Squamish: Design-build team creates a peaceful mountain retreat

‘Our aim was to create a soothing, simple design with soft lines and an organic undertone.’

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Call it a design intervention. Or a rescue. But when designer Jessica Lowes stepped in to help a homeowner in the early stages of a carriage home project in Squamish, she brought along a healthy dose of relief.

The client had been working directly with builder Alair Homes, attempting to DIY design the 750-square-foot home on a lot co-owned with family members — and discovering it was a more stressful job than she thought.

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A local supplier had referred the homeowner to Lowes, who is owner and principal of Whistler’s Peak Design House.

“She was taking on all of the design decisions on her own,” recalls Lowes. “She’s a teacher, and so much of her energy goes into teaching young children. To then come home and have to decide: what kind of heat pump do you want? What kind of baseboards? It was just a little bit too much.”

Lowes started with 3D modelling of the space, then worked with the client on curating an esthetic that felt “simple, fresh and a touch feminine.”

house exterior
Due to an irregular lot shape and topography, this Squamish carriage home sits to the side and front of the property’s primary residence. Photo by KRISTEN MCGAUGHEY Kristen McGa
house exterior
Decks and windows are oriented to capture western views, while frosted-glass railings help maintain privacy on the street side. Photo by KRISTEN MCGAUGHEY Kristen McGa

“While we didn’t have a defined [design] concept per se, our aim was to create a soothing, simple design with soft lines and an organic undertone,” says Lowes. Ideally, a space where the owner could “let go of her day at the door and feel peaceful as she entered the space,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Alair coordinated with architect Erron Holden of FLUX Residential + Commercial Design on the home’s structure and exterior.

“Unlike most carriage houses that are generally built for rentals, this is actually the client living in the house, so we were able to design it exactly to her wishes and desires,” says builder Jason Zavitz, owner of Alair Homes Squamish and Whistler.

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Due to an irregular lot shape and topography, the structure sits to the side and front of the primary residence, on a hillside. The owner was intent on ensuring the space had plenty of light, with windows positioned to frame the mountain views like artwork, while maintaining privacy on the street side.

“The orientation of the house was entirely designed to maximize the views to the west,” says Zavitz. “[It] also has a beautiful little outside deck that is very private, with frosted glass, and she’s looking out to this beautiful view.” A wide window on the same side serves as a focal point from the kitchen and den.

Another priority for the space was creating plenty of hidden storage, says Lowes. “We tried to get as much storage into the kitchen as possible without it feeling visually cluttered,” she says. The island is narrow, at 28 inches wide, but adds much-needed counter space. By design, it’s also just long enough to pull up three stools to seat the homeowner and her two grandchildren, who live in the main house on the property.

A clean-lined kitchen features shaker-style cabinetry and invisible upper pulls to minimize visual clutter, while Moroccan-inspired tile – Tencer Mestizaje Zellige – adds subtle sheen to the backsplash. Though narrow, the island provides extra counter space, with panelling to match the cabinetry. Photo by KRISTEN MCGAUGHEY Kristen McGa
A bright red door
A bright red door adds a pop of the owner’s favourite colour, while a vintage Turkish rug brings a lived-in feel. Photo by KRISTEN MCGAUGHEY Kristen McGa

The home’s living-dining area is small but highly functional, with a custom dining table that extends when needed for entertaining. A petite sofa and plush ottomans offer soft seating in a small footprint. Layered earth tones, natural textures and off-whites add visual interest while maintaining the tranquil palette — from a hanging pampas grass sculpture to a modern rattan lounge chair and cloud-like pendant light.

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A closet off the den was originally slated to have doors but instead now houses a wallpapered office nook with a desk. “When we were touring the space, once it had been framed, we realized the view out of the window was just too fantastic to put doors in front of. So that’s how the little closet office was conceived,” says Lowes.

lounge area
A lounge area off the kitchen overlooks breathtaking mountain views framed by a boldly black-framed window. Layered textiles and poufs, alongside artwork by Squamish artist Eileen Kiyonaga, create a bohemian feel. Photo by KRISTEN MCGAUGHEY Kristen McGa
An office nook lined in botanical-print wallpaper.
An office nook lined in botanical-print wallpaper. Photo by KRISTEN MCGAUGHEY Kristen McGa

The bathroom was an exercise in “high-low” finishing, with selective splurges to elevate the space. Patterned porcelain “Chex” tile from Ontario’s Tile Inspired runs underfoot and up the shower wall, while a solid Fiora shower base gives a curbless effect, without the prohibitive cost. A glass panel substituted for a full shower door saved enough to install a higher-end temperature-control system.

As the interior design came together, so did the structure. To maximize energy efficiency, Zavitz and his team zipped up the building envelope tightly, using energy-saving windows and other building techniques.

“Especially for such a small space, we achieved excellent air tightness,” says Zavitz. Using low-VOC paint and mineral-wool insulation in lieu of spray foam further lowered the project’s carbon emissions and potential for off-gassing.

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One big takeaway from this project? Work with a designer, says Zavitz. “Some people think, oh, I have design sense. I can do that, no problem – but when it comes down to all the fine details, ensuring that each piece and each choice ties into the next . . . that’s where they run into problems,” he says.

“A designer, at the end of the day, probably saves you more money, just because of all that decision-making.”

Construction: Alair Homes Squamish

Design: Jessica Lowes, Peak Design House

Architecture: Erron Holden, FLUX Residential + Commercial Design

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