west coast modern : hemingway treehouse renovation

photography by p. powles

designed by : original house (1976) by brian hemingway, extensive renovation (2017) by fook weng chan

original house description : spectacular, serene and unique custom designed home by well known architect, brian hemingway, his own private residence known as the treehouse. environmentally inclusive with changes in the seasons, lights, eagles, herons, squirrels, complete ocean view of sparkling ships by day and brightly lit floats drifting by. multi level, 1890 square feet, three full bedrooms, amazing den reading area, wood burning and gas fireplaces, 2 full baths, decks, massive sliding doors to balconies that are extensions of the house to the outdoors. this home is full of detail, interest, and an amazing blend of wood, ambience and a respect for space indoors and out.

photography by p. powles

in 2013, new owner took on the task of renovating this post-and-beam home to a new level of beauty.

few words from the architect about the renovation : brian hemingway built it in 1977.  at the time, at thompson berwick pratt, he and his mentor paul merrick were working on a few projects which explored similar design vocabularies including the macmillan bloedel forestry exhibit centre in van dusen gardens, and the canadian forces officer candidate school in cfb chilliwack.  paul built his treehouse a few years earlier than brian.

fook weng chan started designing the renovation over 2 1/2 years ago, but the end product is very much an ideal team effort with the owners, builder and his team. he had been an associate with thompson berwick pratt for 12 of his 14 years there and was the project architect for the majority of brian’s projects from 1987 – 96 so he was comfortable with the challenge.

at the treehouse, it was important to distill the essence and recognize the daring and genius of the original design whilst imbuing the home with layers that speak to and of the new occupants,  all that while upgrading a home that had not been maintained for almost 4 decades.  the owners are to be congratulated for undertaking this effort to save a piece of bc architectural heritage.

original kitchen before renovation. photo by pixilink

renovated kitchen open to seating area. photography by p. powles

view of treehouse looking up from walkway/stairs from street. photo by david kominek

new decks and charred wood siding throughout. photo by david kominek

dining room with corner window looking out onto yard and forest beyond. photo by david kominek

block wall of fireplace and timber posts in top of treehouse. photo by david kominek

view of back of house with new copper roofing and intriguing scupper detail. photo by david kominek

stone stairs in yard space with scupper lead to water feature. photo by david kominek

modern renovation : 480 east 24th avenue

designed by : d’arcy jones architecture

built by : ? in 1910, renovated in 2016 [2017-listed for 1.89mil]

photography by : sama jim canzian

house featured on archdaily.

short blurb by the realtor on the property:

one of a kind show home in prime main st. location. this effectively new, contemporary home was designed by renowned architect d’arcy jones. the home was lifted and entirely rebuilt including all 4 outer walls. the ceiling was raised exposing the 110 year old wood beams which were sandblasted and incorporated into the design. features include all new foundation, plumbing & electrical, windows, rainscreening, exterior cladding & roof. radiant heat concrete floors, on demand hot water system, full size laundry room, wolfe & sub zero appl. & custom cabinetry. due to its modern design & tall ceilings, this home feels much larger than its sq ft suggests. house has 3 bedrooms, and den, 2 1/2 baths and clever built-in storage. sunny south facing patio.

floor plans

west coast modern : 6985 isleview road, west vancouver


designed by : bruno freschi (erickson/massey architects)

built by : tom and nancy staples in 1967

read up on the original house here : staples house heritage conservation plan

now the house has been renovated and is better then ever.check out the listing here.

watch the video tour here.

read about the house here with some photos of the home before renovations, as well as, featured on vancouver lights blog and coast modern blog.


living room with original concrete walls and fireplace


view of living room looking north with bar at kitchen on right side


living room looking south with wall of glass towards view to the west


completely rebuilt kitchen. sink has view to the entry driveway and walkway from the street


bedrooms all line up along the length of the house and have floor-to-ceiling glass to take advantage of views and natural light. a continuous skylight runs the length of the bedroom.


goodie : 198 east windsor road, north vancouver

198 east windsor road - side yardlooks like michael green’s house is up for grabs and what a bargain, to live in a superbly designed home!

