When Size Doesn’t Matter
Edmonton couple proves that less is more in the historic McLeod Building.
July 28, 2016
photography by Jessica Fern Facette
Modernica ceramic planter from Habitat etc.; teak sideboard from Goodwill; mobile from Flensted; abstract human print by Kenneth Lavallee; chair from 84 in Winnipeg; coffee table made by Robyn’s best friend
There are two things you should never do when visiting Robyn Webb and Vedran Skopac at their seventh-floor loft in the historic McLeod Building:
1) Assume that you have been invited to sit on that worn and inviting mustard yellow chair – the cozy vintage one with wood warm and glowing from the streaks of sunlight sneaking in through wide open windows. You see, that chair belongs to Birdie, and Birdie is a cat, and since you most likely are not, better to take a seat on the long modernist sofa (which also doubles as a single guest bed) or wait for Skopac to offer up one of his beloved Danish bent plywood chairs designed by Fritz Hanson. Better yet, pull up that second-hand Eames original tucked away neatly into a Teak desk – an inexpensive score from Goodwill.
2) Although you wouldn’t be the first to make this blunder, don’t refer to the couple’s 850 square-foot slice of downtown Edmonton history as “small.” You may, instead, remark on how lovely it must be to live in a space with seven-foot high windows on all but one wall (“This place has an amazing cross-breeze,” swoons Webb). Or you can comment on the quirky elegance of a brass monogrammed door knob and decadent century-old marble walls and terrazzo floors flanking the vestibule at the entrance where Webb stores her retro-inspired Linus bicycle.
Go ahead and tell the couple that the 12-foot-high white walls and ceilings remind you of a Scandinavian apartment (yep, that was Webb’s inspiration!). However, don’t be surprised if they burst into laughter as Skopac, an architect with Manasc Isaac, confesses he lived in the space as a bachelor for four years with “Barbie pink” and “nuclear green” walls. That is until design-savvy and no-nonsense Webb, an environmental planner with the City of Edmonton, came into the picture. So, in 2015, Skopac finally called his landlord and purchased the unit, thereby rescuing it from the 1990s.
Truth be told, the space is a sort of “I can’t believe this is in Edmonton” secret treasure, because it is more than 100 years old and the building’s heritage windows are all open to what would now be considered illegal heights, letting in flies and the happy sounds of sidewalk chit-chat and laughter from all the surrounding bars and cafes on Rice Howard Way.
What it is not, however, is the sprawling love nest some might expect from a professional couple who both make decent salaries and spend their lives poring over design plans and books about art, architecture, urban planning and industrial design (the neat stack of books piled on the floor beneath the kitchen window is proof).
But for Skopac, who grew up in Croatia and spent the first nine years of his life living in an apartment of equal size with his mother, father, and two grandparents, “small” is a relative statement: “It’s small for North American standards, its huge for European standards,” he says.
There are no doorways to the bedroom – the bathroom acts as a natural divider between it and the living quarters. And, says Webb, every possession has been edited so that only “what is useful, and what is loved” is allowed permanent residence in the home.
That means the walls are decorated with works of art from local artists and friends (Dara Huminski, April Dean and Leanne Olson, to name a few) and that almost every piece of furniture has a story attached – whether it’s the table and chairs from Webb’s childhood home, or the kitchen layout Skopac says the couple fashioned after their love of sailing where the absence of clutter is essential for living on a boat.
Tablecloth by Mezzaluna Studio; casement black tall cabinet from Crate & Barrel
“Living in this space is not just about a nice apartment with nice furniture – it’s a statement,” says Skopac, who along with Webb, has a five-minute walk to work. “It’s a statement that it’s possible to have enough fresh air, enough sun, enough plants and even outdoor space that can sustain yourself to feel mentally and physically healthy.
“I believe that living in this particular location, with this particular kind of lifestyle is an intrinsic part of who we are – our integrity and authenticity. I can hardly imagine me selling the kind of service that I provide to society without doing this. I would not feel authentic.”
Pretty safe to assume, Birdie agrees too.
Bicycle from Linus; hallway coffee table from Carson Wronko, recent student of industrial design at the University of Alberta
Kitchen table and chairs, from Robyn’s family home, made by University of Manitoba architecture students
This article appears in the August 2016 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.