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The Netherlands-born painter Charles Stegeman was in his mid-20s when, after the Christmas of 1951, he arrived in Vancouver with his wife and looked around for a home. He had completed his studies at a series of European schools and, upon arriving at the far edge of the world, discovered “there were about 50 or so interesting people. You made it a point to meet them.”
One of that clutch of worthies was a handsome young architect named Arthur Erickson, born nine days after Stegeman and similarly chomping at the bit. They saw each other at dinners, or out for drinks (“He was simply luminous,” recalls the 86-year-old Stegeman, who now divides his time between Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and Fontaine-les-Coteaux, France).
Stegeman bought an acre of land in the British Properties for about $900 and, one evening, he said to Erickson, “If someone wanted to build a house, would you be interested in that sort of thing?” “Very much,” Erickson said. “And he started interviewing me,” Stegeman recalls, “asking me what I would expect from such a house.”
The young Stegeman didn’t know he was in negotiations with the man who would become Canada’s greatest architect. Erickson had founded his firm the year before and had only one house under his belt (the first of two homes he would design for the painter Gordon Smith). “We built the whole thing for $19,000,” says Stegeman.
Half a century later, the house (pictured here), after suffering a slate of unsympathetic renovations, was purchased by the president of D&M Publishers, Mark Scott, who brought in architect Brian Hemingway in 2001 to restore the home to its former glory (and more: all rooms were refinished and updated, even as original drawings were consulted to maintain fidelity with Erickson’s overarching scheme). You’ve probably seen inside the rebooted house yourself; it became the opulent home of the Cullen family in the Twilight movies.
Now this piece of architectural history—the oldest Erickson house still standing—is being offered for $2.95 million. It has moved from modernist triumph through deterioration and neglect, suffering the vagaries of numerous owners with multiple design visions that formed a palimpsest over Erickson’s genius. And through all this it has never been protected by any heritage designation. As it changes hands again, this publicly loved but privately held gem in our midst has only the good taste of its next owners as a safeguard. VM
Battle Royal: Arthur Erickson’s death last May triggered a messy fight over his estate and his legacy—just the sort of drama the celebrated architect was always leaving in his wake
King Arthur: Like his best buildings, Arthur Erickson was an elusive blend of style and substance, past and present, inner and outer. He died, at 84, in the spring of 2009. This profile originally ran in September, 2006.
Heritage On The Rocks: The demolition of Arthur Erickson’s Graham house in West Vancouver upset a great many people—but for all the wrong reasons