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Whistler getaway home is built with family in mind





Wood and stone are major elements of the Coast Range, and thus fitting materials for this all-season vacation home in Whistler.

The homeowners had asked interior designer Jennifer Heffel, owner and founder of HB Design in Vancouver, for something that would make them feel that they were in the mountains, but “they weren’t into that clichéd ski-resort stuff,” Heffel says. “They liked alpine contemporary, and the general BC West Coast style that incorporates wood, glass, and open spaces. They wanted clean lines, an uncluttered look, and a bright and airy feeling.”

Accordingly, stone and concrete elements are mostly light coloured, and wood is pale. The most prominent examples of this are the regularly spaced oak slats used in several places as vertical accents. Around the stairway, they rise from the ground floor and up through the stairwell and then continue across the ceiling of the second-storey hallway.

This effect is echoed at one side of the great room fireplace, where the slats rise from the extended hearth and then angle for a short distance along the ceiling, running along the same axis as the stairway slats. Tongue-and-groove wood is also used on the ceiling of the entry foyer to delineate the space from the great room but maintain a connection with the exterior entry ceiling.

“The wood-slat wall was a bit challenging for our contractor, Dave Johnston at Blue Ice Construction,” says Heffel. “We had envisioned tall beautiful oak detailing literally spanning two floors. We didn’t want to see any join lines or wobbles. Dave did some creative wood sourcing and found beautiful long lengths of oak. He was able to fabricate our vision quite successfully.”

Stone is most prominent in the fireplace at one end of the great room. The bulk of it is pale grey and rough-hewn in contrast to the smooth wood slats. Darker-coloured basalt forms the hearth and firebox surround.

There are other hard-surfaced elements in the home, such as the great room’s wooden hemispherical coffee table. Aesthetic echoes of the mountains, yes – but also eminently practical. The owners asked for a home that would be low maintenance and durable, as they have two very active young children, and many young relatives also visit. Heffel and project designer Nicole Markota responded with some materials that Heffel characterizes tongue-in-cheek as “slightly indestructible.” For example, she says, “We picked a hardwood floor with a hand-hewn roughened texture that wouldn’t show marks and dings.”

The home’s solid practicality is tempered with soft furnishings, rugs, and upholstered furniture, chosen by Markota in mostly muted tones that fit well into the light and airy decor. Texture in the form of nubbly rugs, woven cushions, chunky knitted throws, and furry bedspreads adds to the sophisticated yet homey ambience.

The owners’ main reason for building was to be able to retreat from their principal home in Los Angeles to a BC scene that they know and love, and they wanted to share it with their extended family. Heffel, Markota, and Whistler-based architect Brent Murdoch responded with a home that’s 3,488 square feet and incorporates plenty of details to suit family gatherings.

On the main floor, a great room incorporating living, dining, and kitchen areas facilitates flow and provides unobstructed sightlines. A breakfast nook tucked into a corner of the kitchen makes for a cozy rendezvous and is conveniently located next to the family room with its sliding door that can be closed if the children get boisterous. Visitors are accommodated in the guest bedroom, which has an ensuite bathroom. A mud/ski room, small office, and powder room round out the main-floor features.

Upstairs are a lounge, a laundry room, and three bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. Rooms are smallish (who needs a big bedroom when you’re going to spend much of your time outdoors or hanging out with family by the fireplace?) but cleverly furnished to prevent a cluttered feeling. The children’s rooms have bunk beds designed by Heffel and team to provide plenty of built-in storage.

All of this was discussed, designed, furnished, and finished on a very considered budget with clients at a remove – on another continent, in fact. Thanks to the Internet, the process went fairly smoothly.

“There was a bit of back-and-forth at the beginning in terms of keeping the job within the initial budget,” Heffel says. “We had Facetime and Skype meetings where we’d hold up samples, show drawings and 3D designs. We only met with the clients one time face to face; then it was all handled over the Internet.”

It was a high-tech process doing what high tech is supposed to do: make life easier. The result is a contemporary and cozy home that allows its owners and their family and friends to leave high tech behind and revel in the great outdoors.