“Living next to each other in a duplex just works for us,” explains Vancouver-based architect Heather Howat (centre) of her shared home with longtime friend and business partner David Battersby (far right). The duo behind award-winning Canadian outfit BattersbyHowat designed and also help build their shared lodging in East Vancouver (Howat’s unit in the front and Battersby’s in the back). “It had to be an inexpensive build because we were young and poor architects at the time,” she recalls. “But we also wanted our sides to represent some different design sensibilities we had early on for how we wanted to live — David’s side was more garden oriented since he is a landscape designer, too, while mine was more loft-like and above the street.”
When the home was first constructed, the lower level of Howat’s unit needed to also accommodate the emerging studio’s offices. “Our staff used to sit side-by-side with about two feet of desk space between each computer,” she fondly recalls, “and large drawings had to be folded strategically as you worked!” The firm would rapidly outgrow this home office, prompting the architect to convert much the workspace into a charming new guest bedroom filled with an eclectic mix of furnishings as well as a serene view into the garden. A thrifted lamp from Value Village sits atop Patricia Urquiola’s textured black T-Table while a minimal white bed frame by Luciano Bertoncini looks onto a monochrome, geometric print purchased at an auction a number of years ago.
While much of the former studio was annexed during the renovation, this BattesbyHowat-designed built-in desk is all that remains — strategically sheltered by a grove of bamboo that adds a layer of privacy while modulating the light trickling in. “This particular desk was never mine and, while I’ve had lots of friends use it over the years while staying with me, it has not been until our current work from home situation that have I actually spent lots of time here,” Howat says of the configuration, featuring Foster and Partners’ discontinued Three Sixty table lamp for FontanaArte and Arper’s Catifa chair. “I love it!” The perch also provides the perfect vantage for Howat and her cats to surveil “neighbourhood feline interlopers and the occasional urban skunk or raccoon.”
In her living room, hallmarks of mid-century design find a home amid a storied selection of objects and artworks. A sleek leather lounger with a four-prong base by design darlings Charles and Ray Eames from their Aluminum Group series is paired with the marble-topped Tulip side table by their equally renowned colleague (and occasional collaborator) Eero Saarinen. Displayed behind on a linear white sideboard by local studio Bensen is the latest addition to her collection, obtained at a recent auction in support of Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery – Chasmic by local artist Fei Disbrow – with the artwork serendipitously inspired by Howat’s own recent trip to Iceland. Above hangs Ontario- and British Columbia-based painter Graham Gillmore’s Scenic Vista Viewpoint, purchased from Monte Clark Gallery while the pair where still in architecture school. “I’m pretty sure ‘some’ of our student loans may have headed in this direction,” she jokes. To create the unique fixture, a series of black-wire orbs (originally designed as tea light holders) were suspended from the ceiling. Close by, an antique iron once owned by Howat’s grandmother rests on the windowsill, a reminder of her formative years growing up in Flin Flon, a rural mining community in northern Manitoba.
A spartan marble-topped galley kitchen (with an ink drawing by renowned Canadian artist Gordon Smith leaning near the sink) seamlessly transitions into a weighty millwork piece in the living area. The unit displays an assortment of books, object and art, including a striking architectural image by emerging Vancouver-based artist Dylan Vogel mounted above.In the nearby dinning room, Italian manufacturer Kristalia’s laminate and turned wood table is paired with a collection of graceful oak Hiroshima low armchairs by Maruni, a composition inspired by a similar configuration completed for a recent client. “Once my mortgage was finally paid off I could finally afford the best and most comfortable wood chairs available, and I’m glad I waited,” she says. Assorted ceramic pieces sourced from West Elm and nabbed at a flea market in Washington, D.C., add a hand-made quality to the sleek surroundings.
During the initial construction, both Howat and Battersby installed a number of features in the home, such as the metal stringers on the central stairs leading from the lounge to her master bedroom, a process that “involved a lot of colourful language due to the dangers involved with a lot of sharp corners of steel and two architects trying to direct each other.” Though much of their shared residence has functioned as a testing ground for ideas of construction and of living, these trials have left an indelible, if not idiosyncratic, mark on many parts of the home. “During a party I make sure only a few people are on the stair at any one time,” she laughs, while ensuring that, since this early experiment, all BattersbyHowat-designed stairs are fully engineered.
“My master bedroom and bathroom are where I spend the most time,” Howat explains “The bathtub is probably the most important feature in my house.” It should come as no surprise, then, that her sombre ensuite is wrapped in minimal grey tile, providing the perfect muted backdrop for the rays of light beaming in throughout the day.
At the apex of her tailored urban abode, Howat’s master bedroom boasts an expansive glazed wall that opens onto an even more covetable balcony. “I can open up the deck to the bedroom all summer long and even sleep out there on occasion,” she says. A sleek custom bed by her eponymous studio is fittingly wrapped in West Elm sheets with a simple grid pattern. “What architect doesn’t like a grid!?” she jokes. Beside, Flos’ height-adjustable OK Lamp is mounted above BoConcept’s leather table with a rich black wood top to complete the refined space.