Arbutus House - Main Entry: modern Houses by Helliwell + Smith • Blue Sky Architecture

This one-of-a-kind home echoes the majesty of B.C's coast

Julia Thomson Julia Thomson
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The west coast of Canada is home to a different style of architecture than in the rest of the country. Influenced by the mountains, forest and ocean, homes are governed by a respect for and connection to the surrounding environment. Construction is often modern with clean lines and lots of glass. But it also incorporates materials native to the area, like wood and stone.

This approach aligns exactly with the philosophy at Helliwell + Smith • Blue Sky Architecture. The firm gives careful consideration to sustainability and timber use. Over more than 25 years of practice in the Lower Mainland and mountains, islands and valleys of British Columbia, the firm has adopted a design approach that works with site, local materials, climate and the objectives of their clients.

The result of this considered approach are structures that address environmental concerns and embody the human spirit, transcending the act of shelter into something that shapes and enhances our lives.

Minimal impact on a mountainside site

This home on Vancouver Island exhibits all of the qualities important to the Helliwell + Smith • Blue Sky Architecture team.

The building has a low profile, so it is unobtrusive on its hilltop site. It is constructed with a gentle curve, following the contours of the slope. The outer wings hold private spaces of bedrooms and bathrooms. The centre section has the main living areas, including kitchen, dining and sitting room.

Glass walls on the middle of the house give it a light, airy appearance. We are able to look right through the house to glimpse the ocean beyond. In this way, the home seems to be part of the natural landscape, rather than a barrier that divides us from the environment.

Ocean overlook

The house's hillside site gives stunning views of the surrounding forest and of course the Pacific ocean. A generous stone terrace connects the house to its surroundings, offering space for lounging and dining while overlooking the mountains.

The stone floor of the terrace echoes the rock of the mountain and the warm tones of the wood railing echo the trees and the wood used on the reset of the house. The curved railing flows around the edge of the terrace emphasizing the house's unique rounded layout. Glass panels within the railing provide protection from wind without disrupting the view.

See another stunning home that embraces the sea.

Growing out of the mountain

With its golden wood and deep overhangs, the house glows warmly from its site on the mountainside.

The architects worked to integrate the house in its natural environment. Existing trees were preserved and the terrain was disrupted as minimally as possible. With the terrace's stone foundation, the house appears to be growing out of the mountain.

On the ocean side, the whole house is clad in glass, ensuring that both the public and private spaces have the advantage of the extraordinary view.

Mix of materials adds a pop of colour

At the outer edge of either wing, the architects included a surprising pop of colour: bright green tiles cover a small section of the wall. These coloured sections are a beacon, drawing visitors along the stone path to the house.

Besides the tile and glass, the rest of the walls are rich warm wood. The exterior almost resembles a traditional log cabin with narrow strips of galvalume reveals (a coated sheet steel product) between each wood panel. 

The landscaping around the house shows that the designers wanted to minimize the home's environmental impact. Rather than lawns and manicured flowerbeds, they instead embraced the natural surroundings, incorporating existing trees, rustic rocks and perfectly imperfect shrubs.

Impressive entryway welcomes visitors

The stone of the terrace continues around to the main entryway, drawing visitors up to the home. The entry is an impressive structure with a large overhang jutting out over the walkway. The overhang serves a practical function--providing shelter from the frequent BC rainstorms--and it also serves as a transitional element between outside and in.

Large wood posts support the overhang and huge beams run back into the house, making the outside and inside all one seamless structure.

Natural elements create warm entry

The beauty of natural wood is evident in the house's front door. Wood slats echo the paneling used on the exterior of the home. But instead of the white chinking, the architects designed the door with glass strips.

The stone from the terraces outside continues into the entryway, providing a durable and beautiful floor.

Warm wood in an open interior

The interior of the house is even more stunning than the outside. The post and beam construction exposes the structural skeleton of the home, which is usually hidden behind drywall in most modern construction. High on the walls, clerestory windows allow additional natural light to flood the home.

The home feels large thanks to its high ceilings, open floorplan and glass walls. Posts and beams were carefully placed to provide subtle divisions between the entry, dining, kitchen and living areas.

The architects minimized the use of drywall, and instead embraced natural wood. Wood cladding on the ceiling, hardwood floors, wood cabinets and of course the wood beams and posts all share the same warm golden finish. Blue accents in the furnishings are a cool complement to the warm wood and reference the tones of the mountains, sky and ocean seen through the windows and keep the focus on the home's most important feature, its beautiful surroundings.

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