The Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s 2011 Heritage Home Tour

Vancouver Sun, May 20th, 2011

Dozens of bungalows like this one, from the late 1920s, stand on the surrounding blocks, showing the amazing range of aesthetic finishes and revival styles these homes offered; in this case, with Craftsman influences. This home features a 34 colour paint scheme with five tones on the exterior alone! The vibrant interior boasts primitive art from all over the world, family heirloom furniture and artifacts, unique antiques and beautiful art glass.

Of the many architectural styles that reflect Metro Vancouver’s young history, there is perhaps none as ubiquitous on the city’s housing landscape as the bungalow.

Roomy and square, with useful basements and, often small second-storey bedrooms, the bungalow is a utilitarian house renowned for both compact efficiency and thoughtful floor plans, twin attractions for growing families looking to settle down.

In Vancouver alone, there have been several incarnations of the bungalow – and you could argue the infamous Vancouver Special of the 1960s is one – but the first version owes its provenance to the economic uptick following the First World War.

By the early 1920s, as the city’s population began to grow and streetcars were travelling farther east into what were then the far-flung suburbs around Commercial Drive, a building boom saw the development of entire neighbourhoods boasting distinctive arts and crafts bungalows.

Somewhat less ostentatious than their westside counterparts, and crafted to conform to smaller building lots and more manageable mortgages, they were no less a testimony to a time when houses were built to last.

That’s just one of the attributes that attracted Chris Tonge and Roxanne Cave to their tidy 1927 Craftsman-style bungalow, among the dozens lining the lovely elm-shaded streets in the bungalow-heavy enclave just east of Victoria Drive and north of Broadway.

They bought the place eight years ago, and they have been transforming the house ever since, inside and out, from replacing the knob and tube wiring to installing stained glass windows to planting a now-thriving cottage garden.

For the retired 62-year-old Tonge and the still-working 55-year-old Cave, decorating their historic home is about funky vibrancy, heirloom antiques and reminders of their world travels.

It’s also about a palette so colourful that the house now boasts 36 different colours, and counting.

The exterior alone is five colours, its bright blue hue with raspberry trim something of a shock, at least at first, and sure to be a talking point when the couple opens their home to ticket-holders on the 9th Annual Vancouver Heritage Home Tour on June 5.

Every room in the 1,200-square-foot home has its own personality, whether it’s the vintage bathroom with the turquoise claw foot tub or the Taj Mahal-style master bedroom with the orange Venetian plaster.

“We’re pretty eclectic,” says Cave, something of an understatement as she points out Indonesia art, Indian pilasters, the sandstone-over-brick fireplace and the ethnic décor that is the home’s abiding theme.

They’re on the tour, they say, because they were asked, but also because they know that if the city’s housing heritage is to survive, if people are to understand that the greenest house is a house that is already built, then heritage home tours are one way to open people’s eyes.

Jana Zylich and John Sinal, who live in a 1932 bungalow just a block away and who also agreed to invite hundreds of strangers into their house on this year’s tour, hold a similar perspective.

They bought their house a decade ago, and while “it has never had as full charmectomy,” says Zylich, they have undertaken an ambitious renovation, including ripping away stucco to reveal original cedar siding, removing panelling, linoleum and mouldy carpet, re-righting the porch and converting a basement area into a spacious studio for Sinal, a professional photographer.

“Nothing had even been done to the house,” says Zylich, “and at some point it must have been loved, but when we bought it, it was really awful. It looked so cute from the outside, but it was really run down.”

The couple – she’s 43, he’s 45 and they have two young children – kept the original floor plan, but worked room by room to open things up and restore as many of the original features as they could. They stripped and stained – all the doors had been painted brown – and salvaged windows and doors from elsewhere. They also redid the kitchen, which overlooks an expansive back deck.

Today, the house is a bright, livable space for a modern family, but still retains the character and feel of its 1930s roots.

If these two east-side bungalows represent the modest aspirations of early Vancouver development, and the dedication of their 21st-century owners, the tour’s other seven homes are also a nod to the rich diversity of the city’s vintage housing stock.

From Strathcona to Shaughnessy, ticket-holders this year can check out several Craftsman-style homes, a Tudor revival and a restored Edwardian with a laneway house.

The 9th Annual Vancouver Heritage House tour is Sunday, June 5, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for the self-guided tour are $40. More information about the tour, and ticket purchasing, can be found on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation website: