Pacific Northwest | December 7, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineDecember 7, home
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Out Of Asia
Rural, Refined
Chic Snug
Complexity In Simplicity
Vintage Christmas
Seeing The Light

Winter Home Design 2003

Out Of Asia: From a Vancouver penthouse,  the view is cross-cultural urban
Mountains frame the view from Scott Hawthorn and Wini Wong's master bedroom, which seems to float above a part of downtown Vancouver, B.C., that once was a gritty home for industries and rail yards.
When he bought about four years ago, Scott Hawthorn's penthouse in downtown Vancouver, B.C., could have doubled as a contractor's nightmare.

The 26-floor high-rise culminated there in a dusty muddle of bare-bones supports and grimy pipes emerging through rough concrete floors from posh apartments below.

The only thing to recommend it was the promise of a home with a wrap-around view — neon cosmopolis and gritty port far below, fog-shrouded mountains at eye-level, sunrise, sunset.

Hawthorn had just three requests of the designers he hired to make the place livable: "Keep the ceilings low, don't block off any view, and leave the place as clean as you can."
A glass-walled hallway provides a dramatic entry for visitors stepping from the elevator. The penthouse is in the shape of a horseshoe, bending around the elevator shaft. The hallway connects the two arms of the horseshoe — one contains the office, which is seen in the background, and master bedroom suite; the other encompasses the living room and kitchen.
"We really had an open palette, but it was a challenge," says Mitchell Freedland, whose Vancouver design firm was contracted to transform Hawthorn's aerie. "The elevator shaft comes up through the middle. And it would have been too costly to relocate the plumbing because the toilets of all the apartments below had a fixed location. We'd have had to rip out all the ceilings below to do it."

Freedland's designers created a home that's spare and modern, infused with what he calls "traditional Japanese and Frank Lloyd Wright aesthetics." The weird plumbing, elevator shaft and supports are all still there. They're just under elegant wraps of cherry and mahogany, slate, glass and steel.

The creative result made Hawthorn's one of three homes that tied for honors in the 2002 Northwest Design Awards. The competition, sponsored by Seattle Design Center and the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, drew about 100 entries from the region.
Bamboo forms a leafy wall along one of several decks that shoot off the house. Here, rocks line a "riverbed" that's filled with rainwater in winter and dry in summer.
Hawthorn's penthouse is in the west tower of twin high-rises in the Coal Harbor neighborhood in the West End of downtown, an area reclaimed from its former life as an industrial center and rail yard.

Hawthorn, who grew up in North Vancouver, moved back in 2002 after working as an investment banker in Japan for 10 years.

"I've always liked to work on a project for 5 or 10 years and then move on to something else," he says. In this case, he's looking to redevelop two commercial properties in the city's Gastown neighborhood, hoping to open them in 2004.

"After living in Asia for so long, living in the city like this is a natural transition for us," says Hawthorn, who shares the penthouse with his companion, Wini Wong, who works in the computer games division of Nokia. "Rather than living in a suburb, we live in the city and walk everywhere."

When Hawthorn bought the space, the original layout called for four bedrooms in a traditional footprint. If they'd kept to the plan, Freedland says, the place would have been cut up into a warren of small rooms, with little flow from one room to the next.
The Brazilian cherry-wood floor in the living room contrasts warmly with sleek modern furnishings. The cityscape view is of high-rises in Vancouver's upscale Coal Harbor neighborhood.
Instead, he changed the floor plan to a horseshoe shape, keeping living spaces open but wrapping them around the elevator shaft. The kitchen and living room occupy one arm of the horseshoe; the master suite and office/guest bedroom, the other.

Connecting the two arms is the elevator entry and a room that, somewhat ironically, is one of the home's most astonishingly beautiful spaces. It is a narrow opaque glass box just to the right of the elevator — a pale glacier-blue powder room that is there because that's where the plumbing was.

"At night it's like a glowing lantern," Hawthorn says, "very Asian, very beautiful."

A low antique wood table on wheels accentuates the room's Oriental atmosphere. "People in Japan in olden times had furniture on wheels so they could wheel it away in case of an earthquake," Hawthorn explains.
Pale glass and limestone flooring and tub surround lend a glow to the master bath.
Together, Hawthorn and Wong have filled their space with Asian contemporary art and antique collectibles.

In the living room, a floor-to-ceiling divider provides space for a sheer pink lantern made by an older woman in Vancouver's Chinatown, a collection of metal dragons, a bell from a monastery in Myanmar and a crystal sake set given to Hawthorn when he left the bank.

On one shelf are chop stamps containing the couple's names in Chinese calligraphy. Wong bought them while on a business trip to Shanghai.

The divider was instigated by the couple's desire for a fireplace in the living room and the designers' need to hide other structural fittings.
An outdoor deck extending from the living room features droll furnishings — a molded-plastic "easy chair" and sofa in an overstuffed style.
The fireplace passes through the divider into a hallway, where there is more space to display art, including a large world clock made by Hawthorn's sister, Beth, and her husband Robert Studer, Vancouver designers. The clock face rotates once every 24 hours and tells the time in 100 cities all over the world.

The white-on-white master bedroom features a low bed dropped in the middle of floor space large enough to support two bedrooms. On one wall — one of the few outside walls anywhere in the penthouse — is another, more traditional, fireplace. Glass doors open onto two of the penthouse's four decks.

The decks, which are cantilevered off the building's exterior, continue the couple's Asian theme. On one, plantings of bamboo and grasses accent a rocky "riverbed" that collects winter rains and dries up in summer. Off the living room is a little pond that Hawthorn made himself and filled with goldfish.

"The house was a major feat for us," says Shelly MacLeod, Freedland's senior interior designer. "We succeeded in trying to keep the walls very, very minimal and still creating warmth with wood, so the clients are happy. And the award gives us a benchmark to know how our work fares against U.S. work."

Sally Macdonald is a retired Seattle Times reporter. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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