With the Floating House, which hovers above a reflective pool in Vancouver, architect Arno Matis has created a contemporary West Coast sanctuary with Asian accents.
Words Claudia Shum Photos Michael Elkan and John Sinal
*Featured in Crave’s Issue 88, October 2017
In the hands of Canadian designer and architect Arno Matis even the most solid materials – concrete, wood and stone – take on an ethereal quality. His aptly named Floating House, built in 2015, in Kerrisdale, a Vancouver suburb, sits above a reflective pool and evokes lightness, despite incorporating heavyweight materials such as African mahogany and stone.
Seen from afar, the house appears to float on its almost moat-like pool, which descends gently into a cascading waterfall and the garden. A path of stone slabs lead to the front entrance.
“On a sunny day, when the doors are open, the reflection of the water and the connection to the garden is simply magical,” Matis says. “The reflection and the animation it creates results in a mesmerising and ever-changing element to the garden. In winter months the reflected light brightens the interiors and in summer the sound of moving water creates an ambience that relaxes and calms the mind.”
It was inspired by the owner’s fascination with the architecture during a trip through Southeast Asia. The home strikes a balance between contemporary and traditional with a timeless, modern finish. The exterior is enveloped in custom-made white concrete – bright, light and naturally finished – complementing the garden and the home’s wooden elements. The windows covering the upper studio are screened with a dynamic wood façade mimicking the natural disorder and texture of branches, which doubles as a sunscreen.
Other than playing with light and transparency, Matis aims to create a “seamless and harmonious” transition between interior and exterior. Large glass sliding doors framed with African mahogany welcome the environment into the home, creating continuity of movement between the garden and the house.
“Asian architecture and interior design are very much concerned with the sequence of spaces and views [forming] a narrative that is often meant to relax and inspire a meditative and reflective state of mind,” he says.
Inside, stone floor slabs delineate the rooms, which flow sequentially from the entrance to the living room, dining room, open kitchen and back to a transparent staircase at the entrance. “In classical Western architecture, rooms and spaces are clearly defined with little or no relationship to the exterior,” Matis says. In the Floating House, instead of compartmentalising the spaces, he uses screens and floor level changes to enhance the connection between the different shared spaces.
The staircase also reflects the floating theme. A single offset stringer with wood screen, the staircase sits next to a bamboo garden and natural light shines through the adjacent window and individual beams.
“Most think of a stair as a pragmatic element to access multiple levels in a home,” Matis explains. “Moving up the stairs, you follow the bamboo stalks to the sky. The light changes and one moves vertically and it’s a joyful experience both rising and descending.”
Upstairs, the master suite includes a bedroom with elegant dark wood interiors, marble-clad ensuite bathroom and walk-in closet fitted with Italian smoked glass doors. The space is shadowed by the wooden façade, which also provides privacy. A suspended onyx fireplace, echoing a Carrara marble one in the shared living room, “adds an element of drama and surprise to the home”.