Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Martin Tessler

Architecture/Interior Designers of the Year 2011: Battersby Howat

Architecture and interior design become one in the work of twin category winners David Battersby and Heather Howat.

While it’s a fantastic achievement for the Vancouver firm Battersby Howat to win both the Interiors and Architecture categories of this year’s Designers of the Year Awards, we can’t say it’s entirely surprising. Principals David Battersby and Heather Howat’s formidable firm has a truly holistic approach to design—meaning they don’t just deliver an impressive shell, like many architects, and they certainly don’t just fiddle with furniture, either. Rather, they design the architecture, the interiors and, indeed, the landscape simultaneously, to deliver a cohesive and total environment for clients. A philosophy of living.

DINING ROOM: The room features a warm embrace of white oak floors and millwork. Light from an upper floor courtyard spills in thanks to a wall of translucent resin panels.
DINING ROOM: The room features a warm embrace of white oak floors and millwork. Light from an upper floor courtyard spills in thanks to a wall of translucent resin panels.

Since the first Battersby Howat project was built, in 1996 (their work ended up on the cover of this magazine soon after), the firm has grown more in reputation than in size—they actively work on only a few houses at a time. Of their 10-person open studio, Battersby says, “We don’t want to be much larger than this. Yes, we’d like to do some institutional buildings in the future, but we believe in an integrated, intimate approach to design, and that means we have to all be connected.

LIVING ROOM: A consistent use of white core laminate millwork and basalt tile flooring keeps things clean. In a social zone, warmer touches include a custom sofa with white oak backing—which doubles as a partition—and fabric by Paul Smith. The custom ottoman is also by Battersby Howat.
LIVING ROOM: A consistent use of white core laminate millwork and basalt tile flooring keeps things clean. In a social zone, warmer touches include a custom sofa with white oak backing—which doubles as a partition—and fabric by Paul Smith. The custom ottoman is also by Battersby Howat.

Battersby and Howat have captured the esteem (and sometimes the envy) of their peers. Judge Marc Boutin says they represent “a refinement of the Vancouver tradition” and sees their work as the next step in a path that includes Arthur Erickson and the Patkaus. Judge James Cheng adds, “This pair has built a consistently very high-quality body of work that exemplifies West Coast architecture in the most modern light.” We’re particularly fond of their recently completed Cypress Residence, shown here. The space is disciplined and functional yet surprisingly warm—decked in basalt tiles and ribbons of white oak.

STAIRCASE: Floating white oak risers make up the central staircase, which is supported by a white powder-coated steel frame.
STAIRCASE: Floating white oak risers make up the central staircase, which is supported by a white powder-coated steel frame.

The clients are a young couple with two kids, so, Howat notes, “The design became more informal, more playful.” Modernist restraint gives way to hits of bright green in the kitchen’s backsplash, a vibrant Paul Smith fabric in the family room and a custom carpet tile pattern in the playroom. The Cypress Residence is as much an expression of a particular client and site as it is an extension of Battersby Howat’s now iconic style. “A house,” says Battersby, “is the most substantial mark most individuals make in the world and it has great cultural meaning.” Separate wings allow flow between family lifestyle and corporate entertaining. Wood-veneered walls slide here and there to transform rooms. A modest two-level street facade, suited to its established Shaughnessy neighbourhood, gives way to a highly articulated, three-level design at its back.

KITCHEN: A generous expanse of quartz countertop anchors a room that’s enlivened by bold ribbons of back-painted glass, a slick Meta.02 faucet by Dornbracht and a custom metal hood.
KITCHEN: A generous expanse of quartz countertop anchors a room that’s enlivened by bold ribbons of back-painted glass, a slick Meta.02 faucet by Dornbracht and a custom metal hood.

But the true skill here may be the way this firm so consistently keeps clients happy while producing a singular vision, a powerful aesthetic brand. Judge Juli Hodgson says it best: “Theirs has become the quintessential West Coast modern house of the millennium. Every year for Battersby Howat is a breakthrough year.”

KITCHEN: A Dandelion Light by Moooi is suspended above an intimate breakfast table, custom-designed by Battersby Howat, and lime coloured Catifa chairs by Arper.
KITCHEN: A Dandelion Light by Moooi is suspended above an intimate breakfast table, custom-designed by Battersby Howat, and lime coloured Catifa chairs by Arper.
BATH AND BEDROOM: Lava-coloured backsplash tiles meet a countertop of engineered stone by Okite. In the distance, a custom dresser of stained white oak and an upholstered onto bed by Bensen.
BATH AND BEDROOM: Lava-coloured backsplash tiles meet a countertop of engineered stone by Okite. In the distance, a custom dresser of stained white oak and an upholstered onto bed by Bensen.
ENTRANCE: A solid front door of white oak visually connects with a custom closet and a low bridge of shelving.
ENTRANCE: A solid front door of white oak visually connects with a custom closet and a low bridge of shelving.
PLAYHOUSE: Two lucky childen keep house in this Battersby Howat-designed play space on stilts.
PLAYHOUSE: Two lucky childen keep house in this Battersby Howat-designed play space on stilts.

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EXTERIOR: Polished concrete block is juxtaposed by broad stretches of red cedar on the home’s modest streetside facade. The surrounding landscape leavens the building’s rigidity while providing specialized views.

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