Travel Guide: Vancouver for Design Lovers

This scenic coastal Town, one of the Very densely populated in North America, is nestled between the North Shore Mountains and the Pacific Ocean in British Columbia, Canada. At its heart Vancouver is home to around 600,000 people — two million if you include the surrounding areas.

Consistently voted one of the most livable cities in the world, Vancouver is a melting pot of cultures and thoughts. It exudes diversity, has a strong creative community and is punctuated by new and old layout, such as historical heritage houses, illustrations of West Coast modernism and buildings which show a movement toward a more sustainable urban environment.

Vancouver’s nickname, the “City of Glass,” is taken from the title of Douglas Coupland’s travel publication; it cites the steel and glass structure which dominates the skyline.

“Vancouverism,” a term originally credited to famous local architect Arthur Erickson, captures a metropolitan architectural movement rooted in a profound respect for nature that has been embraced throughout town planning process. The glassy low-rise buildings are meant to encourage thoughtful development.

GSky Plant Systems

If you’re traveling by airplane, you are going to have the pleasure of touring the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), Canada’s first airport to install a green living wall. This striking display is 18 meters high and 12 meters wide (59 by 39 feet); it was designed by Sharp Diamond Landscape Architecture and homes 28,249 human plants. The airport also shows a spectacular collection of Pacific Northwest native art and totems.


Vancouver Convention Centre
Price: Free to tour indoors; occasion entrance varies
Location: 1055 Canada Pl.
Noteworthy: Accredited LEED Platinum, thisbuilding boastsCanada’s largest living roof: 6 acres, such as 400,000 indigenous plants along with four colonies of bees.

Have a waterfront stroll round the building and take from the oceanfront views of Stanley Park and the North Shore. In the convention centre, a world that’s 18 feet in diameter is suspended from a background of wood-paneled walls made from 6,000 planks of neighborhood British Columbia sustainable hemlock.

The Interior Design Show, aka IDSWest, calls the centre home; at 2013 the series is September 19 to 22. The venue has also been chosen as the host for its 30th anniversary of this TED2014 conference.

More info: Vancouver Convention Centre, IDSWest, TED2014

Megan Buchanan

Vancouver Art Gallery
Price: About $17 for adults; entrance by donation on Tuesdays after 5 p.m.
Location: 750 Hornby St.
Noteworthy: The front steps are a popular public gathering place. They spill onto Robson Street, a busy shopping area.

This building was originally constructed as the main courthouse for Vancouver. It was declared a heritage site and retains the original walls and judges’ benches. The gallery is home to a group by Canadian painter Emily Carr, famous for her depiction of British Columbia’s forests and totems.

The present exhibition, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, charts the evolution of hotels architecturally, geographically and socially. It runs until September 15, 2013.

More info: Vancouver Art Gallery

Megan Buchanan

Vancouver Public Library
Location: 350 W. Georgia St. (Library Square)
Noteworthy: Walk through the steel and glass atrium to get a Feeling of the construction’s centrifugal design.

A layout contest decided the last appearance of this building. The people voted for architect Moshe Safdie’s design, which surprised officials, because the surrounding buildings are more traditional.

More info: Vancouver Public Library


Stanley Park and the seawall
Location: The south end of Lions Gate Bridge and downtown
Noteworthy: Stop at the English Bay, Second Beach or Third Beach or check out the gigantic Stanley Park hollow tree, a western red cedar that’s 700 to 800 years old.

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s largest urban park in 400 hectares (988 acres), and it is home to many historic landmarks as well as the Vancouver aquarium. The paved seawall surrounding the park is 22 km (13.6 miles) and is popular for walking, jogging or riding a bike.

More info: Stanley Park, seawall

Historic Gastown
Location: 43 Powell St.
Noteworthy: Check out Vancouver’s legendary flatiron-style building: the Hotel Europe, built in 1909.

Gastown is the town’s oldest neighborhood and a national historical site. It was recently voted the fourth-most-stylish neighborhood by Complex magazine and is home to many style and interior furnishings boutiques as well as bars and restaurants.

Having a statue of heritage father and saloon owner Gassy Jack (1860s) in its epicenter, Gastown is a special pocket at town where you can shop, eat, drink and stroll along cobblestone streets. There are many furniture showrooms, such as InForm Interiors and Montauk Sofa. Additional must-stops such as home furnishings include Parliament, Old Faithful and Orling & Wu.

If you’re seeking a coffee or a cocktail, then try Nelson that the Seagull or The Diamond overlooking Maple Tree Square, respectively.

