A short, stone-covered driveway leads to the front door of the 150-year-old home. There are chickens and ducks pecking at the scant winter grass. A dog barks a greeting. This could be a visit to a heritage farmhouse – in fact it is – but there are also subtle clues of something more, something wholly different from these first impressions.
Framing the front door is a steel cowl, its industrial nature at odds with the Georgian styling of the farmhouse, but its rust-red coloration complementing the weathered brickwork. The door, too, is new, the smooth hardwood surface not showing the signs of wear that the majority of the façade bears.
As the door opens out tumble three dogs, followed by their owners Michal and Agneiszka, and with them, the story of a farmhouse saved from demolition and bolstered by a very different addition.
“We found the place while mountain biking in the area,” says Michal. “I knocked on the door and asked the lady who lived here if I could buy her house. She put it on the market and there were offers higher than ours, but we promised not to tear down the farmhouse; that tipped the scales in our favour.”
The couple – Michal, a psychiatrist and Agneiszka, a dentist, both Polish by birth – and their two teenage boys moved into the farmhouse knowing that it was too small for them, but also believing that they could turn it into a great family home.
“We needed more space but we didn’t want to damage the fabric of the original farmhouse and we didn’t want an addition that duplicated the style of the 1850s building,” says Michal. He commissioned Toronto architect Superkül to design something that would respect the historic house but also contrast with it, bringing his modernist tastes to the fore.
The result is a series of juxtapositions – old and new, traditional and modern, enclosed and open, ornate and minimal – that animate the property and its surroundings, making masterful statements of both the existing and new buildings.
But back to the front door. On entering, the hallway is traditional Georgian farmhouse: long and thin with a spindle-railed staircase running up one wall. Views into reception rooms off either side are framed by the original wooden door linings; revealed within are worn wooden floors, a fireplace, a comfy armchair. Shoes stay on, “Hey, it’s a farmhouse, right!” insist the owners. And so, boot-clad steps trace the lines of the pristine limestone floor (another clue of what’s to come) down the hall. Turn the corner and the change is instant. A light filled corridor, glazed on either side, an expressionist painting adorning the wall at its end. This is no longer a quaint farmhouse: The pleasingly lived-in feel has been usurped by a crisp modernity, a clearly defined new chapter in the history of the property.
The 1,000-square-foot addition is a rectangular box clad in oxidized CorTen steel. Ten-foot-high glazed walls line much of the robust, rust-red façade. Polished concrete floors run throughout this new portion of the home. White oak cabinetry abounds, lining the kitchen wall, bathroom vanity, bedroom wall and walk-in closet. Daylight floods every space. The contrast with the farmhouse could not be more categorical.
Michal smiles at the complementing contradictions of his home. “When Agneiszka and I met our tastes were very different,” he says with a chuckle. “I loved modern architecture while she preferred traditional design. Maybe that is partly why we have ended up living in this house of contrasting styles.”
The conversion of traditional to modern is not a new idea, neither is the combination of the two. However, with this home the architect has transcended the norm – the most important aspect in achieving this, the decision to create separation between the two styles and buildings.
“The glazed link could be seen as an extended threshold between the two buildings. It has enabled us to put some breathing space between them, so preserving the distinct aesthetic and ambience of both,” says Superkül principal Andre D’Elia.
The link pushes the addition away from the main house, creating a protected courtyard space and sheltered lawn that both buildings and the chickens share. Contrasting this are the wide open spaces to the rear of the new addition. A large vegetable garden, a pond and acres of rolling hills and forest extend far beyond the property’s 17 acres. Occupants of the house overlook it all through those massive windows.
“The views are wonderful,” says Agneiszka. “From our position on the hill we feel totally connected with nature and the elements. And, if we turn and look back at the farmhouse, we can see and feel the history of the property, too.”
During these frigid winter days the couple are happy to connect with nature from behind the triple-glazed windows, snug in the knowledge that the geothermal heating system warming the floor under their feet is lessening their impact on the environment. However, in summer the glazed walls of the addition and the link can be thrown open.
“The space turns from an enclosed house into an open pavilion,” says Mr. D’Elia. “Breezes cool the internal space and it is connected to the decks on either side of the building and the courtyards on both sides of the link. This creates exterior ‘rooms,’ a series of additional spaces that alter according to the time of day and changes in the weather.”
And this is the beauty of the house in its new form, the connectedness: of the two buildings, in form, spirit and history; of the spaces within and around the home; of the property to the landscape and nature.
“It is wonderful to watch the seasons from within our beautiful new space and to be able to completely open up the house in the summer,” says Agneiszka. “We do have to watch out, though, because the chickens like to come in and visit. But hey, it’s a farmhouse, right!”