The terms “modern” and “contemporary” are often erroneously used interchangeably to describe a current aesthetic. However, as Zamian and Erin Parsons of Parsons Modern Homes Real Estate point out, modern architecture is a distinct design category, which happens to be currently on trend. Modernist architectural design marks an historical break from classical design in the early 20th century; cultivated largely by members of the German Bauhaus School of Design, it has aesthetic roots in a “less is more” sensibility. Location and environment dictate design in this school of architecture: a modern design-build begins with a site typography analysis to define the land’s unique characteristics, which determines the design of the building. Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan, often referred to as the “Father of Modernism,” famously summed up modernist architecture as “form follows function.”
The open concept popular today epitomizes the modern aesthetic: long, simple lines, fewer walls, flat roofs, minimalist exteriors, and large expanses of glass that seamlessly connect the interior to the surrounding landscape, a pleasingly simple aesthetic, dictated by the practicalities of usage; as Erin Parsons puts it, “modern homes each have their own unique elements but all are functional and simple.” The Parsons’ most recent experience signifying the rising popularity of the modern aesthetic was at the 2014 West Vancouver Modern Home House Tour. “From the sheer numbers of people attending, it was clear that modern architecture is not only timeless but a highly sought-after aesthetic in the current house market. As realtors, we want to educate people on modern home architecture and the benefits of its aesthetic. We are educating ourselves all the time and feel like we not only have a personal appreciation for it, but specialized knowledge.”
Passionate about modern functionality, Josh Harvey, a local designer, and his partner, Desiree, built exactly 1000-square-feet of pure modernity in Langford for under $300,000. The design-driven couple’s commitment to beauty and function is evident in both the build and the interior design of their new home. “Our previous home was a 700-square-foot apartment, it was beautiful, and just the right amount of space for the two of us,” adds Josh. More space certainly wasn’t the key motivation behind this couple’s custom small-home build, but an aesthetically-altered lifestyle change. “Critical to any modern home build is finding the right site to meet the specifications of the design,” adds Josh.
The Harveys found the perfect small lot in an unlikely Langford development and throwing caution to the wind, approached the developer with their plans. Knowing their modishly-scaled design would be unique among the homogeneous style typical of suburban developments, the Harveys provided a rough sketch to the developer and surprisingly, got permission to go ahead with the build.
Harvey conducted an in-depth site typography analysis to determine how they would use the property. Studying every nuance, the final layout included a small yard with south-western exposure, privacy from the neighbours on the east, and large glass windows on the north and south to capitalize on the sun orientation.
Adhering to a modern aesthetic principle that structural elements are transparent and not hidden, Harvey sourced local old growth timbers for a post and beam structure. “We could have started adding rooms or even a second floor but our budget would have thinned and we would have compromised on the features we sought in the first place,” says Harvey. Maintaining their focus on the dramatic elements of a modern aesthetic, the Harveys kept their budget intact by purchasing a modest lot and excluding the high-end designer details that are tempting to a new build.
Not just for rustic cabins, the Morso wood-burning stove from Pacific Fireplace is sleek, clean-burning, and environmentally sound. Part of the simplicity of the build is in the choice of flooring materials – polished concrete floors with radiant in-floor heating eliminates any duct-work or furnace rooms. Harvey adds that “without radiator panels along the baseboards you can get your glass right down to the floor. We might have less physical square-footage but we got more architecture with this design. Some people might say it is too small, or that it is not even prudent to build this way, but we view it as an important lifestyle change for our overall well-being. The access to light and nature alone is life-altering, surrounded by trees with light streaming in, it dictates the way you feel in the morning… it’s just a feeling.”
Inherent to the modern school of architecture, floor-to-ceiling windows blur the line between the interior and the natural surroundings. Whether they are watching storms or enjoying the expansive blue sky, the Harveys are unwavering in their commitment to modern design and it’s influence on experiential living. Their hope is that people will begin to understand the advantages of this type of build and realize that it is not a compromise, but a transformational way of living.
Custom built-ins keep the day-to-day electronics hidden away and create a calm environment to buffer today’s technological onslaught. Putting the myth to rest that modern is cold and strictly utilitarian, the Harveys strive to bring a natural feel to the home by keeping decor warm and organic without a lot of visual clutter.
Quintessential to mid-century modern decor, a George Nelson Walnut Sunburst Wall Clock, circa 1952, provides contrast on a white wall. Instead of decorating in the traditional design sense, every piece in the Harvey’s home has been carefully considered for both function and beauty. Pragmatic in their design choices, the Harveys comb online sites, both used and new, for mid-century modern furniture and decor for it’s clean lines and frugal use of materials. “I love the efficiency of being able to pick up an armchair and move it with one hand. You can’t do that with a lazy boy recliner,” smiles Harvey. Subscribing to the theory that architecture and furniture go hand-in-hand, the Harveys include iconic chairs by both Charles and Ray Eames and Danish architect, Arne Jacobsen. For Harvey, these designers “understand the buildings and the simplicity of modern design”.
“When looking at homes with clients most potential buyers immediately ask which walls they can remove or how they can open up the space, says Zamian Parsons. Whatever the reason, people are trading in the over-sized great room, for a more cozy, functional, open-living space. They want their home to be less burdensome and there’s an overall theme of craving more time together as a family. Victoria is full of modern homes with natural materials, and large, corner windows, but people aren’t necessarily educated on the aesthetic and aren’t aware of it’s advantages. We are here to educate sellers on what they own and how to market it.”
- Builder: Clarkston Construction
- Design: Josh Harvey
- Wood Stove: Pacific Fireplace
- Countertops: Colonial Countertops
- Stainless Countertops: Clarkston Construction
- Kitchen Boxes + White Fronts: IKAN Installations
- Kitchen + Bath – Walnut: Splinters Millworks
- Living Room Millwork: Doug Harvey
- Floors: Clarkston Construction
- Doors + Windows: Clarkston Construction
- Wall Clock: George Nelson, c1952
- George Nelson Bubble Lamp Suspension Ball: Gabriel Ross
- Sofa + Chair: Gus via Only Human
- All other furniture: Vintage original