Over the Edge

A can­tilevered stu­dio is a rather lit­eral leap of faith in the Okana­gan.

Western Living - - NEWS - by BARB SLIGL pho­to­graphs by JON ADRIAN

This 480-square-foot can­tilevered glass-and-con­crete guest stu­dio on the prop­erty of win­ery owner Ian MacDon­ald is a rather lit­eral leap of faith over a stunning cliff in the Okana­gan—and the ideal place for artists to source a lit­tle in­spi­ra­tion.

it was near the bot­tom of a trail travers­ing a hun­dred-foot slope to Okana­gan Lake that the Ply Ar­chi­tec­ture team and owner Ian MacDon­ald first voiced the idea: Why don’t we can­tilever the stu­dio over the edge?

“You’re look­ing up at this al­most unattain­able hori­zon be­cause it’s so sheer and steep,” says ar­chi­tect Arnold Chan. “It oc­curred to us, wouldn’t it be amaz­ing if you were stand­ing just over this precipice . . . if you’re talk­ing about some­thing that re­ally takes your breath away.” As it hap­pens, they were. MacDon­ald and the Ply Ar­chi­tec­ture part­ners, Chan and Casey Burgess, were dis­cussing the next stage of Fly­ing Leap, MacDon­ald’s name for the dra­matic site where he built his home. “Fly­ing Leap is a pretty provoca­tive, ac­ti­vat­ing name for a site,” says Chan, adding, “Ian has a knack for these things in terms of a vi­sion.”

That vi­sion be­gan when MacDon­ald came from Cal­gary to B.C.’s Okana­gan wine coun­try—specif­i­cally the Nara­mata Bench—to build the Liq­uid­ity Wines com­plex and his sim­i­larly “wow” home at Fly­ing Leap (fea­tured in Western Liv­ing in 2015). Con­tin­u­ing his master plan, he en­listed Ply Ar­chi­tec­ture to col­lab­o­rate on an ad­di­tional suite of build­ings, in­clud­ing garage, work­shop and what’s now been dubbed the Fly­ing Leap stu­dio.

MacDon­ald wanted a self-con­tained stu­dio space with a kitchen, wash­room and bed­room. “Al­most like a lit­tle cot­tage house,” says Chan about the com­pact 480-square-foot cre­ative out­post for MacDon­ald’s artist friends. “It’s some­where to be in­dul­gent in the site, in the place, in the mo­ment, and to get in­spired,” he adds. “That’s the soul of the space.”

From the ini­tial aha mo­ment be­neath the precipice, MacDon­ald was all in. “I knew it was a yes when, the very next morn­ing, he was al­ready out­side on-site with these large PVC pipes, lay­ing out the pos­si­bil­i­ties,” says Chan. MacDon­ald be­came the cham­pion of the project—work­ing with geotech­ni­cal engi­neers, bat­tling author­i­ties, search­ing all of Western Canada for a spe­cial­ized drilling sys­tem (de­liv­ered from the coast via a 90,000-pound ve­hi­cle with a 60-foot boom—“In a mat­ter of no time, this thing cored out four holes in the ground like it was but­ter,” says MacDon­ald.)

“For any other client I’d think it’d be crazy, but for Ian it seems par for the course,” says builder Ni­cholas Hill of Ritchie Cus­tom Homes. The silt banks, com­posed of glacial till, re­quired four 13-me­tre-deep, 28-inch-di­am­e­ter con­crete piers. “You get these beau­ti­ful clay banks and hoodoos,” says Hill of the soft for­ma­tions

along the lakeshore, “but it’s not the most com­pe­tent ma­te­rial to build a struc­ture hang­ing out over­top of.” Still, as MacDon­ald says him­self, he was com­mit­ted to the can­tilever­ing. “If it’s in­sane, I’ll usu­ally get it done,” MacDon­ald ad­mits.

“Ian has an el­e­ment—cap­i­tal-e el­e­ment—of Re­nais­sance about him,” says Chan. “He likes to think in big ways.” And MacDon­ald pushed like-minded Ply. Hav­ing worked in the risk-tak­ing de­sign scene of Hong Kong and with in­no­va­tive entrepreneurs in hospi­tal­ity, the two architects em­brace the ex­per­i­men­tal. In this case, the three-yearold firm will­ingly took a leap, so to speak, fol­low­ing MacDon­ald’s lead and the vo­cab­u­lary cues of the main house.

Those cues con­sist of a ba­sic ma­te­rial pal­ette: cedar, con­crete, glass, gran­ite, cor­ru­gated metal. “The cor­ru­gated is a bit of a ref­er­ence to that agri­cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment of the Okana­gan,” says Burgess, “a mod­ern ma­te­rial used in that farm or in­dus­trial con­text.” Ex­te­rior ma­te­ri­als ex­tend in­side—cedar sof­fits and con­crete floor­ing—to keep the con­nec­tion seam­less. The rest of the in­te­rior pal­ette is also sim­ple: stark-white walls, stain­less steel coun­ter­tops, lac­quered mill­work, Car­rara mar­ble tiles. “The ma­te­ri­als are true to their form in be­ing con­crete, wood, metal; we’re not mask­ing or mim­ick­ing any­thing,” says Hill.

The min­i­mal­ist, mod­ern aes­thetic (no trims, few de­tails) and stripped-down fur­ni­ture and fix­tures let art, like a large Vaughn

Neville ab­stract, be the fo­cus. “That’s the story of my life,” says MacDon­ald. “Ev­ery­thing I do has a white back­ground so it can be a neu­tral back­ground for dis­play­ing art.”

This cul­mi­nates in the bird’s-eye per­spec­tive from the bed­room, where “all of a sud­den, you’re hov­er­ing,” says Burgess. She and Chan were the first to ac­tu­ally stay in the fin­ished stu­dio. “If you’re there to cre­ate some­thing or make art, I can’t think of a bet­ter place to do it,” she says. Or, as Chan puts it, “If the build­ing were a per­son, it would be an en­abler. It’s not there for you to praise it, it’s there to en­able you.”

For MacDon­ald, it’s ge­nius loci. He’s even stamped the Latin term on his ad­dress sign: “A spot that’s im­bued with a nat­u­ral beauty that’s al­most sur­real . . . a very, very spe­cial spirit,” says MacDon­ald. “And that’s what I feel about this place. All I’ve been try­ing to do, with all the dif­fer­ent de­sign el­e­ments of the prop­erty, is to in­voke the ge­nius loci that’s al­ready in­her­ent in this piece of land.”

Ev­ery­one in­volved—Hill, Chan, Burgess—gives full props to MacDon­ald. “Ku­dos to Ian to have the guts to do it,” says Chan. “It’s one thing to de­sign some­thing; it’s an­other thing to make it hap­pen.” And when it hap­pens, ev­ery­thing else falls away, quite lit­er­ally. There’s no “noise,” he says. “All that is dis­tilled when you walk in—wow, I’m here, I’m some­where.” Some­where that was once air off a precipice. A leap, now man­i­fest.

Wild Am­bi­tion “If it’s in­sane, I’ll usu­ally get it done,” says home­owner Ian MacDon­ald of the am­bi­tious 480-square­foot can­tilevered stu­dio in the Nara­mata Bench.

Art Works MacDon­ald’s goal was to cre­ate “a place where peo­ple have a quiet, stim­u­lat­ing space and get cre­ative.” A num­ber of artists from around the world have al­ready stayed in the stu­dio (bot­tom). In the kitchen, an ab­stract paint­ing by Vaughn Neville adds a pop of colour (top).

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