An Architect Riffs on Chinese Design For Her Grandparents’ Aging-in-Place Retreat



Honoring the homeowners’ roots in Chinese studies, Curio House taps into traditional Eastern design philosophies.

A remote-controlled kitchen island rises and lowers to accommodate wheelchairs.

Set within the East Asian community of Richmond, BC, Curio House allows two Chinese scholars—the architect’s grandparents—to age in place. “I have a very close relationship with them,” says Haeccity Studio Architecture cofounder Shirley Shen, “and it was kind of a family endeavor.” The homeowners had lived in a two-story home on the same street for 40 years, but it was falling into disrepair, and the stairs proved a challenge at their age. “So, [the design] was to reinterpret using their cultural background as the basis, but to do it in a modern way.

Douglas fir cladding that leads into the foyer conceals the garage, which is a 24-inch-wide, top-hung, bi-fold door.

Douglas fir cladding that leads into the foyer conceals the garage, which is a 24-inch-wide, top-hung, bi-fold door.

Photo: Ema Peter

The resulting design integrates principles from feng shui, a set of spatial laws meant to direct energy, and siheyuan, a historical courtyard house. The home, for instance, lies on a north-south axis, an element that comes from Eastern philosophy—the front door allows you to enter from the south and proceed through the home to the more intimate spaces on the northern end. “Because the clients have a large extended family and regularly receivevisitors, we wanted to think of it more as a village than a house,” says principal Travis Hanks.

Initially, guests are greeted with a vaulted courtyard space, again borrowing from East Asian spatial principles. “The main concept [references] how Chinese families traditionally lived together back in Asia,” says Shen. “So, the central courtyard is a public space for everyone, but people are able to retreat into their bedrooms, or to private quarters along the edges and along the back.” 

A Volcanic rock garden–following a principle of feng shui–is placed at the entrance of the home.

A Volcanic rock garden–following a principle of feng shui–is placed at the entrance of the home.

Ema Peter

The front garden has a water feature that offers protection, according to feng shui, and an arrangement of volcanic rock that symbolizes mountains. Cedar wood cladding along the entrance wall offers a material connection to the western coast of Canada. 

The single-story, zero-barrier layout is wheelchair accessible, and Shen added other features to make sure the home continues to be comfortable and convenient for her grandparents.

The outside is brought in with double-height NLT (nail-laminated timber) ceilings and automated clerestory windows.

The outside is brought in with double-height NLT (nail-laminated timber) ceilings and automated clerestory windows.

Ema Peter

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