Craftworks Goes to Church and Learns about the Vancouver Special’s 2nd Coming

The pews at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver were packed. You’d think it was a Sunday, but in fact it was a Tuesday night and people were there to pay homage to the Vancouver Special.  The sermon (lecture) was organized by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, and was a compliment to the open-house tour of 4 (very special) Vancouver Specials that took place Saturday September 25th.  Some would question its status as “heritage”, but the Vancouver Special has definitely made its mark on the socio-historical and architectural landscape of Vancouver.

A block of Vancouver Specials (photo from JMV on Flickr)

Anyone from the city (or anyone who’s spent time here) would know about the iconic (sadly) and ubiquitous single residential structures that line the streets of most east van neighborhoods.  For some good reasons, the Vancouver Special is “in” again, and the Globe & Mail recently published an online piece about the Vancouver Special’s resurgence.

Stephanie Robb presentation slide

Stephanie Robb of Pechet and Robb Architects show off some exposed beams of her Vancouver Special – taken by my iPhone

The talk on Tuesday night featured 2 speakers who each shared their own insights and experiences in renovating Vancouver Specials – changing, stripping and transforming them to their own lifestyle and aesthetic needs.  First up was Stephanie Robb of Pechet and Robb Architects (her own Vancouver Special was photographed for the Globe & Mail article), who shared both personal and professional insights on renovating and re-purposing Vancouver Specials.  Following Stephanie Rob was photographer Scott Massey, who spoke about his experiences of doing the renovations entirely on his own – it was very inspiring in a DIY way.

Why all the fuss about Vancouver Specials now?

  • Vancouver Specials by design maximize floor spaces – perfect for small Vancouver city home lots
  • Solid wood-frame and construction means that the specials tend to have good “bones” to work with (older versions were built with beautiful old-growth beams that could be exposed for aesthetics or pulled out to be re-purposed for other parts of the renovations)
  • The 2 storey layout was originally designed to accommodate extra family members (common in immigrant families) or to create a separate suite for rentals as a mortgage helper.
  • An interesting (albeit kitschy) way to celebrate something truly special to Vancouver
  • A more “affordable” option to having your dream home in Vancouver
  • Renovations and restorations are always a more sustainable option to new construction
Wood details at the Unitarian Church in Vancouver

I got a bit distracted by the beautifully modern wood detailing at the Church – taken by my iPhone

As I’ve mentioned before, the talk was inspiring and provided a lot of great background information on exactly why these houses were so special in a historical and cultural way, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon – then wending through beautiful East Vancouver Neighborhoods with my family checking out the creative and thoughtful methods that people have used to transform something so cookie-cutter into a home that’s truly special and personal.

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