198 east windsor road - living roomdesigned by : michael green of mg architecture

renovated by : michael green (renovation of 1926 original house)

here is the blurb on the house from the realtor, even though this house needs no words as the photos speak for themselves:

stunning contemporary home in elegant upper lonsdale with views of the mountains, city and ocean. award winning (aibc award, western living designer of the year award) architecture featured in dwell, western living, architecture magazine, hgtv and vancouver sun. the perfect blend of modern and heritage in this 5 bedroom, 4 bath corner lot home designed for comfort and convenience. extensive custom millwork, heated slate/solid oak floors, zinc roof, nanny suite and large workshop. spectacular detached office / artist studio won the prestigious lieutenant governor award for architecture. lush and private yard with koi pond, hot tub, flowering trees, japanese maples, bamboo, lavender beds & pear tree. beautiful neighbourhood with excellent schools and amenities.

from the looks of it, last weekend’s open house produced no takers? what’s going on? it’s not every day you can own a piece of award-winning modern architecture!

check out the western living article here.

198 east windosr street - floorplans198 east windsor street - tvfrom living room looking west toward the library. the entry door is on the left side of the image.198 east windsor street - stairsfrom family room looking east towards the kitchen198 east windsor street - accessory buildingthe house comes with the one and only now very famous accessory building. sweet!

goodie : 6109 highbury street

this amazing renovation of house is something you do not want to miss.

designed and renovation by : kore residential

built in : 2012 [listed for 2.98mil]

this wonderful modern house was recently completed and just put on the market. i had the privilege of touring the house last weekend and was truly impressed.

here is a blurb from the realtor, andrew carros, which sums up the house up quite nicely:

gorgeous contemporary home designed for entertaining and comfort on a 7,656sqft lot in a secluded area of southlands. this stunning 4 bedroom home was substantially rebuilt from the foundation up. all mechanical components and materials use in this home are brand new. gracious main level is an open floor plan with 10ft ceilings, oak hardwood flooring, built in sound system and a stunning kitchen with high end appliances and finishing. back yard is west facing with a large composite deck. 3 magnificent bedrooms and laundry are upstairs. the master is luxurious with a large walk in closet and a marble filled spa inspired ensuite. the entrance of this 4 bedroom home is spectacular; a double sided glass fireplace separates the entry from the main living area. the bespoke kitchen features quartzite countertops and viking and bosch appliances and the extra pantry off the kitchen could easily be converted into a wok kitchen. large patio doors allow the living, dining and family rooms to flow straight to the landscaped gardens outside. upstairs there are 3 large bedrooms including a sumptuous master suite with walk-in closet and stunning ensuite with marble flooring and countertops, free standing tub and rainforest shower. a full second bathroom and laundry compose the remainder of the top level. downstairs the fully finished basement (that comes complete with a wet bar!) would be perfect for a games room or gym. also included in the basement is a fully wired media room roughed in for 7.1 surround sound and projector. additional features of this unbelievable home are the built-in speakers throughout, high-definition wired television outlets, air conditioning, built-in vacuum, security system and an attached 2 car garage.

check out the listing here and make sure not to miss the walkthroughs. pdf brochure link here.

the floor plans above show the amount of space in this house. the basement is left very open, free of structural columns for variable furniture layouts. the main floor features a bedroom and bathroom for guests or aging-in-place. top floor has 3 generous bedrooms where no two bedrooms share a wall for excellent privacy/sound isolation from noisy teenagers/musicality inclined kids or adults.

the living room with a see-thru fireplace clad in smooth stone provides a clever separation to the entry.

the kitchen has been designed for minimal visual clutter while being extremely functional. a small walk-in party provides abundant amount of storage and a great option for conversion to a wok kitchen.

the dining nook located off the kitchen with doors to a private outdoor bistro space.

the family room just behind the kitchen space is a nice reclusive space for watching tv and relaxing. doors open onto a private deck which then empties out onto a large open west-facing yard.

the stairs feature some fine detailing.

the main bedroom has been designed with ultimate privacy by placing the bead around the corner from the door.

the bedroom features a sitting area next to the bed with a door to a south-facing deck sure to be a favorite spot for the king and queen of this castle.

main ensuite bathroom is generous and with the high windows bring in plenty of natural light.

the basement space is sure to be inspiring for many games and activities.

article : the home energy makeover

an article published in the canadian moneysense magazine about how to take steps in your home to save not only money but improve comfort in a drafty, old home. take a read here and read below some of the key items from the article : (some of my side remarks are highlighted throughout the article)

Two years ago Reiner Hoyer lived in a squat 1950s-style bungalow in the north end of Toronto. Like most houses of that era, it was drafty, poorly insulated and cost a fortune to heat and cool each year. Today the bungalow has been transformed into a two-storey home, complete with three large bedrooms, hardwood floors and a basement apartment. But despite more than tripling the size of his home, Hoyer’s utility bills are about $1,200 for the year, a third of what he spent on his old bungalow, and less than half the national average.

