But that commercial origin belies a design that has generously accommodated family life over the years and continues to resonate with grace and beauty.
Many of the qualities found in Thom's best work are here. Sensitive siting, material integrity and human scale are brought together with features like butt-joint glass, impeccable finishing and spaced beams that draw the eye out as they pass through the building envelope and into the landscape.
A Japanese influence shows in decorative roof crests, a koi pond at the entry path and a spareness and purposefulness of attributes like gutters held back to reveal a thin, delicate roof edge. Inside, on what would ordinarily be a ninety degree turn, one wall plane extends outward, meeting the other through a recessed section as edges pull back to underscore the transition.
Though the approach varies from the freeform spatial inventiveness of something like the Case Residence, the connection between structure and site remains elemental and the house is grounded in a calm confidence. As the split-level plan pivots, views double back through layers of glazing, framed by structure and landscaping.
The result is a sort of architectural fugue that cascades from one room to the next, culminating in the living room amongst unexpected turns and quiet corners. Open framing acts like tensioned webbing to define the space and provide unexpected depth and height.
Thom's colleague Dick Mann worked closely with him on the house, at a time when Thom was immersed in the construction of Massey College in Toronto; many of the details are the result of Mann's careful eye.
Mid-century houses are an endangered species in Vancouver. The Sauder Display house particularly so, given its location on a major urban artery. In a city like Los Angeles there is an understanding that houses by Schindler, Neutra and Wright are civic, even national, treasures. Not so in Vancouver where we tend to bulldoze our heritage before it gets too old.
Not every building or house should be saved, of course. But the city can only benefit from the best exemplars of their place and time being protected for the record, even as we move forward.
The house has a history of public viewings, beginning in 1962 when Vancouverites toured it throughout the summer. It was profiled in the August 1962 issue of Western Homes + Living and more recently featured on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation's house tour–the first modernist property to be included.
As the Sauder Display house transitions again, here's hoping it will find a new custodian to carry it through the next mid-century as a reminder of a particularly fertile moment in the city's history.