What was it about 1980s interiors? Chopped-up floor plans, heavy oak millwork, flashy brass trim-amajigs and muntin bar madness on windows. The colours didn’t help, either: dark forest greens, peaches and pinks, and a battalion of browns and blacks. Chairs, couches and curtains were smothered by flowery chintz, floors by sculpted carpet.
If it weren’t for the playful furniture created by Ettore Sottsass and others in the Memphis group, this might be a decade better left buried under all the gewgaws.
In April, 2011, architect Luc Bouliane encountered this sort of space when he visited a Stratford, Ont., home purchased by Rick White and Sandy Bourque that had languished on the market for a year.
“There was absolutely no flow inside the house,” Mr. White says.
In addition to some of the above offences, Mr. Bouliane, 34, found other head-scratchers, such as randomly placed brick “feature” walls interrupting the flow of feet (and light) in hallways and landings, and not one, but two fireplaces crowding the entrance hall. There was also a large “sunroom” addition poking out the back that, ironically, blocked sunlight from getting into other parts of the home.
The funny thing is, this place had been built, originally, in the open-plan-obsessed mid-1950s, and on a lovely dead-end street that’s more forest than street. Not that you could tell: From the road, the myriad 1980s additions – and the bumpy peach brick they came dressed in – all but obscured those lines. And from inside the house, a viewer could barely tell that the large, two-hectare property featured every kind of tree imaginable, flowers, a ravine with a creek, and looked onto a golf course across the street.
“Here was a house with a beautiful landscape,” chuckles Mr. Bouliane, “with no interior connections to that landscape.”
Needless to say, the design process didn’t take very long. This was a relief, since prior to meeting Mr. Bouliane, Mr. White, a marketing executive, and Ms. Bourque, a documentary producer, had spoken with a number of firms who “didn’t seem to have any thoughts beyond our own about what was necessary,” says Ms. Bourque, “and a lot of the things that we wanted to do they thought were kind of difficult.”
Obviously, after a decade at the highly respected firm of Teeple Architects – masters at solving difficult commercial, institution and residential problems alike – Mr. Bouliane, working solo as LBA since 2010, was up for the challenge.
After eight months of construction and a $500,000 budget, the house has been released from its eighties chains and is as crisp and clean as an Ontario apple (indeed, there are fruit trees outside too) with “small-m” modernist lines and a neutral materials palette. While a few spaces in the basement remain untouched, the rest of the home has been completely reworked to open up the flow on the main floor – “there were five rooms on this floor before Luc got at it,” says Ms. Bourque – as well as the second and, perhaps more importantly, to open up views to the lushness outside via an enormous, cedar-wrapped wall of glass along the north wall. Had it not been for the elimination of the sunroom, this would not have been possible: “This is the first house I’ve renovated where I actually made it smaller,” quips Mr. White with a laugh.
On the west wall, which never had windows, Mr. Bouliane has bookended the new, large fireplace (there was an anemic one previously) with floor-to-ceiling beauties that carry the eye into the pines; one window stretches to the master bedroom upstairs. And if trees aren’t counterpoint enough to the brooding, basalt-clad fireplace, the turquoise Italian sofa fills the bill. Built into each side of the fireplace is a bookcase, where light switches hide along with the Penguin classics.
Two types of flooring – ceramic tile and a rustic-looking engineered wood – demarcate different zones: Tile sits under the glass wall for those entering with wet winter boots or pool-soaked feet, and slips underneath the dining table as well, while wood occupies hallways and living areas.
Mr. Bouliane’s commercial experience and attention to detail shine in the kitchen. The island, in particular, is a lovely, curved “hockey stick” affair with a wide granite top that would not be out of place in a trendy café. “It’s not a typical residential application,” agrees the architect. Interjects Mr. White: “And that’s certainly what we were after too.”
The stove is sheltered under the window-wrapping cedar brow so the cook can ponder the sky while stirring and simmering, and everywhere are calculated nooks and crannies where light switches hide or, lower down, where crumbs can be swept into a hungry suction-hole. And while some of the details aren’t “important in terms of functionality,” it’s worth noting that all of the angles and depths line up with one another. “It’s really important to how you read the spaces connecting,” says Mr. Bouliane.
Similarly, upstairs, a once-cluttered corridor now directs the eye straight across to a new window with the help of thin, floating ceilings that hide new beams. Former storage doors have been removed to create a series of alcoves for the couple’s artwork.
Executed by local contractor Bill Donaldson, this home is now married to its stunning lot. And the 1980s have been relegated to the radio.