Shift House sits on a family-friendly street in Vancouver’s down-to-earth east side. Part of a close-knit community, its massing of two distinct ridged elements at once reflects and respects the common architectural silhouette of the neighborhood while emerging organically from this tradition to express a distinct and playful identity.
“Play” proves to be a key attribute of Shift House. Its owners, a family with two small children, asked the architects to design a home rooted in this concept — and the curiosity and creativity that emerges from its practice. They imagined a house where play, in all its forms, was to be the guiding energy, with no room or material too sacred or off-limits to their children or their friends.
This sense of play starts with the outside. The cladding, a 45-degree pixelated cedar shake pattern, picks up the contextual coloration of the site, referencing the unpretentious diamond shingle of a fisherman’s shack. Inside, the architects kept on theme, playing on traditional building materials to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable. Exposed galvanized conduit lines, exposed structure and construction-grade plywood cabinetry are all part of the language of the house — a considered composition of coarse and rough materials that together evoke a modest yet unmistakably modern typology of style.
The 10-foot drop from front to back provided a unique opportunity to explore volumes within space. Similar to a split-level home, upon entering Shift House you rise to the sleeping quarters, or descend to the living areas, with a flush-on-grade exterior condition in the back. This design leverages stair volume to create a stacked effect, engaging passive cooling.
To hew to a smaller footprint and protect the exterior living, the architects created multiple uses for spaces. Nooks abound in which to read, play and daydream. The inside front wall becomes an inspired mudroom pegboard. Netting protects a play area above the entrance.
An intimate connection with nature can be found throughout the home. Large picture windows offer framed views to the outdoors, while lofty, front-to-back sightlines reveal glimpses of treetops. The kitchen/dining area opens seamlessly to a patio and grass.
To minimize the materials footprint, the architects used reclaimed pavers in the front yard, with cuts of the foundation wall forming the exterior entry pad. Part of the concrete board form was reused for soffits, while the rough fir planks of the scaffolding were repurposed for planter beds. More planks were milled down to create a table for the dining room and desk for the study.
Shift House is a home that balances both its connection to the neighborhood and its modern roots, anchored through a creative expression of play. It was completed with a small yet intimate of team of artisan builders, which was of great comfort to the client.