Entering this home, a 17,500-square-foot structure built partly over a man-made lake within a private four-acre site near Vancouver, British Columbia, is a religious experience of sorts. The house’s circular copper front door is framed by a 14-inch-thick square clad in black granite, forming a design element that is a loose reference to the Buddhist and Hindu mandala, a symbol of the universe in which a circle encloses a square. The square represents Earth, and the circle is heaven. “In order to get into the house, you have to step over the square and move through the circle—it’s a metaphor,” says the house’s Vancouver-based architect and designer, Brian Hemingway. “Getting into heaven isn’t supposed to be straightforward or easy. You have to be careful that you don’t stumble.”
The house’s owner, a semiretired contractor named C.C. Chen, was born and raised mainly in Taiwan, but he was not familiar with the principles of Buddhism or Hinduism until introduced to them by Hemingway, who was born in India, has worked in Southeast Asia, and has had an interest in comparative religion since the age of 15. The mandala motif appears throughout the house (which will be featured in the spring 2006 issue of Robb Report’s sister publication Robb Report Luxury Home) on furnishings that Hemingway designed. A large square rug in the foyer displays a subtle geometric pattern with circles and squares, as does the 8-foot-long Japanese-style lantern that hangs from the ceiling. “A lot of the decor is Eastern, but all of the materials, like the limestone, granite, redwood, and maple, are local, so that the house feels like it belongs in the West,” Hemingway says.
The Eastern-influenced decor includes the intricate latticework of the porte cochere; it is based on a pattern that appears on decorative screens from the Sung dynasty. The lion statues sitting at the bases of the porte cochere’s decorative columns also have a Chinese origin. “Traditionally, the statues were placed at entryways to cast away evil spirits,” explains Chen’s son, James, who recently earned a doctorate in architecture from the University of Hawaii. “It is also a tradition to place them at the foot of columns to add support. However, here they have more of an aesthetic and mythological presence.”
The lions may ward off intruders, but the large painting hanging in the foyer directly across from the front door invites visitors to enter. “It is something we made as a family for my oldest sister’s wedding,” recounts James. “It’s a mirror image of the Chinese letters for happiness. As soon as you walk through the door and metaphorically enter heaven, you see double happiness.”
Brian Hemingway Architect Ltd