Days after completing a rigorous 10-year renovation project in Britain, interior designer Lady Denise Butler found herself on a plane heading to Vancouver.
“I was taking a long-needed holiday,” she muses. “For a decade I’d entrenched myself in restoring my family estate — an Edwardian Country House built in 1902 — and returning its pristine finish.”
But the time off never came. Instead this aristocrat came face to face with a 20-year-old apartment, which, in her words, “was shabby, and in no way shabby chic.” Its interior was unworthy of its million dollar view of Coal Harbour — a panorama spanning Burrard Inlet and Stanley Park to the North Shore Mountains.
“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, so much potential; how can it be possible to have an interior like this, when just outside, the surroundings are extraordinary?’”
So she did what all great designers, artists or musicians would do — she set out to create her own magnum opus, which first entailed “ripping out the walls, the ceiling and wiring, until the 2,175-square-foot space, with additional 1,700-square-foot rooftop patio, was returned to its grass roots.”
With full autonomy of design choices, Butler decided the home should be distinctly British and European in nature. The overarching design inspiration, she explains, was sparked by a remarkable pair of occasional tables that sit in the drawing room of her British estate. Attributed to eminent 18th-century fine furniture makers, Mayhew and Ince, the walnut tables, c.1775, are richly engraved with neoclassical marquetry — decorative inlays of satinwood and boxwood, and finished in an enchanting French polish.
Fast-forward two years, and the apartment, now valued at over $6.2 million, displays a rare level of opulence. Walls are panelled in dark walnut, and ceilings dressed with imported European tin, then finished in a satin shade of cashew to mimic the plasterwork in the Palace of Versailles. Heated floors covered in handsome Herringbone hardwood are embellished with fine Persian rugs.
At every turn, there is finery to behold: gorgeous 18th century paintings and portraits in lustrous gold-leaf frames, a Louis XVI-style chandelier, an antique dining room table with mother-of-pearl inlay and a sumptuous velour chaise in the living room. The only hint that one really is in the 21st century, is the full HD television hidden inside a mirror above the ornamental French fireplace.
Upstaging all these antiquities is the kitchen, a true masterpiece in design and finish that took one year to build and is fondly described by Butler as not just a fine specimen of cabinetry, but “a Chippendale’esque-Mayhew-and-Ince-Louis-Philippe hybrid.”
The medallion inlays and veneer work were fabricated in the UK, on location at Butler’s family estate, by master carpenter Scott McKenzie, who used a centuries-old antique veneer press to beautifully prepare the solid walnut millwork’s gracefully articulated curves for 10 layers of high gloss French polish. The kitchen seamlessly integrated into the Louis Philippe-inspired space framed in travertine floors and replete with black galaxy granite countertops and stained glass windows.
“It’s an absolute work of art to look at,” Butler says, “and the older it gets, the more beautiful the wood gets. It’s gorgeous, especially at night.”
While she orchestrated every detail, Butler says she still felt surprised when she first stepped back and took in the finished spaces. The distinctly masculine feature wall in the living room had an uncanny resemblance to the first-class smoking room of the 1912 luxury liner, the RMS Titanic.
“It must have registered in my psyche, as I just adore the lavish interiors of the Titanic,” says Butler. “This home is certainly a coming together of different eras. Where it once lacked a heartbeat, I’ve given it a soul. I feel cocooned in these beautiful surroundings, and when I’m here, I don’t want to be anywhere else.”