Hers + His

When designer Sharon Bortolotto sought to devise her own home, her first priority was to reach “beyond the concept of four walls and a floor.” Her own sensibilities perfectly complement the architectural approach of ROAR, the acclaimed residential complex designed by Lang Wilson Practice in Architecture Culture, in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood. ROAR’s floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors blur the boundaries of inside and outside space. On mild days, the doors open and the living space expands. The weather turns; the doors close and the space contracts, while remaining as visually expansive as ever. Bortolotto, the principal of BBA Design Consultants, configured the 1,050-square-foot interior with the same ethos. “Design doesn’t always have to be about big stuff,” she says. “You can be small and subtle.”

Bortolotto’s expertise lies in creating staged interludes – BBA Design’s faerie-like Wickanninish Inn on Vancouver Island and various other tony hotels, spas and ski resorts. When it came to designing for her permanent living space, the challenges were starkly different. The design brief here is, essentially, how to configure a loft space to suit a modern family. But first, let’s define “modern family”: it’s no longer a large or immobile crew, but more often malleable and peripatetic like Bortolotto’s. Separated from her husband, Bortolotto has a 13-year-old son who lives with her part of the week. The intra-weekly transience requires her/their home quarters have to be like spatial putty, ready to be built up to accommodate two people and then hammered back down to suit one, at a moment’s notice. It has become the Canadian standard: a transfigured family in a big city’s shoebox-size space, trying to eke out a lifestyle that Bortolotto calls “semi-cohabitation.” Never easy, but she offers a smart paradigm for the new normal.

Bortolotto’s strategy was, essentially, to generate newly usable space within the confines of Lang Wilson’s basic mezzanine loft. She moved the hot water tank from upstairs, where it had been located upstairs in the clothes closet, to a cranny in the bathroom, freeing up enough room for a compact second bedroom where the water tank and closet used to be. Her own “closet” is embedded within custom cabinetry on the main floor, adjacent to the entrance. The open, flex-space loft thus transformed into a condensed two-bedroom unit, with her son’s room designed like a ship’s cabin, right down to the elevated trundle bed tucked into a wall niche.

Bortolotto’s own room thus emerged in the forestage of the loft, with a silhouette of the North Shore mountains arching over the cityscape. But naturally, her son wanted the same kind of view from his bedroom. It seems like a logistic impossibility – how do you bring a “view” into a tiny bedroom tucked at the back of a loft behind another bedroom? But ingeniously, Bortolotto resolved the problem by devising a view-on-command barrier between the two bedrooms. Over a U-shaped drywall frame, she installed panels of frosted glass on a rail slider that easily join flush to create an opaque wall, or slide apart to create an instant view for her son’s bedroom. The sliding frosted-glass panels behave something like a stage curtain or camera shutter, opening to reveal the visceral red interior of his bedroom and procure its view. When he migrates back to his other parent’s abode, she can slide the panels shut to create a continuous wall, and the space instantly reverts to single-gal domain.

The other key design accomplishments here are the personalizing and harmonizing of the disparate spaces. One would expect the constantly shifting program – from single professional woman’s pad to mom-with-kid domicile – to culminate in a dog’s breakfast of a home. Bortolotto’s streamlined millwork upstairs and down helps unify the space and make the limited floor area seem larger. The choice of material quality over quantity – just a few pieces of wenge wood furniture define the bedroom – also helps. And the architecture’s cool grey palette of concrete and steel is heated up by the vivid red hue anchoring the space – upstairs, in the walls of the son’s bedroom, and downstairs in the red-lacquered millwork.

The design strategy goes amazingly far in making a condo-sized living space into a true home for a contemporary family unit. “It’s not so much about what I did,” says Bortolotto of her living space in ROAR. “It’s about being part of the experiment.” cI