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Renovating a Vancouver Special with Design Build Solutions

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Renovating a Vancouver Special with Design Build Solutions

Behind the Scenes of Novell's Renfrew Residence: The Extra-Special Vancouver Special

The renovation of our Renfrew Residence completely reimagined what we expected from a classic Vancouver Special home.  

The Vancouver Special architectural style was popularized in the 1960s and 1980s and now fills many streets in Greater Vancouver.

Vancouverites are well versed in the key characteristics of a Vancouver Special:

  • Front-gabled roof with a low pitch
  • 2 Storeys with a boxy overall shape
  • Main entrance set to one side, on the lower floor
  • Sliding doors on the upper floor leading to a shallow balcony
  • The main living quarters are on the upper floor
  • A secondary suite on the ground floor
  • Often finished with brick or stone, with stucco above
  • Main hallway through the centre of the home

The classic design was (re)produced en masse during the 1960s and 1980s because of some special zoning and building circumstances at the time.

The boxy shape of Vancouver Specials was a result of maximizing floor space under the zoning guidelines of their time. Builders in the 1960s and 1980s saw an opportunity and made the most of it! Today, renovating these homes are a common and rewarding project for Design Build firms. We love transforming Vancouver Specials because they have a lot of versatility and great foundations! Our Renfrew Residence is a great example of how all the common modernizations of a Vancouver Special are even better with Design Build.

To begin, we gave this home a more modern layout. We opened the walls upstairs, expanded the master bathroom, and gave the home an overall open feeling. In order to do so, we restructured and moved some of the walls.

This is an open concept renovation of a Vancouver Special.

The kitchen became an open and inviting gathering space. For this family, gathering in the kitchen to cook, eat, host and relax was a priority. With many choices in seating and clever storage solutions, this kitchen became both functional and beautiful!

The fireplace and front deck remain existing, though refurbished with a clean white coat of paint. New hardwood floors were installed. For better storage solutions, we design built custom millwork cabinets and floating storage units for a special touch.

Now to our favourite part:

This incredible curved staircase!

Vancouver Specials very often have a signature curved staircase with vertical wooden railings and a half-platform mid-way through the stairs. This didn’t match the homeowner’s modern taste. When walking through the front door of the original Renfrew Residence, you encountered a carpeted staircase with angled walls and old interior finishes. This part of the home became one of our favourite Design Build transformations.

Instead of completely ripping out these classic Vancouver Special stairs, we embraced the curve.

A classic Vancouver Special entranceway and staircase.
By smoothing the curve of the wall and redesigning the hand railing, we were able to create an entranceway that drew your eyes upwards.

This would not have been possible without a Design Build team. While designing the custom angled scoop in the wall, and a custom recessed handrail, the biggest question for our team was “how do we actually build this”? We couldn’t find any examples that matched exactly what we envisioned, so our Design Build team found their own way! It was a collaborative and efficient effort; the biggest reward was making these deceivingly complex shapes feel effortless.

Our master builder, Angelito, is shown here, marking out where the scoop will begin.
Perhaps even more impressive is our completely seamless recessed hand railing! (But that's for another story.)

This home became a place where multiple generations could live together. Each family member has their own place to retreat, while the gathering spaces made for … well, living!

Thanks for listening in on our 2nd day of Design Build insights in celebration of our 15 year anniversary! Let us know what you think by using the tag #15yearsNDB. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

This is a behind the scenes look at our Renfrew Residence, in celebration of our 15th year anniversary. Follow our full celebrations with #15yearsNDB on Instagram and Twitter!

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