The house on Skyline Drive was one of 11 built in 1954 for Ted and Cora Backer, designed by Porter & Davidson Architects, and sponsored by BC forest industries to boost retail lumber, plywood and shingle sales in the province. The other Trend Houses are in Victoria, Calgary, Halifax, Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton. One of the Toronto Trend houses was demolished and the Montreal Trend House came down last year.
The North Van house needs love. What was once wood (and may still be underneath) has been carpeted over, wallpapered and dry walled. It’s looking tired and in need of an update. But at 2,472 square feet it’s still a good size family home with a dramatic split level open concept plan, sweeping vaulted ceilings the width of the house, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
Originally the exterior cedar shiplap was painted house gunmetal black with terra cotta trim. Inside, the same black was used on the cedar paneling with grayed blue green and maize yellow accents. At the time, the house also was a showroom for modern conveniences—the latest thermostatic temperature control, remote control touch-plate lighting, copper plumbing and fibreglass insulation.
Aaron Rossetti from Re/Max Rossetti Realty says the new owners seem interested in the Trend house and it’s history and he thinks that their intention is to keep it. The house is on the District of North Vancouver’s modern heritage inventory for its architectural merit, social and cultural value.
Stephen Winn and Sandi Miller used to go out of their way to drive past the Richmond Road Trend House in Victoria. “We are big fans of mid-century modern and we were looking for a year and a half and not ever thinking that we would have an opportunity to purchase the Trend House,” says Winn who bought in 2009. “It just popped on the market and we couldn’t believe our luck.”
At 835 sq.ft., the one-bedroom house was the smallest, designed for Gwen Cash by architect John di Castri to prove that small didn’t have to mean a box. The second owner added two rooms and a sun porch and the house is now around 1,300 sq.ft.
Constructed mostly of hemlock, the main roof runs the length of the house and is supported by diamond-shaped trusses. Huge plate glass windows look out to the Sooke hills. “Part of the excitement for us is that the architecture of that period is intended to bridge the indoors and the outdoors,” he says. “We are making it a family home while trying to stay true to the spirit of the house.”
Cash (1891-1983) was one of the first women reporters in Canada when she went to work for Walter Nichol at the Vancouver Daily Province in 1917. She settled in Victoria in 1935, worked as the public relations officer at the Empress Hotel, and wrote three books including her memoir, Off the Record in which she wrote that di Castri “designed a house that frankly took my breath away, so imaginative was it.”
“Mine was the smallest of the trend houses but the most talked and written about. Conventional Victorian viewers, addicted to pseudo-Tudor or modern box construction, were puzzled and vaguely angered by its unique design. Like modern painting it was something that they couldn’t understand.”
Cash wrote that she’d heard her house described as a flying saucer, a little gem, a big-little house and a fun house.
The house was opened to the public for three months and more than 34,000 people trekked through. For months after, people continued to come from all over the world to see it. Winn says they haven’t had anyone pressing the front door chimes yet, but cars often slow down to take a look and people stop and snap photos.
Eve Lazarus is a freelance writer with a passion for history and heritage houses. She is the author of At Home with History: the secrets of Greater Vancouver’s Heritage Houses, a member of the North Vancouver District Heritage Commission, and blogs obsessively about buildings and their genealogies at www.blog.evelazarus.com. Her next book with house stories of Victoria’s murders, ghosts, brothels, artists and sea captains (not necessarily in that order) will be published this fall.