Top 5 Handcrafted Signs

By Guest Contributors Darren Carcary and Kirsti Wakelin

April 23rd, 2013

Great typography always catches our eye – we’re designers after all. But we have a particular appreciation for handcrafted or hand-painted type. Signage today is most often printed on vinyl banners or as adhesive vinyl applied to glass. It’s cheap, it’s quick and by base standards, it gets the job done. But it’s also sterile, characterless and utterly lacking in personality. There are fewer and fewer great examples of hand-painted signage to be found in Vancouver today, most likely to be ghost signs for long departed businesses. But there is a niche of handcrafted signage still in relative abundance especially in old apartment buildings in Vancouver’s West End and still, for the most part, quietly serving its original purpose.

The Park Vista, Laguna Vista, Ocean Bay, Four Winds, Safari – aspirational apartment names written in gold on glass lobby doors. Be it a bold, chiseled sans serif, a looping italicized script, or a stately serif, they lend surprising weight in setting the character of a building, sometimes more so than the architecture itself. These may not all be prime examples of beautiful typography, but they all have personality and warmth. Their imperfect lines and visible brush strokes let you know someone did this by hand, with craft. And ironically, they seem to become more beautiful as they age – which cannot be said of old vinyl curling off glass.

So for reasons unique to each, here are five of our favourites – as well as a couple bonus signs we like.


1050 Chilco Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 1R9

Really, this one’s a favourite as much for its name as for the script. No ‘beach’, no ‘bay’, no ‘park’ – it’s much more exotic than that, it’s an adventure. Close-up, you can see the varnish overlapping the edges of the lettering, used to protect it from cleaning.


1947 Pendrell Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 2P7

The typography is admittedly… unique, seeming more suited to a 1950’s thriller movie title (It Came From Lost Lagoon…) than a West End apartment building, but it’s grown on us. The shape of the letterforms owes much to hand-brushed type and rewards on closer inspection with a textured gold leaf.


Park Beach Manor
1925 Nelson Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 1N8

We love this one largely for the detail in the gilding. Not an attention-grabber from the street and more reserved than some of its neighbours (we’re looking at you Four Winds Apts.), it’s well worth a closer look for the craft in the subtle faceting of the script, created with two tones of gold leaf.


Cote D’Azur
1671 Haro Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 1G7

In our wanderings, a unique find eschewing the easy appeal of gilding: a hand-painted sign on wood. Love it.


Bay Vista
1078 Harwood Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2B7

The one that started it all – home to Darren’s first apartment (all 450 sq ft of it) in the West End. Sorely lacking the vista promised in its name, but the faceted leafing and bold block letters were just as admired.


Various locations

The same level of craft was extended to the most utilitarian of signage. Few canvassers today are warned off with such elegance.


The Park West
1869 Comox Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 2M5
Park Lane Towers
1825 Haro Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 2N6
1055 Harwood Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Z7

Who wouldn’t be charmed by crests – with lions and bears no less, although skunks, squirrels and raccoons might be more apropos heraldry for addresses in such close proximity to Stanley Park.

And if you’re as much of a fan of hand-painted typography as we are, there are two screenings in June of Sign Painters, a documentary on the anecdotal history of the craft. More info here.

Kirsti Wakelin and Darren Carcary collectively form Resolve Design, a multidisciplinary studio focused on strategic storytelling through exhibit and interpretive design, film, and motion graphics. They are currently working on two exhibits (here and elsewhere) opening in June: Foncie’s Fotos at the Museum of Vancouver and Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent and Monhegan at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

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