Chris and Lori Cassidy bought a Toronto condo and didn’t live in it. They bought another, but didn’t live in it either. Then they bought a house, which sat empty for almost a year.
Blame it on Bermuda.
The couple, you see, had intended to live and work in that tropical paradise for two years, and their first condo, purchased while both were still in university studying finance, wasn’t ready when they traded Toronto winters for warmer climes, so it was sold. The second was purchased when their self-imposed deadline was looming, but they decided to stay: “So we never actually lived in that one either,” chuckles Ms. Cassidy. So, it was rented out.
In 2009, after almost a decade in the sun and with a family in the works, the couple began searching for a third Toronto home, this time of the single-family dwelling variety. Ms. Cassidy flew in and, with an agent, rejected 30 properties in three days; back in Bermuda, morning huddles around the computer screen would produce contenders that they’d ask their agent to visit and photograph. They eliminated another 40 this way, even though their wish list – a private backyard, lots of windows, good schools, walkability and transit access – was fairly standard.
In fact, they didn’t really care about the house itself, since they knew they were going to do a massive renovation or full demolition. Which meant they’d need an architect, so they started looking online for that, too.
Finally selecting a house on South Kingsway – they were comfortable with the area since one of Mr. Cassidy’s groomsmen had lived right next door – they purchased it, from Bermuda, just before Christmas. By then, they’d found Andrew Reeves of LineBox Studio, which has offices in Ottawa and Toronto, and were comforted further by visits to a few Toronto houses he’d designed (one, the “Mini House,” was covered here).
Once it was determined the original postwar one-and-a-half-storey house would come down, many conceptual meetings took place, most by telephone; one in particular, remembers Ms. Cassidy, really drilled down to how they wanted to live. Mr. Reeves says he tries to “change all the nouns of rooms into verbs: instead of living room, [we ask] what is ‘to live,’ what is ‘to eat,’ what is ‘to entertain,’ what is ‘to bathe.’ “That’s when residential design gets away from style in general and my theories of architecture – my imposed views – and becomes more of a true collaboration,” he says.
Flying in and meeting on-site in February, 2010, the Cassidys were impressed with how well Mr. Reeves had listened to their desire for a separate-but-connected playroom for their girls, a double-height living room, an office for Mr. Cassidy (who planned to work from home), and a big kitchen island sitting on a no-fuss concrete floor.
Still, with a life to sew up on the sunny island, the Toronto home sat empty until the couple moved back in August; actually, it sat longer than that, as the decision was made to rent a home across the street to allow demolition to begin in December. During this time, a case of cold feet came on, says Ms. Cassidy, and the couple began looking at listings again … but it passed eventually.
Perhaps to ward off another bout of frosty toes, they took an active role beyond assembling Ikea cabinets and selecting appliances. For instance, they did the heavy lifting of getting the blue-black brick, which is “Opera House inspired” laughs Mr. Cassidy – “When that thing was going up, I thought ‘That’s awesome’ so I e-mailed the architect on the project and asked where he’d got it” – and sourced the bamboo flooring, sculptural light fixtures and many other items. Usually, says Mr. Reeves, he’d advise against this kind of zealous participation because it can mess with contractor schedules, but since the couple both work in the exacting world of numbers, they quickly gained the trust of Tony Smith at SCE Construction Management.
“Every last little sticker in the house they really thought about and researched,” says the architect.
Despite this, there are traces of Mr. Reeves’ influence in the 2,700-square-foot home. Perhaps the biggest are the little strip windows, which have become a LineBox trademark: “I don’t really do it consciously,” he insists. “I just think graphically and sculpturally [about] what feels right; eventually you look back and say ‘Oh, there are things that are consistent.’ ” Many of these windows frame the steep green hill behind the home, which falls when it meets the Humber River one street to the west; it’s not uncommon for Mr. Cassidy to see deer from his second floor office.
Other Linebox details include the textured-glass front door, the compression-expansion of ceilings, and the sculptural staircase.
Perhaps Mr. Reeves’ skill with the drafting pen is most evident in how the home sensitively inserts itself into the existing “eave line” of South Kingsway. Reading as a two-storey to neighbours, it saves its bulk for the backyard. “Unfortunately there were a few developments [in the area] that totally ignored that and bastardized the street,” finishes Mr. Reeves, “and we didn’t want to be one of those houses.”
It isn’t: Instead, it’s a wonderful place for reaffirmed Torontonians to begin a new chapter.