This Minimalist Laneway House Is A Mindful Retreat
Homeowner Janet Willson took an unorthodox approach to explaining her vision to her architect. On their second meeting to discuss her 616-square-foot laneway house in east Vancouver, Janet asked architect Marianne Amodio to lie down on a table similar to the one a massage therapist would use. She then gently guided Marianne through a Feldenkrais session (a series of exercises designed to improve movement) by repositioning her arms and legs. A decades-long devotee, she wanted Marianne to experience how she would use the space to practice personal Feldenkrais and meditate, but also employ it as an extra entertaining hub away from the main house where she lives with her husband, Christopher Zuberec.
Something obviously clicked. “As soon as we were done, the correlation became very clear in my mind — the bones of the building equalling the bones of the body,” says Marianne. All the whiteness has an effect, too. “There’s this feeling of being in a cloud — you exhale immediately,” she adds.
Scroll down to step inside this calming, compact home — plus, get a crash course on laneway houses!
“The whole design of the space is about flexibility,” says Janet. The high table can be pushed against the wall to make space, or serve as a spot to dine or put food out for a party.
The simple yet striking design with a sloped roof and a soothing white interior came to have exposed Douglas fir rafters, the “bones” of the house. “It’s explicit when you walk into the space that you’re looking at the spine of the building,” says Marianne. Sliding doors reveal bathroom and laundry areas.
Upholstered in an inky blue fabric from Marimekko, a built-in bench on the south side frames a mature apple tree.
The bathroom’s seamless vanity and penny-round tiles are characteristic of the architect’s unfussy style.
A space-saving Murphy bed can be lifted up and concealed during the day — not even the shelves are in view. “Having the floor space as open as possible allows for multiplicity of use,” says Marianne. Radiant heat keeps the concrete floors warm year-round.
A sparse, Japanese aesthetic reigns on the home’s alleyway side, where raised beds with fragrant red climbing roses and heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) reflect the quiet atmosphere indoors.
Laneway Houses 101
Why Build One?
Apart from their Lilliputian charm, a laneway house can be an effective solution to today’s urban housing crisis. It’s no wonder that these self-contained structures, approved in a number of Canadian cities, are being built on the back of preexisting lots, open to the alleyway. Compact secondary abodes can increase a property’s resale value, and they can function as a work studio, extra living space for older parents or become a rental property where permitted.
Where Do You Find Them?
Vancouver has issued more than 3,000 permits since rolling out the laneway program in 2009. “Because the program’s done so well in Vancouver, it’s now a statewide initiative in California — you can’t have a single-family home without wanting to put in a ‘casita,’ as they call them,” says Jake Fry, founder of Vancouver’s Smallworks, the company that built Janet and Christopher’s home. Laneway houses are also legal in Calgary, Ottawa and in some zones in Toronto.
Can You Build One?
Maybe. City guidelines vary, but factors commonly taken into account include a property’s width, the potential laneway home’s distance from the principal residence and the proposed building height.