More info: Gastown, Inform Interiors, Montauk Sofa, Parliament, Old Faithful, Orling & Wu, Nelson the Seagull, The Diamond

Megan Buchanan

Museum of Anthropology
Price: Around $16 for adults
Location: 6393 Marine Dr.
Noteworthy: The Great Hall (shown) features 15-meter (49-foot) walls of glass.

Beloved Canadian architect Arthur Erickson designed the museum; he’s said to have been inspired by the post and beam structure of Northwest Coast First Nations people. Like the majority of his work, it’s made primarily of concrete.

More info: Museum of Anthropology

Museum of West Vancouver Modern Home Tour
When: Saturday, July 13, 2013
Price: $100; registration required
Location: Check in at the museum: 680 17th St., West Vancouver

Select for a self-guided tour or join the bus tour to visit some classic cases of West Coast modernism. Shown here is a home featured on the 2012 tour. If you are unable to make it to the tour this summer, take a look at photographer Selwyn Pullan’s publication Photographing Mid-Century West Coast Modernism or take a look at the movie Coast Modern.

More info: Museum of West Vancouver, West Coast Modern Home Tour

Tacofino Commissary


Tacofino Commissary
Price: Appetizers about $4 to 12; tacos from $5
Location: 2327 E. Hastings St. (Hastings-Sunrise)
Noteworthy: The light installation is made from copper cable and blown glass.

Grown from humble food truck starts, Tacofino currently has a restaurant place with an interior layout by Omer Arbel, a Vancouver designer and creative director at light company Bocci. The restaurant also features potted cacti and succulents created by Olla Urban Flower Project.

More info: Tacofino Commissary

Salt Tasting Room

Salt Tasting Room
Price: Around $16 for tasting plates
Location: 45 Blood Alley (Gastown)
Noteworthy: Create a tasting plate from daily chalkboard menus and pair it with wine, beer or sherry.

Salt is located behind Gaoler’s Mews, Vancouver’s first jail, on Blood Alley, which gained its name from becoming a home mostly to butcher’s shops in the past. Gaoler’s Mews along with the neighboring buildings are believed to include one of the most haunted areas of the city. The restaurant charms with exposed brick walls and polished concrete floors.

More info: Salt Tasting Room

Janis Nicolay

Price: Entrees about $15 to $17
Location: 1509 W. 12th Ave. (South Granville)
Noteworthy: Glue the “heirloom” popcorn or an aloe cocktail while perusing the menu and taking from the pleasure vintage produce advertisements adorning the walls.

Heirloom functions modern vegetarian cuisine in a space on an old apartment block. The eclectic, homey restaurant has been designed by Evoke International Design and features a mix of vintage bits, commissioned cabinetry and original artwork.

More info: Heirloom

Rodney’s Oyster House
Price: Seasonal pricing
Location: 1228 Hamilton St. (Yaletown)
Noteworthy: See during whenever the low-tide specials are available (Monday through Saturday, 3 to 6 pm) and ask your server for daily specials.

Being coastal, Vancouver offers many seafood options. If you’re an oyster aficionado, check out Rodney’s, located in a former industrial area with historical brick warehouses-turned-lofts. Yaletown is one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in town and is home to many nightlife and dining options.

More info: Rodney’s Oyster House

Megan Buchanan

The Keefer Bar
Price: Beverages about $10 to $14; food about $7 to $16
Location: 133 Keefer St. (Chinatown)

Housed on the narrow and long ground floor of a turn-of-the-century warehouse, the more Keefer takes a exceptional way of cocktails. Its apothecary-style “remedies” or “cures” are hand made from Asian-inspired ingredients.

Three stylish loft suites with a fourth-level penthouse are all over the bar, and they comprise a huge private patio complete with a glass-bottom pool visible from inside the suites. Sad to say, the Keefer building is currently privately owned and no more available for rentals.

More info: The Keefer Bar

Örling & Wu

Must-Visit Shops

Orling & Wu
Location: 28 Water St. (Gastown)

This boutique home furnishings retailer often features first-in-Canada products chosen by creators Fredrik Örling and Julie Wu. The shop is a mix of modern, vintage and traditional styles. The team also specializes in wallpaper and upholstery services.

More info: Orling & Wu

The Cross Decor & Design
Location: 98 Homer St. (Yaletown)
Noteworthy: The owners also offer interior design services.

