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

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
81 new cases of COVID-19 detected in Interior Health Friday

One additional staff member at Kelowna long-term care home tests positive, no new deaths

Interior Health says Salmo’s COVID-19 cases have been contained. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Interior Health: Salmo’s COVID-19 cases are contained

Every person who tested positive has recovered

Pitchfork Eatery’s staff pose with its two Burger Month trophies. L-R: Tao Measures, Michael Hall, head chef Josh Mateschitz, Prabh Gill, John Rutherford, Ben Handly. Photo: Laura Gellatly
Pitchfork Eatery, Kurama Sushi voted Burger Month winners

Pitchfork won two awards while Kurama won Most Original

Nelson schools have stopped recycling anything except cardboard because they are unable to separate recycling to the satisfaction of Waste Management Inc., the contractor that picks up and ships recycling. Photo: School District 8
Nelson schools cut back on recycling

Recycling pick-up contractor says there is too much contamination in the bins

The Village of Salmo has told Cody Puckett and Ashley Nelson that clearing land at this property doesn’t constitute building a property according to a bylaw. Photo: Submitted
Work in progress? Salmo family, village at odds over property construction

Cody Puckett says he’s being evicted from his own land, which the village disputes

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

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

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

Most Read