The fireplace has seen a lot of parties. It’s the hearth of a 1951 bungalow, and its handsome red brick – laid in a gridded stack-bond pattern, modernist style – is marked here and there with soot and nicks. This is the first thing you see as you enter this house in Bennington Heights, and it sends a clear message: This is home.
And its residents have obviously felt comfortable here. After 60 years, it’s on its third owners, and they, a curator and a designer with a young daughter, commissioned a delicate renovation by architects Atelier Kastelic Buffey that’s in keeping with its history.
“We were always looking for something modern and a bit unique,” explains Simon, one of the residents. And the bungalow was basically a period piece. The original architect, William Sheets, built the L-shaped, gabled box on a corner for his own family. In a neighbourhood where the small houses of the 1950s and 60s are being replaced by Georgian monsters, this place has survived in good shape.
A renovation in the 1990s “cleaned it up,” as Simon puts it, and he and his wife loved it at first sight.
It is a simple house: One wing stretching to the north, with three bedrooms; a living room at the corner; and a dining room and kitchen pushing to the west. The public rooms flow around the hearth, and from there, your eyes roam out to a small but well-proportioned backyard, shaded by a 100-foot-tall hardwood. “Everybody who comes in here – parents, grandparents, kids for birthday parties – says there’s a lot of warmth in here, and I think we felt that from the start,” says Simon’s wife, Martha.
After living in it for a couple of years and having a daughter, they decided to polish it up further. When they called AKB’s Kelly Buffey, Ms. Buffey and partner Rob Kastelic shared the owners’ enthusiasm. “It was an honour to work on a house that was actually very thoughtfully considered,” says Ms. Buffey, who is an architect and interior designer. “We made very subtle changes.”
The biggest task was the kitchen; it had been expanded to enclose a former porch, spoiling the appearance of the facade and creating an interior space with tangled mechanicals and an awkward layout. “We thought that we could take this to the next level in improving the room that everybody uses the most,” Simon says. AKB worked with the kitchen company Bulthaup to rethink it, and replace the cabinets with a new, efficient system in white laminate and walnut. That room, which faces the back garden, is now cleanly detailed and a very comfortable place to entertain. A walnut dining set and a graffiti painting commissioned from artist Jimmy Chiale provide counterpoint.
In the rest of the house, the architects restored and extended the 1950s maple floors, and worked around the high-quality mahogany windows and cherrywood cabinets that were added in the 1990s. Generally, Simon explains, “the goal was just to tidy the house up, in a modernist vein.” Mr. Kastelic and Ms. Buffey, whose house designs favour a Japanese-style spareness and very precise details, did the tidying efficiently and quietly. The basement got radiant-heated floors, a tightly planned new bathroom and laundry closet, and improved storage; upstairs, the architects designed a few new built-ins in white oak and made small edits to the house’s layout.
The renovation is most remarkable for the degree of care and quality devoted to a building that, to other people, might be a candidate for demolition – and also for how harmoniously the design works with the bones of the house.
Some of the neighbours in this increasingly elite area, Martha says with a smile, have asked her where all the construction work was done – the house seems, to them, unchanged. This is tribute to the architects’ skill. In fact, AKB tore out and rebuilt half of the roof, creating a simpler and more harmonious silhouette. Ms. Buffey also redrew most of the house’s window openings and nearly all its cladding of plywood board-and-batten and cedar shingles. But it’s still the modest bungalow it always was, with a quiet cloak of grey paint bringing it to meet the times.
And inside? On cold nights the fire is still burning, a new ethanol flame heating up those nubbly old bricks.