Located in a 1914 tradition building, The Cross boasts 5,000 square feet of retail space supplying textiles, furnishings, candles, books, jewelry and much more. Owners Darci Ilich and Stephanie Vogler wanted to deliver a relaxed yet elegant European style to Vancouver.

More info: The Cross Decor & Design

Location: 1849 Main St. (Mount Pleasant)
Noteworthy: If you’re feeling thrifty or looking for that one-of-a-kind piece, check out ReFind. The owners supply everywhere, bringing in preloved furniture, lighting and antiques. They are also up for hunting for that special something you have been on the lookout for.

Main Street is home to many antiques and vintage clothing shops. There are some great dining options and galleries. If you’re looking for a bit from the upcoming great Canadian artist, check out On Main Gallery, an artist-run space that shows work by both new and established Canadian artists.

More info: ReFind, On Main Gallery

Mint Interiors
Location: 1805 Fir St. (Armoury District)

Mint is at the Armoury District (recently named after the nearby Seaforth Armoury), that is now home to many of Vancouver’s architects, designers and suppliers. This home furnishings store carries global finds and also offers its private-label custom furniture.

More info: Mint Interiors

Rosewood Hotels


Rosewood Hotel Georgia

Price: From about $217
Location: 801 W. Georgia St. (Downtown)
Noteworthy: The hotel has hosted famous guests, such as Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, Katharine Hepburn and British royalty.

Once the hotel opened in 1927, it was called the town’s most elegant retreat. It relaunched in 2011 as Rosewood Hotel Georgia and is located right across from the Vancouver Art Gallery. Head up to the rooftop Reflections Lounge for a drink next to outdoor fire pits, cabanas along with a waterfall feature.

More info: Rosewood Hotel Georgia

The Burrard
Price: From about $98
Location: 1100 Burrard St. (Downtown)
Noteworthy: Free cruiser bike rentals to explore the city with

A decorative redo, the hotel once called Burrard Motor Inn originally opened in 1956; at 2011 the renovations paying homage to the past were completed. The courtyard is a superb oasis if you’re seeking comfort in the center of the city.

More info: The Burrard

The Fairmont

The Fairmont Pacific Rim
Price: From about $227
Location: 1038 Canada Pl. (Coal Harbour)
Noteworthy: The Lobby Lounge features live music seven days per week and can be a happening spot for happy hour.

Across from the new Convention Centre, the Fairmont boasts amazing views, particularly of the North Shore. It’s luxuriously appointed with natural stone and wood finishes.

More info: The Fairmont Pacific Rim

Opus Hotel
Location: 322 Davie St. (Yaletown)
Price: From about $153
Noteworthy: The rooms comprise iPads, Frette bathrobes and Herman Miller ergonomic chairs.

Opus is a stylish boutique hotel amid Yaletown’s historical warehouses. Its sleek and lively jewel-toned rooms were designed by Robert Bailey and feature local artists’ contemporary artwork. The hotel is within walking distance of all Yaletown’s restaurants and shops.

More info: Opus Hotel

Local Tips

Have a drive over Lions Gate Bridge. This suspension bridge spans Burrard Inlet and joins Vancouver in Stanley Park to North and West Vancouver (the North Shore). Named after “The Lions,” two notable side-by-side peaks of the North Shore Mountains which are visible once you’re crossing the bridge northbound, it was completed in 1938 and is a notable feature, particularly when lit up at night, of Vancouver’s skyline.

If you plan to devote a few days in town and wish to venture outside downtown, perhaps over to the North Shore or up to Whistler, a rental car might be your best bet. If you are staying near downtown and would like to abide by public transportation, you can easily get around through bus or skytrain. To get a cruise round Stanley Park try the many bike, inline skating or scooter rental stores in the foot of Denman Street (in Georgia Street).

Section of Vancouver’s transit system, TransLink, the SeaBus is an alternate way to cross between the city and the North Shore. Hop on from either side and take in the opinions.

More info: Translink

Grouse Mountain

If you’re into the outdoors, hike the “Grouse Grind” trail on Grouse Mountain, dubbed “The Peak of Vancouver” for bird’s-eye views of town, Burrard Inlet and the Georgia Strait out to Vancouver Island. You can also take the gondola.

For great north-facing city views, head up to Queen Elizabeth Park and the Bloedel Floral Conservatoryor the adjacent Quarry Gardens.

More info: Grouse Mountain,Queen Elizabeth Park; Bloedel Floral Conservatory

Tell us : Hey, Vancouverites, did we miss anything? Share your choices for design-minded items to do and see and places in which visitors might prefer to eat, drink and shop.

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