The House that Mark Built

Western dream home is a reality for the Kwasnicki family

Homes1Mark Kwasnicki was on a mission when he built his raised bungalow on eight wooded acres north-west of Calgary, five years ago. “I had dreamed of this place for years. I had very specific ideas about how it would come together. There had to be plenty of western influences, lots of wood, stone, the right mix of colours and the most important part was getting all the details right, so I could have not only the right home for my family, but for my collection of western art.”

Homes2That collection began years ago thanks to the early influences of Mark’s grandfather, who worked for Calgary’s Heritage Park. “I just loved everything western from early on,” he explains. A Bowness-raised city boy nonetheless, Mark loved the old west and this passion was flamed by the annual excitement of the Calgary Stampede. Once Mark became successful in his own right (he is the owner of McKinley Masters Custom Homes), he began rewarding himself with the pieces that would become the focus of a 2,215 square foot home nestled in the woods. “I had been incorporating my collections into my previous homes but the fit just wasn’t there.” So when it came to designing this home, Mark made provisions that allowed his favourite pieces of art to stand out. Of course, being a master homebuilder helped. Mark had the resources and knowledge to create the right template, but it was his passion for the western lifestyle that resulted in the perfect melding of a functional home with a breathtaking collection of art and artifacts.

Homes7The details weren’t overlooked: Maple floors, solid pine beams and posts, Mexican tile in the kitchen, slate in the entrance. These became the backdrop for one of the most elegantly rustic homes in the area. “Who doesn’t dream of having a rustic cabin where you can just unwind? I sure did!” Mark says, standing the middle of great room. The room is book marked by feature windows, allowing for an abundance of natural light. He describes his home as “elegant mountain-country” and says its charm is in its relaxed atmosphere. “I’ve never felt this was the type of home where you felt you had to sit in a certain spot.” Well, no kidding. There is so much to see in the Kwasnicki home, you feel compelled to wander around, poking your nose into every corner to delight in a new discovery. The sheer volume of Mark’s collection of western art and artifacts is overwhelming, but the presentation is not. Everything looks like it was meant to be there. And that’s a testimony to Mark’s successful marriage of function and design. The ingeniously clever design touches – alcoves and strategically placed lighting – give the impressive Paul Van Ginkel paintings the platform they deserve. Every piece of furniture and lighting becomes a piece of art in its own right. All of the furnishings were custom built by Alberta artisans to compliment the western influences of his collection. Even the chandeliers in the great room feature wrought iron cut-outs of western scenes surrounding elk hide tepees. There are whimsical touches to balance the majestic display of Calgary artist Paul Van Ginkel’s paintings throughout the house: a one hundred-year-old pair of chaps lounge over the banister, a miniature chuck wagon curls up alongside. In the master bath, an old, weathered saddle keeps guard over the claw-footed tub. The Van Ginkel paintings are, without a doubt, the highlight of the home’s collection. Mark has had several of them commissioned. The very first Van Ginkel Mark bought, in 1994, hangs directly across from the bed in the master bedroom. Entitled Two Chiefs, this oil painting is a bold and intense portrait, balanced by the heavy use of rough-hewn pine beams and a majestic pine bed covered in vibrant tones.

Homes4Mark had a separate building completed to house a portion of his business. Just steps from the main house, the western theme is kicked up a notch, the trim is rougher, the furnishings more relaxed. The handiwork of local furniture-makers is evident in the funky but completely comfortable pine office chairs, the rough-hewn cabinets, the rich display of western memorabilia, and in touches found in the most surprising places. Looking skyward at the vaulted ceiling in the reception area, you’ll find arrows made of plaster that were carved on-site, and inlaid into the rising corners, surrounding a chandelier made of copper arrows.

Mark admits the ongoing collecting of western art is becoming a challenge. “The house is so full now, so it has to be a very unique find. I’ve become much more selective.” He still enjoys keeping an eye out for good pieces in his travels, but says the best part of travelling is coming back home. “This is a wonderful place to return to – it’s perfect.”