History and Views in a Gastown Penthouse

There are few cooler neighbourhoods in Canada — indeed, in all of North America — than Gastown, Vancouver. The area has a rich history, serving as the city’s original core; after being all but destroyed in the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886, it was completely rebuilt, serving as a hotbed for warehouses and traders. It was also the hub of the city’s drinking culture, with over 300 licensed establishments within a 12-block radius in the early 20th century. It largely fell into disrepair following the Great Depression, until a movement to preserve the neighbourhood’s distinctive architecture began to take hold in the 1960’s. Today, Gastown is a trendy, tourist-friendly neighbourhood with a focus on fashion and design boutiques, and it was named a national historic site in 2009.

Needless to say, a neighbourhood this cool requires chic dwellings for the even cooler residents who live there. PlaidFox, a Vancouver-based residential and commercial design studio, was up to the challenge of remodelling and decorating a 1,500 square foot penthouse in the Terminus Hotel.

The Hotel, built in 1901, was named as a nod to the city’s position as the western terminus of the transcontinental CPR railway. The penthouse apartment was constructed as a rooftop extension in 2008 as part of a neighbourhood revitalization project. The external façade, composed of glass walls, affords stunning views of the mountains to the north, the downtown cityscape to the south, and the blue Pacific Ocean to the west. Inside, PlaidFox was required to convert a “bland interior into something sharp and personable that would be representative of Gastown’s current vibe.” The resulting project is a fusion of modern minimalism and global eclectic flare, all within the original brick and beam exterior.

“We wanted to juxtapose historic industrial and clean modern design, with the latter being the underpinning of everything,” Ben Leavitt, Creative Director and Co-owner of PlaidFox, shared via press release. “Despite the addition of some eclectic décor, the overwhelming feel of the space is still minimal and modern…Combining the modern with the ancient is a reflection, in some ways, of the home itself. Water Street is currently one of Vancouver’s trendiest design stretches, and our goal was to create a space that embodied both the lifestyle of the client and the character of the neighbourhood, both past and present.”

The studio’s tried-and-true approach places a heavy emphasis on initial profiling, which includes extensive interviews with clients and the completion of a questionnaire (with no less than 65 questions) to settle on a clear, concise vision. Input from personality tests is examined alongside the client’s design and construction comprehension. “The various questions and assessments reveal a true personality, as opposed to what might emerge from just a quick conversation,” Leavitt explained. “Once we have that profile, we’re able to build a proposal that is grounded in a clear understanding of the client’s lifestyle, interests, and preferences.”

When it came to the Gastown penthouse, the clients in question were a couple with a blocked social calendar and love of travelling. Profiling revealed where their shared interests diverged; while one partner loved global eclecticism and maximalism, the other’s tastes learned more towards a minimalist, streamlined approach.

“Rather than emphasizing those stark differences, the challenge of marrying maximalist enthusiasm with minimalist sensibility inspired us to keep things layered and interesting,” said Leavitt. “We began by carving the spaces down to the basics, then we embarked on a journey to enliven each space with unexpected personality.”

In an effort to pay homage to the building’s history, PlaidFox placed an exposed brick wall in the master bedroom and intricate millwork (with a modern twist) in the dining room. An open kitchen creates a modern, industrial vibe.

Decorative elements were chosen with intention and care. An 800-pound terracotta warrior statue stands in the large front room; entering the space, one is greeted with Joshua Tree National Park wallpaper, African art, wall-mounted masks, and an oversized Argentinian hide rug. Further decorative elements include a custom-made Martha Sturdy coffee table, a lounge chair from Bensen’s ‘Park’ collection, a Mobile Chandelier from Andrew Neyer, and a black B&B Italia bookcase, the latter of which displays a unique range of curiosity items that were sourced by the clients themselves.

Outside, the 1,200 square foot open rooftop terrace allows the clients and their guests to enjoy those breathtaking views over a built-in barbecue, fire pit, and plenty of plant life.

“Life is short, so make it chartreuse,” said Leavitt. “In design, bold should always triumph over boring, and inability to take risks only leads to tragic conclusions.”

Hungry for more Vancouver architecture? Check out this reimagining of a “Vancouver Special.”


Images via v2com.

Photographer: Ema Peter