David Coulson in his bamboo garden at home in Duncan. Lia Crowe photo

David Coulson in his bamboo garden at home in Duncan. Lia Crowe photo

David Coulson, Designing Homes For Life

Vancouver Island designer, architect and craftsman designs for a sustainable future

  • Sep. 19, 2018 9:00 a.m.

Story by Chelsea Forman

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

After only a few minutes into our conversation, it’s clear David Coulson is a heartfelt and dedicated West Coaster, despite having spent his first 18 years in Windsor, Ontario.

His passion for British Columbia is evident the more we chat, and I learn about the decades he’s spent helping restore many of the province’s heritage communities, and the years he’s worked to preserve BC through sustainable building practices. From a young age, he took his interests, experiences and innate craftsmanship and used them to shape a life of monumental contributions to his adopted province, living proof that we each have the capacity to design our own lives.

“Having a master Danish carpenter who taught me everything from shipbuilding to staircases, to scraping French lacquered furniture and everything in between, [to the] designers I work with in Victoria in the commercial sector for the last 10 years or so, and the craft I learned as a child from my father — all these things combined have brought me to where I am today,” David explains.

David grew up spending summers at his family’s lake cottage in Ontario, where he first began to hone his skills as a craftsman.

“I learned to put things together there. I’d go there every spring with my dad to help fix the cottage up for summer. Before I was 10 years old, I learned to build picnic tables, paint, build a stone barbecue. One season we built mahogany cabinets that are still there some 50-odd years later,” notes David.

As his interest for craftsmanship grew, David began to work in modelling cars. He recalls being featured in the local newspaper at 10 years old for his modelling work.

“I developed a real good pace for craft and wanted to go to a technical high school to follow an architectural career, but my parents switched me to a general high school. I rebelled and created a theatre department there where I got into set design,” he says with a laugh.

After graduating from high school, David started travelling and landed on the West Coast at just 18 years old. He began building his own furniture and soon started custom furniture design for his growing group of friends. With roots permanently set in British Columbia, David soon got involved with a theatre company in Surrey.

“I went from set design to behind the scenes to a bit of character work — and then I fell in love with a woman who worked in costume design and that’s my wife to this day. Almost 40 years later,” says David.

After the theatre company in Surrey was closed in 1976, David and his wife moved to Wells-Barkerville where they planned to open a roadside attraction. Soon after the couple arrived in the historic community, they began to restore and rebuild an old derelict building.

“It was like a museum in there when we finished because I handcrafted everything. That led on to handcrafting all kinds of sites in Barkerville,” David explains. “My father-in-law moved up to Wells too. He was a master Danish craftsman so I apprenticed with him for 15 years. We worked with Hollywood in Barkerville on at least six occasions and we got to work with some of the biggest and brightest people in the film industry of that time.”

David was deeply invested in community design and was a significant contributor to town restoration for both Barkerville and neighbouring Wells. David and his wife owned and operated several different businesses and infused the community with the arts through a variety of classes and programs.

“It was a constant exchange of art, build, play and eventually we felt there was nothing more to contribute so we moved to the Cowichan Valley,” says David.

Since much of Barkerville is connected to the Provincial Heritage Branch, many of David’s contacts were located in Victoria, and with that built-in network of connections, he quickly became immersed here in heritage restoration.

“Just yesterday — some 32 years later — I was meeting with the director of the Emily Carr House and the Heritage Branch of BC. I’ve been looking after the Emily Carr House for over 25 years now,” notes David.

As David’s reputation for unparalleled craftsmanship gained recognition in Victoria, he began to work on several projects throughout the downtown core including restaurants, hotels, night clubs and shop fronts. The father of two was able to launch his company, Coulson Design, in Victoria. Business closer to home in the Cowichan Valley took a little longer, gaining momentum later in the early 2000s, but has continued to thrive since.

“The whole time I was working in Victoria I was living out of the Cowichan Valley and the commute was becoming difficult with two children and my wife at home — but it was hard to create a name for yourself up here in this close-knit community. In early 2000, it started turning around. I was winning awards, being really recognized in Victoria for my custom work and being featured in the media. People in the Cowichan Valley started to sort of see me as someone being overlooked, I suppose,” David explains.

Designer David Coulson surrounded by bamboo on his Duncan property. Lia Crowe photography

Coulson Design is now a 25-member team located in Duncan on three acres — a multi-zoned site featuring affordable housing.

“I am heavily involved in the design, planning and community building of the Cowichan Valley — and that’s where my heart is right now. We are creating mostly custom homes and doing large scale renovations,” he says.

David, often recognized for his innovative design, has been working in green and organic building for several years. Coulson Design is a sustainable builder with some staff members being Passive House Certified.

“We are going to the next level of custom, sustainable, energy efficient homes with the lightest footprint.

We are now offering 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot houses,” he says.

One notable design is David’s personal studio, which at just 875 square feet has become an international sensation. David sends the viral floor plans all over the world.

The next phase of his studio is adding a custom-built tree house component in what David refers to as “Phase 3.” The tree house is underway, with the main floor perched 16 feet up into the trees. When completed, it will be three stories tall.

Looking forward, David plans to enjoy his 1957 mahogany Chris Craft boat and pursue his knowledge and personal library of bamboo, one of the most ecologically sound building materials available.

“I’m a bit of the bamboo-smith of the region. I have one of the largest personal bamboo libraries. I use bamboo from my own collection and incorporate it into my building and garden spaces. I have travelled the world to many of the bamboo-growing countries to research the craft of bamboo. As I try to wind my projects down, just a little, and stop to smell the coffee a bit more so to speak, I’ll spend more time learning the various bamboo techniques like weaving.”

David continues to evolve his knowledge, portfolio and life. He has hinted that the design of our own lives isn’t too many degrees separated from designing a home or community.

In order to succeed, and to achieve the things you want, you have to overcome the challenges and unexpected surprises by utilizing creativity and strategy to push forward with your greater plan.

ArchitectArchitectureBambooBoulevard Central IslandBoulevard MagazineChelsea FormanDavid CoulsonDecorDesignDesignerHome designLifestyleStudioSustainabilitysustainablevancouverisland

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Teresa Hedley and a copy of her book, “What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism.” Photo supplied
Comox Library recognizes Autism Awareness Month with presentation by local author

April is World Autism Awareness Month, an annual opportunity to increase understanding… Continue reading

A donated towel warms a merlin chick. Photo supplied
MARS Moment: 2021 shaping up to be a record-setting year for animal rescues

Submitted by Jane Sproull Thomson Special to Black Press With the pandemic,… Continue reading

Comox council will further look at a troublesome traffic area in the Point Holmes area of the town. Photo submitted
Comox council to look at speed calming measures at Point Holmes

“…We are waiting for a problem to happen if we don’t act.”

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
19 Wing Comox crew involved in three-tonne cocaine seizure worth more than $293 million

12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron involved in Op Caribbe

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Most Canadians plan to get COVID-19 vaccine, but safety fears drive hesitancy: poll

This comes as confidence in governments is plummeting in provinces being hit hardest by the pandemic

Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox is shown in a 1981. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/CP)
Terry Fox’s legacy of resilience resonates during COVID-19 crisis, says brother

Fred Fox said his brother’s legacy of resilience has taken on renewed resonance as COVID-19 rages on

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

NIC’s new president Lisa Domae assumed the role April 12. Domae has worked at NIC since 2000, most recently as executive vp academic and chief operating officer. Photo supplied
New North Island College president launches draft strategic plan

North Island College’s new president, Lisa Domae, kicked off her first official… Continue reading

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Most Read