When most people think of West Coast Modern, condominiums probably don’t come to mind. Rather, mid century post-and-beam construction with lots of wood and a coastal setting is more likely the go-to notion, especially in Vancouver, Canada. However, for those living the downtown lifestyle, apartment and condo living is pretty much the only option. So how do you achieve the West Coast Modern aesthetic in a 700 square foot apartment? It’s not as difficult as you might think. Here’s how I renovated my modern condo.

the interior of a modern condo in vancouver. a blue sofa in the foreground.

When I had the opportunity to move recently, Vancouver’s West End was my neighborhood of choice. It’s a one square kilometer peninsula (coastal!) adjacent to downtown and boasts the largest concentration of mid century residential buildings in the city.

a modern condo tower in vancouver

I scored an original unit—ripe for a makeover—in a mid-1960s modern high rise. Not so modern by today’s standards, however, were its closed-off kitchen, wall-to-wall carpeting and Pepto-Bismol pink bathroom (sorry, purists). The bones were there, though, for a Mad Men-style remodel that my contractor, Ian MacPherson, and I went to town on.

It was a real process, but now that it’s done I’ve got three takeaways to share about creating a West Coast Modern look in a small space.

1: To Add Or Remove?

When renovating, most people tend to knock down walls to open things up, especially in mid century dwellings where rooms were set apart. It’s a great idea, however, when it came to my front door entrance opening straight into the living room, I wanted to close it off. I know, right?! Ian my contractor thought I was nuts.

a view of a foyer in a modern condo in vancouver. A woode slat bench is to the right side.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s “compress and release” concept is what I was going for, so the hallway ceiling was lowered and a pocket door wall with reed glass was added to isolate this area. The result is a grander reveal when the door slides open, and the reed glass evokes a classic 1960s aesthetic.

the new foyer of the modern condo with a view of a new pocket glass door separating the hallway from the living room

Ian and I were on the same page when it came to opening up the galley kitchen though. Removing a portion of the wall which separated it from the living room resulted in more usable counter space and an accessible, contemporary feel.

We also removed part of the hall closet to create additional square footage resulting in a more formal entry area where people can sit to put on their shoes.

a twilight view out of the window of a modern condo in vancouver with a mid century sofa

2:Repeat Texture And Pattern

In the kitchen we juxtaposed faux walnut cabinets—for that warm West Coast wood feel—with tinted glass, clean quartz counter tops and retro diamond pattern wall tiles; and by repeating the same patterns and textures from room to room we made things more cohesive which left the space looking larger.

We carried the same wall tiles into the dining area and gave the living room a vintage aesthetic by reusing the faux walnut wood from the kitchen cabinets on a feature wall. A more subtle diamond shaped tile was used as part of the bathroom tub surround, yet it still referenced the diamond wall tiles used elsewhere.

a before photo on the right shows royal blue carpet in the dining room. The after photo on the right shows wood floors and an eames dining set
On the left, a BEFORE photo showing the closed-off kitchen and wall-to-wall carpeting. On the right, the AFTER: Wall tiles create a focal point and faux walnut cabinets for the kitchen pull similar textures from the living room.

On the floors we used ceramic travertine throughout the kitchen, entrance hall and all the way into the bathroom, while the living, dining and bedrooms each boast natural maple engineered hardwood, reminiscent of original mid century flooring.

A small open plan modern condo with a kitchen with tile walls to the left and the living room to the right
A view of the ceramic travertine used in the kitchen natural maple engineered hardwood, reminiscent of original mid century flooring that i used in the living room.

3: Vintage Decor

As you can see by the accompanying photos, I didn’t hold back when it came to the Mid Century Modern décor! In fairness, I’ve spent years collecting this stuff and most of what I owned went into filling the new space.

Before decorating, though, I wanted to imbue my surroundings with warmth. The faux walnut wood feature wall in the living room went a long way to attaining that goal, and by painting the other walls in hues of soothing taupe and deep ocean blue colors, I’m happy to report that warmth was achieved.

a before and after comparison of a modern condo in vancouver that shows blue carpet replaced with wood flooring
On the left is the BEFORE which shows the blue carpeting and original hallway. On the right, the AFTER which shows the new wood floors, the wood wall paneling. The seagull Curtis Jeré is particularly fitting here by the coast.

While decorating, I also wanted to integrate something from this region and since I was going for a West Coast Modern style, I made room for two new pieces that screamed to be incorporated. The metal wall sculpture above the television is a late 1960s Curtis Jeré, and although not from Vancouver, you can see how the seagulls are perfectly suited for this environment.

Perhaps the most appropriate find for my space is the serigraph, ‘Convoy at Rendezvous,’ circa 1948, which reflects the region’s natural surroundings and is by renowned Canadian artist and architect, Bertram Charles Binning (1909-1976) from Vancouver. It’s featured prominently in the bedroom.

So, for those still thinking a West Coast Modern look can only be achieved in a 1960s post-and-beam style rancher, I hope these remodel takeaways will help inform and inspire. Small spaces, like my modern condo, can be transformed too.

Looking for more design insight for condos? Check out this

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About the Contributor

Ken MacIntyre

Ken MacIntyre in his Vancouver condo

Ken MacIntyre is the creator and curator of Modtraveler.net: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Modernism. Follow Ken on Instagram at @Modtraveler