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Modernizing The Vancouver Special

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Vancouver skyline with a mountains in the backdrop

Vancouver Is A World-Class Gem

Vancouver is a special place, it's home to iconic mountain views, beautiful seascapes, and fresh mountain air. It is truly a world-class gem when it comes to cities, which is probably why the cost of living is so darn expensive here.

Another iconic staple of Vancouver is its unique urban and suburban architecture. Nowhere else in the world can you find the old-fashioned, pieced-together bungalows that are scattered throughout the Greater Vancouver Area, which is why they are commonly referred to as "The Vancouver Special."

A bungalow located in Vancouver known as the Vancouver Special
The Vancouver Special

What Is The Vancouver Special?

The Vancouver Special is a unique type of house architecture that was popular in Vancouver from the 1960s to the 1980s. With its boxy and symmetrical design, it was intended to be an affordable and efficient housing option for families in urban areas. However, the design has since become outdated, and many homeowners are looking to modernize and update their Vancouver Specials.

In this article, we will show how a few modern colour choices, a couple of coats of paint and a few renovations can modernize this antiquated housing style, while still keeping true to that iconic Vancouver look that holds dear to many Vancouverites.


Three heritage homes freshly painted
Where Old Meets New

Modernizing a Classic

There is always much debate about the modernization of historical things. whether it be antique furniture or antique housing the topic always brews controversy. Although the Vancouver special has held a "special" place in many Vancouverite's hearts. Not many would disagree that the mix match of materials and antiquated look can be a little displeasing to the eye. Especially on one of Vancouver's many overcast days.


Four paint rollers testing paint colours on a stucco wall
Options, Options & More Options

Where to Start?

When taking on any large project it can be hard to visualize where the starting line even is. When it came to this particular project and with most painting projects your first decision is usually a colour choice.

Our clients on this job decided to go with a bold and modern look. They chose to do their entire home using one rich and deep black: Iron Mountain from Benjamin Moore. To be honest, in the beginning, even I was hesitant at first. When they told me what their plans were I remember asking them "are you sure?". However, as you will see the final product was visually stunning and a great modern choice.

I also now realize that because they picked one colour for their entire home they were able to blend all the miscellaneous materials that were used to build the house so many years ago. If you are going to be painting your Vancouver special this may be something to consider.

Am exterior brick façade on the Vancouver Special house
To Do Or Not To Do

To Paint the Brick or Not to Paint the Brick That is the Question

The next big decision to be made was whether to paint the brick on the face of the house or to leave it au natural. There was much debate about this, and there always is regarding brick. The purists believe that just like antiques and historic architecture brick should be left bare, showcasing its natural beauty.

However, I believe that the answer to whether you should paint brick is more of a case-by-case situation than a blanket answer for all prospective projects. It is also a subjective style choice. So if it is something that you like the look of then do what makes you happy. However, it is important to understand the pros and cons of painting brick which we describe in detail in this blog post.

In the end, our neighbors/clients decided to paint the brick which I believe was the right decision. By painting the brick and the entire home the same colour they were able to bring all the mixed-matched materials that are often found on Vancouver Specials together.

An exterior wall being pressure washed
Painting Is 90% Prep 10% Application

Pressure Washing

Once all of our decisions were finalized, we were ready to begin our work. We always begin with a thorough pressure washing of all areas that will be painted. This step is crucial for removing any dirt and debris that may be embedded deep into the cracks and crevices of the surfaces to be painted. Pressure washing ensures that the paint will bond properly, resulting in a longer-lasting and more protective coat of paint.

It is important to note that if you are undertaking your own project, you must allow ample time for the washed surface to dry. Typically, at least 24 hours of dry weather on a warm summer day is necessary. If you are unsure whether your surface is dry enough for painting, most hardware stores sell moisture testers that can accurately determine whether the surface is ready for painting.

Exterior siding caulked
It's The Little Details That Make the Biggest Differences

Protection and Preparation

After washing the house, we proceeded to protect and prepare it for painting. Firstly, we covered all the walkways and windows to shield them from any unwanted dust, paint drips, or overspray during the preparation and painting process.

Next, we prepared the house for painting. This involved caulking any cracks in the stucco, repairing the facia board where necessary, and even caulking all the aesthetic cracks along the siding on the face of the home.

Exterior siding being painted
Transformation Time

Painting and Application

Once our prep was concluded we were able to start the painting process. For the body of the house, we used a paint sprayer to spray the brick, siding, and stucco. Because the Vancouver Special is clad in many different types of materials, spraying this house saved us time and effort.

It is important to note that although spraying paint will save you time and effort, it will always require much more product. After the body of the house was complete we brushed in all the trims and facias boards tying everything together. To read more about our exterior painting process click here.

The Vancouver Special freshly painted black
A Classic Vancouver Special With A Modern Twist

The End Product

After our painting was completed our clients did a few renovations that really improved the curb appeal of their house and brought their classic home into the present. They replaced the dilapidated balcony with a sleek glass-encased enclosure. In addition to that they did some minor landscaping and even added a new wood fence. These small changes completely transformed their old house into their "talk of the block" home that they still to this day get complimented on.

In conclusion. The Vancouver Special, although dated, still holds a special place in the hearts of many Vancouverites. Modernizing this housing style can be a daunting task, but with the right color choices, a few renovations, and proper painting techniques, it is possible to update the look while still keeping true to that iconic Vancouver feel.

If you are a homeowner in the lower mainland and ever need any painting advice or estimations feel free to reach out at 604-704-0661 or click the link here and fill out a request form to book an estimate from the West Point Painters.

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