Open House: A 1970s rancher becomes a light-filled modern classic

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The house had barely been touched since 1974, a time capsule with original avocado plumbing fixtures, a sunken living room, dark stone masonry, and shag carpet.

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Kirsten Rodenhizer A restrained palette of whites with washed white oak floors rounds off Dawson's extensive and colorful art collection. A restrained palette of whites with washed white oak floors rounds off Dawson’s extensive and colorful art collection. Photo by Brittney Kwasney – Bright photo /PNG

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Celia Dawson knew what kind of home she wanted. All she had to do was watch the market and wait.

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The Senior Vice President of Interior Design at Vancouver’s Polygon Homes had been renting in Kerrisdale for years. But she had a picture of her ideal home in mind: a U-shaped, one-story house with a pool in the back yard and space for her and her two 20-year-old daughters. And very close to her parents, 91 and 84 years old, on Vancouver’s West Side.

“I liked the feel of Mid-Century Modern, where it’s open at the front and back, with a total flow into the landscape in front of and behind the house,” she says. “I was just waiting for the house to show up.”

In 2018 she did: a 2,100-square-foot rancher on Musqueam Land, near UBC, eight doors down from her childhood home. Originally built and designed in 1974, the house had barely been touched since then, a time capsule with original avocado plumbing fixtures, a sunken living room, dark brickwork, and shag carpet.

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In the modern, minimalist white kitchen, a long window frames the view of the green instead of a backsplash. In the modern, minimalist white kitchen, a long window frames the view of the green instead of a backsplash. Photo by Brittney Kwasney – Bright photo /PNG

Working with Fiona Sinclair Design Studio and contractor John Meaney from MDM Solutions, Dawson set about modernizing the layout. They tore it back to the tunnel, leveled the floors, tore down the walls between the dining room and kitchen, and removed a sturdy stone fireplace that blocked the view of the garden.

With so much career design experience and knowledge, was Dawson overwhelmed by the sheer number of interior options? “It can be very difficult to focus on one idea for your home, but I kept an eye on the main focus, which is an all-white palette,” she says. “I wanted my art to be the color and the landscape to prevail.” Lines of sight would be wide open; The lighting is bright and seamlessly integrated.

Notable exceptions are antique chandeliers in the dining room and powder room that Dawson inherited from her parents. The fixtures “crumbled with age” and were missing crystals, but she was able to find a local antique dealer to restore them to their original sparkling glory.

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A glass wall gives your own shower an indoor-outdoor feeling.  When privacy is required, a remote control blackout screen is lowered from an outside soffit for privacy. A glass wall gives your own shower an indoor-outdoor feeling. When privacy is required, a remote control blackout screen is lowered from an outside soffit for privacy. Photo by Brittney Kwasney – Bright photo /PNG

Other antiques and vintage items – First Nation-made bentwood boxes in the bedroom, Chinese chests in the living room – also help balance the modern aesthetic. “I like to incorporate collected items, old and new,” says Dawson. Built-in bookshelves house curiosities and small artifacts that she has collected while traveling, as well as her favorite books on art and landscaping.

Elsewhere, the focus is on Dawson’s art collection, which contrasts with the restrained white palette. She started collecting at the beginning of her career, she says, when she decided to buy a work of art every year – later supervised in this passion by Polygon chairman and collector philanthropist Michael Audain. Today she owns works by BC artists Gordon Smith, Fred Herzog and Tom Burrows, among others.

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Walls without art are mostly glass. “Windows and lights were the most important aspects of my remodel,” says Dawson. Full-wall glazing and sliding doors open from every room in the house to the back and side courtyards. Instead of a kitchen rear wall, a long, horizontal window frames the view into the green. Even the main bathroom has a full glass wall. “I wanted to feel like I was taking a shower outside,” says Dawson. When guests are nearby, a remote control blackout screen is lowered from an outside soffit for privacy.

In the master bedroom, full-walled windows preserve the inside-outside flow of the house, while vintage First Nation bentwood boxes from the Douglas Reynolds Gallery serve as bedside tables. In the master bedroom, full-walled windows preserve the inside-outside flow of the house, while vintage First Nation bentwood boxes from the Douglas Reynolds Gallery serve as bedside tables. Photo by Brittney Kwasney – Bright photo /PNG For the living room, the owner Celia Dawson designed a 2.40 meter long, room-free fireplace that is set under a protruding wall.  Sliding glass doors and full-wall glazing maximize the light and garden views, while furniture from Vancouver's Once a Tree Furniture soften the minimally ornate space. For the living room, the owner Celia Dawson designed a 2.40 meter long, room-free fireplace that is set under a protruding wall. Sliding glass doors and full-wall glazing maximize the light and garden views, while furniture from Vancouver’s Once a Tree Furniture soften the minimally ornate space. Photo by Brittney Kwasney – Bright photo /PNG The rear of the home encloses a deck and outdoor entertainment area with a 6 x 6 foot pool hot tub from a repurposed shipping container. The rear of the home encloses a deck and outdoor entertainment area with a 6 x 6 foot pool hot tub from a repurposed shipping container. Photo by Brittney Kwasney – Bright photo /PNG

Outside, the house is surrounded by an inviting, concrete pavement terrace with a cozy outdoor living room and fire table. A pool and whirlpool combination, which was made from a converted shipping container, came onto the property by crane and was handled with paving stones as if built in. A two-storey hedge specially created for the house offers privacy to the neighboring properties.

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The renovation process went largely smoothly, Dawson says, after waiting about a year for Vancouver city approvals and drafts from the Musqueam Lands Governance Office. The project was around 90 percent complete at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak, she adds, allowing the team to finish without major disruptions. The project has won awards from the Georgie and Homebuilders Association of Vancouver for outstanding renovation work since 2021.

Before: The house has not been modernized since the 1970s. Before: The house has not been modernized since the 1970s. Photo delivered by /PNG

Once she moved in, Dawson’s daughters came to stay with her while they worked remotely at the height of the pandemic. “You could be in the kitchen, in the family room, in the dining room, in the bedrooms, on the back patio. All of these rooms became essentially usable office space, and the house was so soundproof that you couldn’t hear anything, ”she says.

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These days, Dawson’s house is an oasis of calm. “I love coming home and I hate going,” she says. “It’s just the feeling of relaxation when I’m at home, and the peace and quiet and beauty.” The space was also used well to entertain family and friends. “I think it’s great that people come by and even drop by unannounced.” And live near her parents, whom she now sees every day? “It was a blessing,” she says.

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