Falken Reynolds—a Vancouver design firm helmed by Kelly Reynolds and Chad Falkenberg—was hired to renovate this 3,300 square-foot 1960s split-level house. Perched across the street from the famed VanDusen Botanical Gardens, the designers set out to create a light-filled, warm, and peaceful home. The existing house was solid but had small rooms and hallways that begged to be opened up. To create a sense of loftiness, the living room ceiling was raised in steps to coordinate with the fireplace and to capture light and height from the attic above. It’s a welcoming home that gives a nod to the original 1960s architecture but elevates it to a cleaner, modern aesthetic. 

Over email, the designers told us about their clients, the design process, and everything in between. 

This home has a unique location. How did the neighborhood influence the design?

The house is across the street from the VanDusen Botanical Gardens in the Shaughnessy Neighbourhood in Vancouver, Canada. The neighbourhood was first developed in the 1960s and, unusual for Vancouver, is mostly flat. The lots are spacious and much of the architecture is low and horizontal, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie houses. We kept that feel on the inside, with larger horizontal expressions in the public spaces. 

Tell us about your clients. What was their dream for their new house?  

The clients are a couple in their 30s with a young son who was in a stroller when we first met them. She was born in Canada, though her mother is Chinese Malaysian and father is also part Chinese. He was born in Hong Kong and his family moved to Canada when he was young. They wanted a comfortable, practical home to raise their family. They were living in a small condo before moving into this house so really looked to us on how to use the extra square footage in a way that made sense for them now and as their family grew up.  

In a few words, how do you describe the style?

Fresh and effortless. The West Coast lifestyle is very casual and active so the house really needed to feel like it supports life both outside and in. Practical and function spaces were the key, and especially important in the Kitchen, where typical Canadians do a lot of informal entertaining – the extra-large island and sliding doors to the back garden make it easy to entertain and for guest to feel at ease. 

What were some of the key elements of the renovation?

The house is a 3,300 square foot 1960’s era split-level construction – where a two storey structure shifts in the centre create 4 “split-levels”. We renovated it to create semi-open plan that still had more distinctive areas than many contemporary houses. This is the client’s primary residence. We started working on the design when their son was still in a stroller and while they were living in a 800 square foot apartment in a more densely populated area of Vancouver so it was a very big shift for them to think about having quite a bit more space. 

The details really make the space. What can you tell us about some of your favorite elements?

In the smaller spaces the materials were more specific: Mutina’s Puzzle tile in the son’s bathroom add a graphic, playful punch, the powder room has a black granite vanity and painted wood walls to add richness and warmth, the master bathroom is a mix of white and light sand tile and millwork for a calm and soothing spa-like spaces. A steam shower in the master ensuite is like a hidden oasis. The skylight brightens the space during the day and cove lighting in the skylight well create a calming ambience in the evening.

What were the main challenges with this project?

The 4 split levels were each about 800 square feet, and the spaces on each level were divided up into small rooms. The house felt quite cramped, and we wanted to create much larger spaces for casual family living and entertaining. As we started working on the space planning, we found opportunities to use the split-levels to help connect the spaces. The kitchen and dining area are now visually connected to a playroom for the client’s son, but the play area is still contained so it doesn’t feel like it overflows into the kitchen. A few new structural beams allowed us to raise the ceiling in the living room four feet in one area giving the space a much loftier feel. And a large three-part sliding door opens the kitchen up to a large deck with a dining table and lounge area raised slightly above the spacious garden in the back of the house. 

How long did the project take, and what did the client say when they saw the finished space?

The client’s open-ended vision for the home made the reveal especially exciting. On one hand they had a clear understanding of how they wanted to use parts of the house, and on the other they looked to us to find a solution to both the space planning and how visual concept would come together. 

Design, acquiring building permits and construction took nearly two years. The clients were incredibly excited to have so much more space to live in, including his and hers home offices which came in very handy during the pandemic. 

Since Vancouver is in a temperate rainforest framing the lush green views has many similarities to both Malaysia and Hong Kong that they were happy with also.