Weekend at Bernie’s

PROJECT Flaman Residence, Regina, Saskatchewan
ARCHITECT Bernard Flaman
TEXT Leslie Jen

Lifestyle magazines bombard readers monthly with countless examples of living stylishly in small spaces. Starkly modern gallery-like apartments with carefully edited objets are the de rigueur norm. In contrast to these dwellings, architect and heritage consultant Bernard Flaman has chosen to painstakingly restore–as much as reasonably possible–his tiny 450-square-foot pied–terre in Regina to its original 1914 condition. A regional correspondent for Canadian Architect, Flaman moved to the city in 2003, taking a job as Heritage Architect with the Government of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Recreation, after 15 years spent practicing architecture in Germany, Vancouver and Saskatoon. As of last year, he is working for the federal government as the Conservation Architect with Public Works and Government Services.

Called The Bartleman, the heritage-designated three-storey brick building was designed by Regina firm Storey and Van Egmond, and is located in the city’s downtown core, close enough to Flaman’s office such that he can walk to work. The corner apartment on the top floor enjoys prime southeast orientation with a good amount of natural daylight. One would expect most architects to update the space through a grand, modernizing clean sweep, eradicating interior walls and opening up the plan to increase light and flow–which is exactly what Flaman initially intended to do. Instead, strongly influenced by his work in heritage conservation, he challenged himself to adhere to the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. A rigorous and meticulous process ensued, one which richly illustrates the link between heritage conservation and sustainable design. In Flaman’s heroic efforts to return the apartment to its former modest glory, his reuse of as much original and salvaged material not only restores and embodies the original intended character of the suite, but dramatically reduces the amount of new material consumed.

Ceilings are reclaimed tongue-and-groove Douglas Fir salvaged from the cottages at Fort San in the Qu’Appelle Valley. The wood has been stained a reddish hue, offering a cozy and characterful warmth to the apartment. The original double-hung windows were repaired and stripped, their function having been compromised over decades from the cumulative effect of numerous sloppy paint jobs. Any doors that were salvageable were repaired and restored; those that were not were replaced with brand new wood-and-glass doors, which provide the added benefit of allowing more light to penetrate throughout the rooms of the apartment. Original hardwood floors and plaster walls were also restored, and layers of old paint were laboriously scraped away from wood mouldings. The intention was to take them back to a clear finish to let the beauty of the natural wood shine through, but previous damage meant that a new, fresh paint job was the only viable option in the end.

Interestingly, the apartment was originally designed without a kitchen; 95 years ago, bachelors were not expected to cook for themselves. The new kitchen is aligned entirely along one wall, which frees up the remainder of the room to accommodate a dining table and even a small desk in the corner. Despite the extreme space constraints of the kitchen, it is immaculately fitted with top-of-the line stainless steel appliances, in typical European fashion. A small Sub-Zero refrigerator is tucked below a Miele wall oven, while a gleaming dishwasher and two-burner cooktop round out the appliance suite. These elements, coupled with Italian cabinet hardware and the white Carrera marble backsplash, form a refined counterpoint to the rustic qualities of the cabinets. In the interest of sustainability, Flaman was able to incorporate reclaimed solid Douglas Fir into some of the kitchen cabinetry. This wood has special significance, as it formed part of the 2004 exhibition that Flaman curated, entitled Character and Controversy: The Mendel Art Gallery and Modernist Architecture. Elsewhere, Baltic birch plywood is used, to which bright blue laminate is applied. The marble backsplash is pulled eight inches away from the wall to allow for plumbing and electrical conduits; cleverly, the top of this gap is covered with frosted glass and illuminated from below, offering the double functionality of a much-needed source of ambient lighting as well as a horizontal surface on which to place random objects.

The same level of detail and thoughtfulness has been employed in the bathroom, where textural and period contrasts are apparent. A restored clawfoot tub rests on wooden supports, conveying traditional heritage character, but resolutely modern elements are utilized everywhere else. A sleek and glossy white cast-iron sink picks up on the shiny white subway tiles running halfway up the wall, all of which form a pleasing contrast against the polished black granite slab panel behind the sink that conceals the relocated plumbing. Additionally, new honed black granite sheathes the floor, despite Flaman’s attempts to retain the original maple hardwood that lay beneath the stratified layers of linoleum and vinyl. Sadly, a good portion of the wood was too badly rotted to be kept. In exercising his mantra of reuse and recycle, Flaman salvaged what boards he could, replaned them and used them as flooring in the closet. One serendipitous aspect of the bathroom is the scratch coat which Flaman chose to leave exposed after removing the old tiles surrounding the tub; the texture resembles concrete, giving the bathroom a touch of industrial loft-like ambiance. Even the most mundane aspects are addressed: Flaman avoided the standard-issue toilet paper roll holder by ingeniously recessing three stainless steel kitchen canisters into the drywall to discreetly contain the fluffy white rolls.

What is most notable about Flaman’s home when one visits is the whimsical display of mid-century modern chairs. Considerable space constraints mean that there is little room for his carefully curated furniture collection. So chairs become sculptural objects of display: a tomato-red fibreglass Eames shell chair is hung from the ceiling in the bedroom, while a charcoal upholstered Jan Kuypers chair hovers above the mantel of the living-room fireplace. There is even an Eames-designed walnut plywood lounge chair cleverly displayed in a cubbyhole above the kitchen cabinetry.

It is commendable that this architect has not approached this project with conventional ideas about renovation. Instead, considerable effort has been made and energy expended in allowing just a small bit of historic architecture to live on, true to itself. Never content to sit still, Flaman is now undertaking a substantial renovation of his second residence, the family farm in nearby Southey. As one would expect, he is tackling the project with conservation in mind, restoring the 1,100-square-foot home’s original ground-floor layout while slightly reconfiguring the second storey. While it will be an entirely sympathetic renovation in accordance with the Standards and Guidelines, the farmhouse will be brought up to modern living standards that reflect Flaman’s current needs and lifestyle. CA

Client Bernard Flaman
Architect Team Bernard Flaman
Contractor St. Amand Studio
Area 450 ft2
Budget $40,000
Completion November 2008