Last Sunday found us up nice and early in preparation to hitting the road for the Vancouver Heritage Foundation Heritage Homes Tour.
It’s something I’ve been promising myself I’d do, but always put it off. This year, though, we were able to get it together and June 1 found us up, fed, dressed (with easily removable shoes) and water bottles at hand we headed off to the first house on the tour: Casa Mia.
Casa Mia is the fabled house built by the Reifel family. It sits on Mansion Row on South West Marine Drive and yes, everything you’ve heard about it is true. There is a ballroom on the basement level with gold-leaf walls and ceiling and a sprung dance floor. The walls of the playroom were hand painted with Snow White decorations by Disney artists brought in for the job. The rooms are beautiful, opulent, luxurious. The bathrooms are incredible. The men’s powder room by the ballroom has black fixtures! The lady’s has gold plated faucets! As a piece of OTT decorating (and the life that demanded it) it’s a prime example. One that will probably be changing in the future, as it’s currently being considered for a care home. This was our only chance to see this building, and thanks to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, we did.
By the way, kudos squared to the Foundation for the organization of the tour. The route was good — from Casa Mia though houses 1 to 10, the guide told us what to look for and expect at each home (and where we could find public restrooms along the way), the volunteers were helpful and friendly, the homes were all lovely, and there was even a food truck mid-way through to make sure you didn’t collapse from hunger.
Still, intrepid explorers though we were, we found it almost too overwhelming and skipped one of the three storybook homes on the tour.
I won’t take you on a room by room recap, there’s lots of info at the Vancouver Heritage Foundation site. Here’s the highlights I took away:
- It’s easy to think of the lovely west-side homes in Kerrisdale, Shaughnessy and Kitsilano as heritage homes, but there are many gorgeous heritage properties on the east side in transitional neighbourhoods like Strathcona, Grandview, Mount Pleasant and Sunrise that have not always been well maintained but should definitely be preserved and respected.
- It’s still possible to maintain the charming design of an older home while updating it with energy efficient heating and modern bathrooms and kitchens.
- People love built-in sound systems. We have one in the laneway because we didn’t have room for speakers on the walls — but lots of people put them in so they won’t have to have ugly speakers out in the open.
- Take shoes you can easily remove at each home — they didn’t mind bare feet inside so you could wear sandals — but make sure they are comfortable because you may have to walk a couple of blocks from where you can park
- Mature gardens are so lovely — everyone had beautiful exterior spaces
- Everyone was respectful of the age of their home — even when the furnishings were modern the interior design reflected the original finishings
How can we maintain these fine old homes? How can we keep our city neighbourhoods from becoming homogeneous slabs of suburban architecture? I’ll be thinking — and writing about this.