisp white U Turn chairs (from Bensen) and a soft silver sofa—custom-made by Holly Hunt—in the living room. A spectacular Big Bang pendant dangles its panels of white methacrylate over the dining table and, at the kitchen’s counter, a trio of white Bertoia stools sits beneath a trio of gorgeous white glass pendants by Foscarini (which look like paper lanterns from across the room). The walls complete the effect: they’re painted an airy grey above the chair rail, bone white beneath.

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So much white becomes livable only, of course, when a few touches of real warmth provide some contrast. A console, custom-built by Jeff Martin (named One to Watch in the 2014 Western Living Designers of the Year awards), does the trick: bridging the living and dining spaces, Martin’s piece also links the older Craftsman feel with the interior’s modern aesthetic; it’s fronted with warm pieces of walnut that were air-dried (rather than kiln-dried) to bring out a richer texture.

But the real challenge, of course, was how to bring the holidays in without crushing the careful modernist scene. For starters, Falkenberg and Reynolds placed the Christmas tree (a Cryptomeria, or Japanese cedar, strung with white lights) outside the front door. “I grew up on a farm,” notes Falkenberg, “and we always had a tree outside with lights—it’s a welcoming thing for your guests.” Inside, the greenery is particular: variegated boughs of cedar, pine and fir deck the mantel and banister. “By creating boughs with multiple species,” explains Falkenberg, “you get a fuller, more interesting effect.”

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"I grew up on a farm," notes Falkenberg, "and we always had a tree outside with lights--it's  a welcoming thing for your guests." The Japanese cedar outside the door was sourced from Ryan Levy at Object Outdoors and Erica Enterprises.
“I grew up on a farm,” notes Falkenberg, “and we always had a tree outside with lights–it’s a welcoming thing for your guests.” The Japanese cedar outside the door was sourced from Ryan Levy at Object Outdoors and Erica Enterprises.

Simple strips of birch bark—malleable once wetted—were strung along a copper hoop to create a singular wreath for the front door. And, inside, more birch bark was crafted into a set of wall-mounted envelopes—a charming Advent calendar, with numbers (in Neutra typeface, no less) carved from the bark itself, and chocolate bars and other treats stuffed inside. (This Martha Stewart-worthy invention springs from the Decorate Gastown work the designers do each year—they marshal a team of 40 volunteers to bring inventive holiday trimmings to local shops.)

The design team marshal a 40-person volunteer crew for "Decorate Gastown" every year, trimming local shops for the holidays. The birch wreath on the front door is a modified version of a larger model they created for one Vancouver shop last year.
The design team marshal a 40-person volunteer crew for “Decorate Gastown” every year, trimming local shops for the holidays. The birch wreath on the front door is a modified version of a larger model they created for one Vancouver shop last year.
Designer Chad Falkenberg fills a handmade Advent calendar with treats.
Designer Chad Falkenberg fills a handmade Advent calendar with treats.
The designers included personal touches in the holiday decor, including the rustic nativity scene, hand-carved by Falkenberg's grandfather 30 years ago.
The designers included personal touches in the holiday decor, including the rustic nativity scene, hand-carved by Falkenberg’s grandfather 30 years ago.

Several sweet touches ensure this space emits a holiday warmth. The hand-carved nativity scene on the mantel was made by Falkenberg’s grandfather 30 years ago. Branches of Red Sentinel crabapples strike a wintry pose by the window. And a set of glittering Tom Dixon tea light holders is just one of several gold and copper vignettes placed throughout.

Once the holidays are over, the potted tree can find a permanent backyard home, and the space can easily revert to its un-garnished modernity. But these decorations are so carefully chosen, so sweet and unobtrusive, that there’s really no rush.

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