Mother Earth Living

The Remainder House: A Reclaimed Wood House on Bowen Island in British Columbia

Motivated by twin passions for Bowen Island's natural beauty and the distinctive qualities of reclaimed wood, architect Don Gurney builds a small home on a remainder lot.
By Jennifer Roberts
July 2011 Web
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An elongated patio serves as the home’s entryway. In the summer, friends and family gather for meals at long tables and benches set outside.
Photo By Linda Svendsen

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The following is an excerpt from Good Green Homes by Jennifer Roberts (Gibbs Smith, 2003). The excerpt is from Chapter 2: Size Matters.

Don Gurney, an architect and the owner of this home tucked into a wooded slope on Bowen Island near Vancouver, British Columbia, didn't specifically set out to create a green home. And yet, motivated by twin passions for the island's natural beauty and the distinctive qualities of reclaimed wood, that's exactly what he did.

Don's quarter-acre property boasts mature cedars, Douglas firs, West Coast maples, and views of the shimmering Howe Sound. But for the past fifty years or so, since this hillside neighborhood was originally subdivided, that quarter-acre had remained undeveloped. It was an awkward wedge of land wrapped on two sides by a road, with homes directly above and below it on the slope. On the subdivision's plans, it was even labeled “remainder lot,” a name that Don has adopted for what he fittingly calls the “Remainder House.”

Don, who was a bachelor when he bought the lot, imagined building a home of old reclaimed timber. The appeal was not only the beauty of old wood, but also its durability, strength, and dimensional stability—qualities uncommon in today's new wood. His vision for the home didn't come together until he discovered an old 900-foot-long warehouse on the mainland that was slated to be razed. He purchased two bays and both ends of the warehouse, and had the lumber barged to his island property. Don used this reclaimed Douglas fir for virtually all the wood in the home, with the exception of the framing studs and the floor joists on the main floor. The wood was milled on site, with Don's builder making board-by-board decisions about how to put each piece of wood to best use.

With just over 610 square feet on its main level and 300 square feet in the loft, the house is, as Don says, “enough building for this site.” From the back the house is low-slung, with a curved copper roof that just peeks over the narrow road. The living spaces—indoors and out—face south to take advantage of views of the water and to capture sunlight filtering through the towering trees. In fact, the south side of the house is predominantly transparent, with large windows, glass corner walls, and clerestories, as well as glass doors that open onto patios and terraced areas. This transparency, along with the open-plan interior, makes the house live larger than one might expect. Although it was originally designed by and for a bachelor, it has adapted well to the changes that life brings, and now shelters Don, his wife Saffron, and their two young children.

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