As a child, designer Everest Lapp would make her father pull over when they drove along South Pender Island's Oxbow Ridge, a narrow turn on the Gulf island where you had to blast a warning honk as you rounded the corner. "I remember the light hitting my eyes in such a profound and particular way there," Lapp recalls. "I told myself, this is where I'm going to live. Right here."
There are only 10 properties on Oxbow Ridge and, at the time Lapp was graduating from architecture school at UBC, not one had sold in the preceding decade. Either by sheer luck or destiny, though, she wandered past a real estate sign one day, just 15 minutes after it had been posted. The owner, impressed by her story, sold the land to Lapp for less than it was worth.
Designing a small space with big impact
Today, with husband Daniel, she is raising the sixth generation of an Island family in this 680-square-foot, one-bedroom home. Their five-year-old daughter sleeps in the tiny loft at the top of a wooden ladder; their one-year-old son goes to bed in a nook beside the bathroom. "I wanted a small, low-maintenance, passive solar home that would help me be close to my family and be creative," says Lapp.
Approaching the house, you note the green roof, covered in wild strawberries, ferns and licorice, which gives the place an immediate sense of history, of Hobbit-like comfort. Extending that effect, the front facade mimics the farmhouse built by Lapp's great-great-grandfather (it still stands in its original location just a stone's throw away, and is now the oldest home on the island), with a gable pitched roof and a shingled exterior. Inside there are several modern touches. Beneath timbers arched in a "friendly gothic" style overhead, Lapp's family lounges on baby blue Eames-style chairs and pebble cushions, or cooks breakfast in a decidedly slick Ikea kitchen.
Cabin with a view
If the exterior calls to mind a simple, dark farmhouse, the interior exploits some roll-your-eyes-beautiful views of forest and ocean. At the house's far end, a 20-foot-tall expanse of windows rises up, with vertical timbers angled a subtle eight degrees to emphasize the structure's tented embrace. By the dining area, an 11-foot wall of glass slides back to capture summer breezes. Lapp even arranged for the opening to be angled exactly on the east-west axis at the equinox.
Naturally, an island home has a heavy focus on the surrounding landscape: as this one's sited on a rocky ridge, arbutus trees are especially happy here, and Lapp can walk down a short trail to her grandfather's favourite beach. This cabin-like home is organic enough, warm enough, humble enough to make it feel as much a part of the island as Lapp herself.
Designing an Eco-Friendly Cabin
Tips from Everest Lapp
Use local building materials. "Many people think wood isn't eco-friendly," says Lapp, "but it's local, renewable and recovered easily from your own environment." Try salvaging wood after a windstorm—Lapp used a windfall piece of cedar for her new design studio.
Heat the floors. Heating the floor—not the air—uses less energy. "Your body thinks it's warm because everything you touch is warm, even if the air isn't."
Go small smartly. Making efficient and economical use of space can provide the illusion of roominess. "Everything has to have more than one function," says Lapp. "We have a lot of built-ins to help with storage and multiple guests." wl