Anyone can park a house on the beach, but it takes a creative couple to skilfully blur the distinction between indoors and out and blend past with present. Renée and Steven Rechtschaffner moved into this 100-year-old cottage in West Vancouver just as their three children (Conor, Michaela and Luke) were becoming teenagers. Counting themselves lucky for finding a rundown property that hadn’t been touched since the ’60s, but unable to afford renovations, they filled the house with Ping-Pong tables and video games. (Steven was a video game producer at the time and always had the hottest pre-release games.)
Both former professional skiers (Renée travelled the World Cup circuit for five years on the Canadian ski team and was number 2 in the world for combined skiing in 1981; Steven was a freestyle skier for the U.S. team), the couple shared a passion for outdoor activity. They would spend early mornings in the kayak, late evenings on the paddleboard and every sunny afternoon splashing in the waves. Ten years in, the constant cacophony of sleepovers and joyously shrieking teens drove them to build the “Bunker,” a quiet place to escape from their children. The couple constructed their master bedroom in a new 900-square-foot wing of glass and concrete with massive, unobstructed views of the ocean. Renée knew she wanted a contrast of old and new, hard and soft, so she turned to her old high school chum Frances Zago, now an architect. Together they designed a sculptural space that took its cues from the natural rock the house is built on. As functional as it is beautiful, their bedroom became their own private tree house where they could both observe and hide from the chaos of family life.
Then, as the kids left for university one by one, Renée and Steven began to reclaim the rest of the house. While tearing away at their 1915 gem, the couple uncovered original features like rock walls under aging plaster and a stone fireplace complete with thick black grout. To contrast the historic pieces, they added modern elements like concrete floors and countertops in the kitchen and as much glass as the house could hold to make the most of their waterfront location.
Through it all, Steven left Renée, a painter, to her own artistic devices, always supportive, never interfering with her vision. Now that the kids have moved out, Renée says, “it’s our turn to play in this house.”