Hoyer, a renovation consultant, took advantage of the latest energy-saving technology to dramatically lower the cost of living in his home. He doesn’t even have a furnace: triple-paned windows, super-insulated walls and solar panels are some of the features that keep his house comfortable year round. Hoyer also cut his water bill by installing a rainwater cistern in his backyard to supply his toilets. Not only is his home one of a kind, it’s one of the most energy-efficient homes in the country.

The average homeowner spends $2,234 a year on water, gas and electricity, costs that are likely to rise as we run out of cheap energy and our power grid starts showing its age.

Check out DRKdesign’s PDF of energy cost comparison of a standard-to-code built house versus a passivhaus here.

While Hoyer may have gone to extremes, there are many cheap and easy upgrades regular homeowners can do to reduce monthly expenses. We hope you’ll get some ideas you can put into practice. Not only will you start seeing a payback almost immediately, you’ll also add to the long-term value of your home.

Programmable Thermostats

One of the most painless ways to cut your heating and air conditioning bill is to install a programmable thermostat, says Kim Pressnail, associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto. “It’s the easiest thing to install yourself.” And the payoff is fast. “For every degree in the winter you turn your thermostat down, you save about 5% on your heating bill,” he says. In the cool months, program the thermostat to drop by 3°C or 4°C when you aren’t home, and simply reverse the settings in the summer.

Air Sealing

It might surprise you that the most cost-effective solution in reducing your energy bills is the humble act of plugging air leaks. A surprising 30% to 40% of your heating or air conditioning is lost to air leakage, says Pressnail. Small gaps around wall joists, the foundation, windows, baseboards, the attic and wall sockets let air escape. They’re small, but they add up. Taken together you might have a hole the size of a basketball.

When i renovated my townhouse, I ran a caulking bead around all interior plywood subfloor base surfaces just between the underside of the wall drywall and what a difference it has made.

Based on Pressnail’s calculations, the air will change 10 times an hour inside a typical Canadian home, meaning new air comes in from outside that must be cooled or heated. Lowering that level can equal big savings. Sealing leaks with weatherstripping and caulking can save a homeowner as much as $108 a year or about 2.9% on their energy bills, says Walton. Considering the low cost of materials, the payback is quick. Plugs and light switches in exterior walls can also allow air in, but they can be fixed with a simple $2 gasket from your local hardware store.

Insulating the attic hatch is another important job. “The attic hatch is an outside door,” says Stephen Collette, a certified building biology environmental consultant. “Most people don’t think of it that way.” The temperature in the attic should be the same as it is outside. For this reason that hatch needs to be insulated with weatherstripping and a latch to keep it tightly closed and air-sealed.

A professional might save you more money. You can pay to have a typical home built in the ’60s or ’70s sealed for $2,000 or $3,000, says Pressnail. Best of all you can measure the improvements. The company will do an air seal test before and after the procedure so you can see it working. A professional can lower the number of air changes to as few as four an hour, saving the average homeowner about $500, or 20%, annually on their energy bill.


If your house is prone to huge temperature swings, chances are you don’t have enough insulation. Topping up the insulation in your attic and basement is an easy fix, and it’s also a cost-effective way to lower energy bills. In most cases, you want to have insulation that is at least the height of the joists in the attic, says Dave Walton, Direct Energy’s director of home ideas. You can quickly bring the insulation value up from R-20 to R-50 by blowing in some loose fill insulation on top of what’s already there. (R values measure the effectiveness of insulating materials: the higher the better.) There are even do-it-yourself kits if you’re comfortable doing the work—it’s pretty easy for the average handyman.

How much of a difference will it make? Pressnail has crunched the numbers. A 1,860-sq-ft detached two-story home built in the 1970s in Barrie, Ont.—which he says represents the average Canadian home—may have an insulation value of R-10 in the attic. Upgrading to R-50 could save a homeowner $175 a year, or about 6% of their energy use.

Fully insulating the walls of your basement will also give you some noticeable savings. Most basement walls are only partially insulated at best, so even improving the insulation on those walls to a meager R-16 value will cut total energy use by about $130 a year. If you’re thinking about doing some of the work yourself then pick up the free book Keeping the Heat In, available online from Natural Resources Canada. [PDF direct link]

Still, Pressnail advises having a professional look at your attic before you blow in extra insulation, because you have to make sure it’s air-sealed. “Inefficient buildings are wonderful at keeping assemblies (interior structures of the roof) dry since most of the warm moist air that seeps into the attic ends up leaking out in the winter. But when you add insulation and you have warm moist air from the home leaking into a colder attic space, then you have the potential for condensation.”

