Modern home reflects a new angle on the Okanagan

Special to The Globe and Mail

Penticton-area home designed by architect Nick Bevanda. (Ed White/photo)

When Penticton-raised architect Nick Bevanda returned to the Okanagan Valley – after a stint in the late eighties working for Aitken Wreglesworth in Vancouver – he encountered some challenges.

One of the area’s lone modernists, he discovered a “contractor-driven” building culture where design was often an afterthought, and where there was an absence of genuine regional vernacular.

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Despite his love for the place where he grew up and its stunning natural beauty, he found there was little resonance between architecture and site.

“People would come to my office,” relates the 50-year-old partner of CEI Architecture, “and say, ‘I want to build a Tudor house in middle of the desert.’ That was just something I could never do.

“The vast majority of architecture in the Okanagan is prescriptive,” says Mr. Bevanda, whose purity of vision earned him the 2008 Lieutenant-Governor of B.C.’s award of merit for the Black Hills Winery he designed in Oliver. “Clients have a definite program they want to see implemented – whether it’s Tudor, craftsman, et cetera, irregardless of site.”

As we drive south from Kelowna towards Penticton, we pass several newly built “log cabin” homes, built at twice their original size and footprint, for German and Japanese tourists ironically seeking an “authentic” Canadian architecture, as well as a half-dozen faux adobe-style residences, Disneyesque knock-offs of a southwestern building form at the northern tip of the Sonoran desert.

“Few people want you to take the time to explore how the building can be formed from the land, from the views, the climate,” explains Mr. Bevanda, whose passion for architecture is matched by his celebration of the region, where he grew up as the son of a vineyard owner.

While Mr. Bevanda has designed projects as diverse as a church in Summerland and the Hooded Merganser restaurant at Penticton’s Lakeside Hotel, he has a love for the almost anachronistic art of custom-designed residential architecture.

“Creating a living space for people that really reflects their needs, values and vision – that is a hugely satisfying process for me.”

At the same time, Mr. Bevanda views architecture as a visual art – really as a form of sculpture – and sees his projects as his “children.”

Today, we are visiting his latest creative offspring: a home in Kaleden, an upscale enclave just south of Penticton, which he designed for historian David Smyth and his wife, scientist Yvonne Lefebvre.

“I was lucky to have them as clients,” says Mr. Bevanda of the couple that admired his modernist sensibilities and called him out of the blue one day in 2009. They hoped he would design a home for them on land they’d purchased on a hilly site overlooking Skaha Lake.

When he first visited the site, Mr. Bevanda was impressed by the 300-degree view of the lake and surrounding hills. But what really caught his eye was the view between the trees – a kind of corridor of outcroppings – with the lake behind it.

“The norm in Penticton,” he explains, “is to orient residences towards the lake. But that’s not always so interesting.”

What Mr. Bevanda did instead was to turn the house 180 degrees so it sits perpendicular rather than parallel to the lake, with the view between the trees as the focal point.

“It’s a precarious site,” he says, noting the steep grade and the sandy soil, “and we wanted to make sure the house sat on the site as lightly as possible.”

His solution was to employ the magic of cantilevering – extending the house and the program over the site – leaving it suspended over the gully below.

Next to the sloping site, the other primary design challenge was negotiating the strong summer sun.

The form of the glass, wood and concrete house was generated by the need for a sloped roof that provides shading and relief from the summer heat. The big overhangs also offer framed views of the lake and hills from the main deck off the kitchen/living area, and the sloping form is repeated on the roof of the garage.

The house is delineated by an entranceway corridor on the first floor – flanked by a descending stairwell and an overhead skylight – that separates the living from the service areas. Externally, this transitional space separates the two main roof forms that slope in opposing north-south directions. Large fir beams on both floors run at an east-west axis, while a single steel I-beam and column hold up the eastern edge of the house.

The asymmetry of the sloped roofs is reflected in the interior spaces, where large trapezoidal windows and doorways offer uniquely framed views of the environs, challenging traditional perceptions of indoor and outdoor and further fusing them into a singular aesthetic.

While the kitchen and living area is the largest space in the house, it’s the master bedroom that feels like the big reveal. Here wrap around glazing opens up to the view of the lake and trees, while a fir wall on the north side of the balcony – angled to block views of the neighbouring vinyl siding clad home – offers aesthetic relief and privacy.

The interior palette has been kept to a minimal one of white walls and birch flooring, so the ochre-coloured hills and blue water can seep into a blank canvas.

“It doesn’t cost any more to respond to site intelligently,” says Mr. Bevanda, noting the passive solar gain and maximizing of available light engendered by his design.

And while he sometimes feels like he is tilting at windmills – if not monster homes – Mr. Bevanda hopes that the region’s built environment will one day match the beauty of its natural one.

Special to The Globe and Mail