If you stay in the Corduroy Suites room with the antique cigar box, be sure to open it. This isn’t a no-touching museum situation — each of the eight rooms is a sort of living history. The cigar box is just one of the many artifacts collected from the Highlands neighbourhood (inside, you’ll find clippings from the Highlands Historical Society’s old magazines). Some other literal pieces of history also remain in these new boutique accommodations: The decades-old, five-panel doors had to be removed to bring the building up to code, but were repurposed as wainscoting in the hallways. Wood from throughout the building was upcycled and used in the stairwells. Some old radiators were repurposed as the bases of hall tables, with reclaimed wood from the Highlands area on the top. And, an elegant clawfoot bathtub remains in each bathroom.
When La Boheme, a quaint bed and breakfast and restaurant in the Highlands neighbourhood, closed its doors in 2018, the community was assured that the beloved 100-year-old Gibbard Block brick building would be taken care of. A heritage grant helped with essential repairs, but its overall aesthetic and many original elements remain. On June 4, 2019, Corduroy Suites was the first business to open in Gibbard Block. The building now also houses Highlands Liquor, June’s Delicatessen, Fox Burger, Sparrow Spaces coworking, a seasonal rooftop patio, and a wine bar and restaurant in the basement as homage to La Boheme’s restaurant.
Corduroy Suites’ owner, Tommy Kalita, partnered with Maureen Wright and Johanne Lewis of MoJo Design to design the eight rooms. Each room has a contemporary, Scandinavian-chic look and feel, but incorporates historical artifacts and nods to the history of the neighbourhood.
“We met with the Highlands Historical Society and they were really interested in keeping some of the decor, not just going in and making it all modern,” Wright says. “They had some magazines and we looked at those for inspiration. We were really sympathetic to the design of that era and we took on those ideas.”
“We wanted this space to be something that the community likes and is happy with,” Kalita says.
Though a consistent yellow, gold and blue colour pattern runs throughout the rooms, no two are the same. “Each room speaks for itself,” Wright says. “The wall-paper in each room established the direction of the room, and the prints and colours stemmed from conversations with the Highlands Historical Society.” Acorns were quite a popular historic design element, so one of the wallpaper patterns has acorns printed on it. A gold and brown paisley pattern was similarly found in a historic magazine. MoJo Design had stencils made of the tin ceiling, and hand painted the print onto some of the walls.
“We wanted to keep as much of that historic character as possible, even if we couldn’t keep it in its original form,” Kalita says.
“I think it’s nice to have the contrast of historic fixtures and modern palettes. We achieved a nice balance,” Lewis says.
The amenities are more modern; each room has a full kitchen, and is stocked with local products: Coffee from Transcend, olive oil from Evoolution and spices from Silk Road. In the bedrooms, the mattresses come from local brand, Healthy Bedroom, and art by Marcus Coldeway, who recently moved to Vancouver from Edmonton, lines the hallway. Kalita is interested in expanding the amenities, and has plans to partner with the rest of the businesses in the building to offer additional services to guests in the suites.
“The whole building is an amenity, not just the suites,” Kalita says. “When creating the suites, we tried to think about the overall experience in the Gibbard Block.”
The rooms are partially accessible; the beds are low to the ground, the doors are extra-wide and there’s a lift in the building. However, the clawfoot tubs may not be accessible for everyone.
“The design opportunity with these suites is to give people a boutique experience,” Kalita says. He named the property after a few things; the cozy, welcoming feeling inspired by corduroy fabric, the nostalgia of the children’s storybook character Corduroy Bear and, perhaps more of a deep cut, the name of pleasing pattern made by groomers on ski trails.
“Some of this stuff you might not put in your own home, but you’re travelling and it gives you something different yet comfortable,” Wright says. “It allowed us to step outside the box and do something creative.”