Most experts agree the best approach is to remove the existing insulation and start fresh. They recommend putting down a layer of spray foam first, which will air-seal the attic, then blowing in cheaper loose-fill insulation on top.


Windows offer big potential energy savings, but the payoff may not be as large as you might think: It can take 25 years or longer to recoup your investment. Quite simply, windows are expensive to replace compared with the cost to heat and cool your home. But if your windows are losing their insulating value and are due for replacement anyway, it’s worth spending the extra money for higher quality ones, explains Pressnail. For as little as 10% more, you can get windows that are at least 50% more efficient. “That is a phenomenal payback,” he says.

Homeowners should consider sealed, “low-E” argon-filled double-glazed units—or better—when installing new windows. Also consider thermal blinds as a stylish way to beef up your insulation, says Hoyer. These blinds, made by Hunter Douglas and other companies, have a honeycomb-like structure that acts like a blanket against your window. The company claims they can reduce heat loss through windows by up to 40% and cut solar heat gain by as much as 80%.

Of course if you get new windows, you want to make sure they are installed properly and air-sealed. If they aren’t, it won’t matter what quality of window you put in.

in passivhaus, the windows are of such high quality that they ‘generate’ heat in the winter. in other words, they allow alot of sunlight/heat in but block almost all interior heat from escaping. therefore, it is important that these windows are well shaded during summer months.


Appliances account for 14% of energy use and are the third biggest draw on hydro bills. Upgrading all your appliances to Energy Star rated systems can cut that part of your bill by as much as 30%.

New Energy Star–rated fridges cost as little as $50 a year to operate. Keeping your fridge away from heat sources, with adequate air circulation and good seals on the doors, will also lower your bills. Today’s washing machines are also much more efficient: new Energy Star models use at least 59% less energy than the minimum federal energy efficiency standards. Modern dishwashers, meanwhile, are about 30% more efficient than older models. New models typically only use about $30 of energy each year.

While some of these amounts are small, the savings add up over the appliances’ lifetimes. Over the years, a fridge will save you $85, a dishwasher up to $50, and a washing machine $672. You’ll feel good about doing your part for the environment, plus you’ll have more money in your pocket for every single month you live in your home.

Air Conditioner

Keeping cool can be expensive, especially when the average homeowner keeps the thermostat set to a frosty 22°C. If your central air conditioning system is older than 15 years it might be time to replace it, says Walton. Older units tend to have an operating efficiency of 8 or 10 SEER, or seasonal energy efficiency ratio. (You should be able to find this information printed on the AC unit.) A modern 14-SEER unit uses about 30% less electricity to operate.

While air conditioning is not really applicable to our mild climate here in vancouver, a good product that every house should have is a mini split heat pump. now available ductless with an exterior condenser unit and interior fan/blower unit, there heat pumps can generate heat for the house and also cool the house in the summer.


If your furnace was cranking out heat in your home when Titanic was playing in theatres, it’s time for an upgrade. Furnaces have come a long way in the past 15 years. Older furnaces operate at about 60% efficiency, which means for every dollar you spend about 40 cents goes straight up the chimney. “By replacing a conventional furnace with a high-efficiency one, homeowners can save up to $500 a year,” says Walton. Also, remember to change the air filter in the furnace every three months to keep it at optimal performance.

Water Saving Devices

The truth is, there’s no financial incentive to conserve water—it’s so cheap that some municipalities don’t even charge for the stuff. Reducing hot water is where the real savings come into play, says University of Toronto’s environmental engineering chair Bryan Karney. While devices that restrict water use have been around for a while, early adopters were put off by their poor performance. Shower heads trickled, toilets didn’t flush and washers didn’t wash. However, technology has improved rapidly in the past few years; there have been significant improvements in performance and water use in everything from dishwashers to shower heads. “By and large you can use a lot less water than you thought you needed and still get a very comfortable shower,” says Karney.

Tankless water heaters, on the other hand, may not have benefits that outweigh their extra cost. Karney says these heaters work best when the hot water is used close to the unit, but in a typical house, water may have to travel several floors before it flows out of the tap.

At the same time, traditional hot water heaters have improved. Data from the Office of Energy Efficiency, a division of National Resources Canada, back that up. In fact, energy efficiency ratings of tankless and water storage heaters are almost identical these days. Given how close they are in terms of efficiency, for now you’re probably better off spending $500 upgrading to a modern hot water heater.

How long will it take to recoup all the extra money you’ll spend on energy efficient upgrades? Check out our photo gallery to find out.

If you are looking to for a designer to help with your renovation plans, david at DRKdesign is there to help. contact him for a complimentary site analysis or initial home consultation.