Live/Work Oasis

East Vancouver Residence/Office, Vancouver, British Columbia
BattersbyHowat Inc.

Adishevelled street of chain link fencing and abandoned spray-painted buildings in East Vancouver is not the first place one would look for one of the city’s most innovative and alluring houses. But the low cost of land and the refreshingly positive vision that led designers David Battersby and Heather Howat to build their own office/residence will inspire others to think twice about the potential of the developing neighbourhood.

“The project allows a showcase for our values and the qualities of what we think are important in a house,” says Heather Howat. “It’s a place where we can try things out and talk to clients about architecture, view, plants and materials.”

With a growing list of prestigious west coast house designs, Battersby Howat hunkered down to create a contemporary glass, wood and grey stucco composition that comfortably fits mid-block in the rough and ready streetscape. “We’re interested in houses, but we’re not all about flash and money,” says David Battersby. “This is a chance for us to make a point that even if you’re not in a perfect neighbourhood with perfect cars and perfect yards, you can still create a space of value.”

Indeed, while the house was built for $180 per square foot, the open spaces, clean lines and modern architectural details lift the spirits, and the project exudes a sense of serenity and calm. The building and planning of the house reflects the unique history of the design team. The business partners who are also former married partners, decided to build a house with a separate unit for each of them as well as an office space that they could share to continue their architectural partnership. “It’s a great place to talk about architecture,” says Battersby. “We like to work together and we find it difficult to work alone. Some of the best ideas we have are when we’re working at night and the phone’s not ringing and we’re not stressed out and we can set our minds to design.”

The 400 square foot office space of computer screens, drawing tables and architectural models that is the beehive for Battersby and Howat’s designs is located at the front of the structure and overlooks the lush front garden. The direct connection of the office space to nature is strengthened by windows and tabletops that are designed at the same grade level as the 100-plus ornamental grasses and flowers in the garden.

The bamboos in the front yard lazily rise up to screen the upper level windows of Howat’s 850 square foot living space above the office. The loft-like design showcases the spaciousness of the living area filled with modern furniture, and features a razor-sharp steel stair that was laser-cut from a sheet of 3/8″ plate steel. The open sleeping area on the third level is filled with an abundance of south light and provides a relaxing escape for Howat and her cats.

A water garden of lilies, hostas and twirling scarlet carp is the backdrop for Battersby’s living area at the rear of the house. To blur the distinction between inside and outside, Battersby continued the living area concrete floor out to the patio and designed continuous windows across the width of the house at a low 6’3″ head height. The 1,050 square foot unit contains the living/dining/kitchen area and guest room on the ground level, and the sleeping area on the second level. The emphasis is on horizontal lines which frame the views out to the tranquil garden and gurgling fountain.

In a city that is experiencing the heartbreak of a deteriorating downtown with no obvious answers in sight, Battersby and Howat’s commitment to stay put in Vancouver’s east side is an architectural line in the sand. While many of the city’s best and brightest flee to the burbs, this new design firm is intent on challenging convention, maintaining its principles and delivering cutting-edge design.

“The most amazing thing about the house is its mundane context,” says Howat. “It shows that even in difficult surroundings you can create an oasis in the middle of the city. It’s an optimistic project and we have an optimistic attitude about the neighbourhood.”

Client: BattersbyHowat Inc.

Design team: David Battersby, Heather Howat

Structural: Eric Man of Bevan-Pritchard Man Associates Ltd.

Landscape: David Battersby & Bradley Thompson of Dig It Design and Installation

Contractor: Randy Lim of Revolution Homes

Area: 2,400 square feet

Budget: $380,000

Completion: October 2002

Photography: Heather Dubbeldam

John Ota is an architectural graduate of the University of British Columbia and is the Ontario Ministry of Culture Liaison to the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum. The Battersby Howat Residence/Office will appear in Living Spaces: 21 Contemporary Canadian Homes, an exhibition curated by John Ota, Christine Macy, Marco Polo and David Theodore at Cambridge Galleries, 1 North Square, Cambridge, Ontario from October 16 to November 21, 2004. For more information call (519) 621-0460.