In the early 1960s, abstract artist Harold Town – one of the founders of Toronto’s (in)famous “Painters Eleven” – spoke, wrote and painted about the “tyranny of the corner.” Repeatedly. For a talent as great as Mr. Town, you see, corners were limits. They force discipline on us, and, worse, they tell us to stop: stop walking, stop thinking … perhaps even stop dreaming.
Architect Tania Bortolotto is clearly in Mr. Town’s corner on this one.
While the exterior of her recently completed House in Kings Cross displays long, low corners on a thickly shingled, ship-like structure, the interior is a stunning composition of curves that swoop, soar, intersect, cradle and caress. And where corners do occur, they’re usually made of glass, camouflaged in gorgeous materials, or they rebelliously refuse to meet at 90 degrees. In short, it’s an abstract delight that delights in surprising the eye.
Interestingly, the homeowners, George and Rebecca (who have asked to withhold surnames), are both in very disciplined professions: he’s a gynecologist, she’s a nurse. Yet, they both feel completely at ease in this curvaceous cradle, even laughing at the memory that the whole thing started back in 2007 as “a kitchen renovation” in what was, then, a Tudor on a one hectare lot just beyond King City.
It’s true: Released from corner-tyranny, conversation, memory, laughter and glasses of wine flow freely in this space. Even upon entry into a foyer under a low-ish ceiling – Ms. Bortolotto is using the old Frank Lloyd Wright trick of initial compression before blessed release – the eye travels up the floating stair to spy the enormous great room beyond. Shoes cannot come off fast enough to inspect this wonder.
Here, a grand piano sits just under the point at which the ceiling decides to thumb its nose at convention and go for a roller-coaster ride, flinging itself upward to allow floor-to-ceiling windows to drink in views of the ravine. Directly below this, the floor, now emboldened, curves downward to become a long work surface that recalls the shape of an old roll-top desk.
Further into the great room, the fireplace wall is wrapped in a rich coat of Venetian plaster that glistens from light provided by a cluster of made-in-Vancouver Bocci fixtures, and a long, built-in sideboard is a handy surface for hors d’oeuvres or art objects.
A glance back to the foyer area reveals a pod-like second floor, which contains bedrooms and bathrooms, hanging over the kitchen; the corridor alongside those bedrooms is shielded by a slanted wall.
“There are a lot of intersecting planes that meet and create these spaces,” says Ms. Bortolotto, “so the contractors had a heck of a time.” Luckily, she adds, the builder, Andrea Zuccarini of Arcademia Group, is “a perfectionist.”
And about that slanted wall: despite the non-tyrannical playfulness going on in the more than 7,000 square feet of space (including the walk-out basement), the architect says that this, in fact, was the “big idea for this house.” The slanted wall is meant to evoke a hip roof on the exterior; although George and Rebecca wanted a modern design, they were sensitive to the conservative tone of the surrounding neighbourhood. As well, the couple asked for privacy on the street-facing façade, and this wall, clad in a hanging slate shingle system from Italy, does the job nicely.
Since the team at Bortolotto pretty much nailed the design early on, George remembers that all he needed to do was get used to the shape “because it looked like a pyramid,” and then to suggest ways in which to soften things up. To that end, a large projecting window added to the sloped wall now punctuates the second floor master bedroom and first floor library brilliantly, and the glass wall on the ravine side of the home was changed from a boring straight line to a delightful S-curve.
Rebecca remembers finding inspiration at an upscale men’s clothier in Hazelton Lanes: “I saw the [stone] floor and I thought that would be beautiful to have [since], originally, we had [planned for] wood throughout the entire space.” In fact, the home does have something of a retail vibe about it, as well as an institutional one (the Architourist’s significant other, as a matter of fact, suggested it resembles a groovy 1970s library), but this has more to do with the uncharacteristic swooping, soaring and dipping ceiling than the floor.
By now, you may be thinking: Give me a big budget and 7,000 square feet and I can get the same results. However, emancipating oneself from 90-degree-thinking isn’t easy: how does one create intimacy in places, and airy freedom in others? How do we guide the eye, excite it, let it rest, and then send it exploring once again? And, most importantly, how do we achieve all of this with sustainability in mind?
While this certainly places it in a rarified category, the home earned an EnerGuide rating of 80, which is “highly energy efficient,” Ms. Bortolotto says. Halsall Engineering’s Doug Webber, she adds, was instrumental in achieving this, as well as helping with the home’s radiant floors, passive solar/ventilation and geothermal system.
And just like a rare Harold Town painting, this home also corners the market on beauty, inspiration and timelessness.
Editor's note: The front page photo accompanying the print edition of this story was improperly attributed. Shai Gil was the photographer.