Not unlike a good piece of music, a successful space is about balance: a carefully constructed composition, a symphony of independent elements, a journey of varying tempos where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
For this achingly cool and charismatic scheme in Vancouver, inhabited by a drumming teacher and musician, designer and creative director of interior studio PlaidFox, Ben Leavitt harmoniously combined sometimes disparate elements to create a surprisingly in-sync home that also marches entirely to its own beat.
The owner gave the design team carte blanche. ‘I think her career says it all. We needed to create a house for her that was just as cool,’ says Ben. He drew on the owner’s innate adventurousness – her love of trying new things, her affinity for bold fashion, striking shapes and colours, and her request for something ‘unique and unexpected’ – and settled on the ’70s (arguably also one of the coolest periods in music) as a starting point. ‘She was fully on board with the direction and pushed us as much as we pushed her to take risks.
‘This home was all about creating a sense of surprise, anticipation – seeing one space from another. There is a joyful sense of exploration as you travel throughout the home,’ says Ben. And so each room is unique – one of the house’s most charming attributes and one of the owner’s favourite features. ‘Ben said that the rooms should feel like siblings rather than twins, related but not identical,’ says the owner. But despite this dynamism and variety, there are consistent threads throughout – the use of sculptural forms, for example, and bold stance on colour. The three-dimensional approach to functional and decorative items is one of the more arresting traits of the space, and this comes through via decorative pieces, as well as custom furniture, even built-in details – which have been thoughtfully created for this specific space, and which gives it its inimitable identity. Ben’s experience as a furniture designer and training as a painter and sculptor proved invaluable in this level of customisation. ‘I wanted the pieces to function as sculptures. I think they give the home a sense of whimsy. The fireplaces, the art, the dining tables – the team sketched and created each by hand,’ he elaborates.
And while each piece is strong enough to stand alone, the overall effect is a finely tuned choreography – one that, while seemingly effortless in the end composition, is the result of persistence and careful planning. ‘It is a fine balance and not one that is stress free. It is easy to say more is more, but in the end, we play with each of the items as they arrive and find the best spot for each one. Finding balance is about not giving up,’ says Ben.
Balance is also about restraint – something you might not immediately associate with this unapologetically bold home, but Ben’s subtle referencing to ’70s style is pitch perfect. While apparent, it is by no means in your face. ‘I would describe the design as having one foot in the past while the other boldly steps into the future. We wanted each element to feel equal parts retro and yet modern.’ This informed the colours he chose, too – a warm palette inspired by the ’70s, earth tones and the craft movement. By also embracing texture, the sense of comfort and ‘home’ – and the owner’s desire for refuge from cold winter days – came seamlessly. ‘We started with a base of warm woods and built from that. Finding retro tones that feel current is really about combining them with clean, modern forms,’ he adds.
Striking artwork ties the entire space together – linking the strong sculptural furniture, dynamic sense of movement and bold colours. ‘Luckily, the client has adventurous taste and had collected pieces over time independently, so there was already a good base. And the rest we found locally or had made. Art is a way to bring it all together,’ says Ben.
And like a much-loved and familiar song or exciting new instrumental riff takes you on an emotional journey, so too did this design evolve and challenge. Says the homeowner, ‘We had a few examples of what we wanted – moody, dramatic, joyful. And looking back now, we realise how far we have come. It has beena design education.’
Words by Julia Freemantle