It's house tour season! There are several coming up, including the Vancouver Heritage Foundation's annual Heritage House Tour, the West Van Modern Tour, and a whole plethora of shorter tours from the VHF, AIBC, and others. That's not even counting cool out-of-town stuff like the Grey Seattle Modern Tour and Palm Springs Modernism Week, both of which I've taken in this year.

I go on a lot of house tours, and am often photographing them for the organizers or myself, and this means that I end up either wanting or needing to get to all the houses on tour. This can be a problem, because for most tours, the houses are so good that you want to spend the entire tour just in one house...but you have 10 houses to see in 6 hours and it's a self-guided tour, so...what to do?

  1. Plan your route carefully. The tour organizer will almost always give you either a list of homes and/or a rough map. Use it, and look at it before you start. Usually this means going, say, north to south and west to east (or east to west), but depending on where the houses are, starting on one of the "middle" houses and spiralling out often lets you avoid lines.
  2. Pace yourself. This is an art. Some houses have so much tight detail that you want to spend lots of time looking at it. Others you can go blasting right through. Keep half an eye on the clock so you can spend the time you want at houses you love, but don't waste time looking at a house that isn't speaking to you. You can sometimes get an idea of this from the pre-tour lit--if you know you love Art Moderne, and there's exactly one of those on tour, leave yourself a bit of extra time for it--particularly if there are two California Craftsmans on tour and you've seen lots of those already. I often divide the number of houses by the number of hours, and then keep a mental note of how many houses I've seen so I know I can either relax or need to hoof it. 
  3. Speaking of lines, figure out where the big lines might be and try to visit those houses either early or late. Particularly on tours like VHF's Heritage House Tour and Laneway Tour, smaller houses tend to have longer lines. A few years back, we were way ahead of schedule until we hit a Strathcona house with a tiny laneway, where the line went nearly around the block. There went the schedule--but the wait was worth it.
  4. Share the tour with someone else. If you're in a group, find out who has the best local knowledge of the bunch and use their expertise for navigation. It's more fun, you get to see more interesting stuff, and you'll spend more time looking at houses and less time looking for parking.
  5. Grab and go food. The Heritage House tour offers several really marvellous sit-down lunch options, which you probably want to ignore on tour day if you're trying to see all the houses, but come back to later and support. Grab and go is the way to go here, whether you eat in line or en route. East Van tends to have the best to-go lunch spots and the smallest but well-clustered houses to facilitate eating and walking. Just make sure to pack your garbage into your shoe bag as you won't be able to drop garbage at the houses. In past years, food carts have popped up either unofficially or officially near tour houses, and this is a fantastic way to go.
  6. Take notes/sketch or ask for photos. Most tours don't let you take interior photos, so note taking and sketching are going to be the way to go for capturing ideas. Some tours will allow you to take photos of some houses, particularly if you ask the owner if they're present. If you're an architect or designer, find the official tour photographer (on VHF tours...that's usually me!) and ask about getting a detail photo--I may be able to share one or two with you. 
  7. Consider your transportation options. Shaughnessy, Strathcona, and the Drive are all parking nightmares. I usually do VHF tours almost entirely by bike, though I'll often mode share--which is to say, bike to all the houses on the Drive, go back to Strathcona, hop on the Canada Line, and blast down to Shaughnessey or Dunbar and ride the rest. If you're not a serious rider, one great way to get around is to book a Modo, Zipcar, Evo, or car2go, all of which allow you to use 'residents only' parking spots. If you're on a tour that isn't as easily accessible, like the West Van Modern Tour, carpool.
  8. Start at the start. Get to the first house on or before the starting bell. Since they don't let early birds in, plan to have coffee in line while you wait for the first house to open. You'll be well on your way to making the most of a long day.

Finally, logistics aside: have fun, enjoy the houses, and appreciate all the work of the organizers, sponsors, homeowners, and everyone else who makes local house tours happen. See you on tour!