Being a single man isn’t what it used to be. As Canadians live longer and marry later, more are residing alone than ever before, giving both men and women the time and the means to assert their sense of style. Among guys, dressing has become an increasingly important way to do that, but so has home decor. Dudes are now viewing their abodes as vehicles for self-definition, a shift in values that’s reflected in all the furniture and objects targeted at male buyers.
For Toronto’s Michael Tong, a chef and caterer, expressing himself through his space is a given: He would never want to live in a place that didn’t suit or reflect his personality. “It’s so easy to go around and just buy a bunch of furniture,” he says. “But it’s better to be more personal. I can tell you a story about everything in my place. There’s just something more interesting about that.”
His home, an apartment on the upper floors of an Edwardian house in the city’s Riverdale neighbourhood, is filled with singular objects. Take his dining set. Having been given four slightly imperfect table legs by a carpenter friend, Tong partnered them with a steel frame he built himself and a glass top to make a table. It’s teamed with a set of Eames DCW chairs, bought in the nineties on the advice of his brother John, an award-winning designer. Tong credits this aesthetic – a combination of thrift, a respect for craft, a fondness for found objects and a do-it-yourself spirit – to his family.
“As immigrants, my parents learned to do a lot of things out of necessity,” he says. “And we learned from them.” Besides their example, Tong’s eclectic yet precisely curated home contains elements more concretely related to his relatives, from a remarkable bedroom shelf designed and built by John to a chair that came from a Chinese restaurant their father used to run. Perhaps the most striking objects in the place, however, are those that were either scavenged or donated: mannequins from Tong’s years in the clothing business, a black Herman Miller sofa that he rescued before it went into an office dumpster, two columns of stone from a stonemason friend. “The place started to evolve over the years as I collected things,” says Tong, who moved into the apartment 20 years ago with a girlfriend and stayed on after they broke up. “Design is cumulative,” he adds. “You find things and it develops.”
If Tong’s home is a product of his penchant for collecting, architect Sasa Radulovic’s cavernous loft in Winnipeg was made – and is often used – for entertaining. “It’s a very good party pad,” he says. “With the concrete floors, you can basically hose it down afterward.”
A partner in 5468796 Architecture, a design firm based in the city’s Exchange District, Radulovic also prizes the apartment, which is a block away from his office, for its calming quality. “It is an oasis,” he says of the unit, which is in the former Travellers Building, built in 1907. Radulovic and a colleague, Johanna Hurme, made deals with the developer when the structure was being turned into a condo, claiming the best floor for themselves and dividing it up into separate units, each with 14-foot ceilings and massive windows. “My work these days involves a certain amount of intensity. The condo, when I keep it in order, affords me a lot of relaxation,” Radulovic says.
That aura of peacefulness stems from the home’s subtle palette: white walls, raw concrete, a beautifully proportioned openness that Radulovic himself orchestrated, designing, among other features, a mezzanine that hangs off the building’s beams to create a column-free space underneath for the dining area. In this dining zone, a lamp from Habitat in Britain hangs over a table lined with eight Jacobsen 7 Series chairs. Up on the mezzanine, 30 feet of bookcases are filled, he says, with “childhood books and many from my family,” his architecture tomes having been banished to the office.
Family, a deeper survey of the condo shows, is important to Radulovic, who emigrated from Sarajevo in 1996 and was followed to Canada by his mother and brother. Among the many heirlooms in his home is an enormous grand piano, a Bosendorfer that has been in his family for 100 years and came with them to North America. Radulovic also credits his brother, an art conservator, for arranging the loan of two large-scale works by Winnipeg artist Esther Warkov. These things help make the space feel like home, he says.
Of course, there does come a time when the need to unwind with music and art gives way to that desire to invite people over, as many as 100 if Radulovic, who is divorced, so chooses. It is on those occasions that the gallerylike dimensions – not to mention those concrete floors – serve a more festive role.
A similar airiness defines A. Graham Kenyon’s retreat in rural Ontario, even if the look differs wildly. Single when he designed and built it (the retired accountant and banker has since tied the knot), Kenyon chose a farm near the town of Collingwood, Ont., about 150 kilometres north of Toronto, as the site for his new weekend home. Hoping to exercise some of the skills he had learned in a series of woodworking classes, he wanted it to be a hands-on project. Ultimately, the repurposing of beams from an old barn on the site became central to the creation of the house.
Jim Campbell, the local architect enlisted by the then-bachelor to design the home, “had the idea of using the barn frame as a supporting structure for the house, which blew me away,” Kenyon recalls. At first, the L-shaped barn looked unimpressive to the architect’s eyes. But on closer examination, its late-19th-century gambrel roof concealed an earlier 1860s structure made with great skill of beautiful old-growth elm, white pine and basswood. Working with builder Leo VanEyk, Kenyon and Campbell, whose firm is called Rockside Campbell Design, disassembled most of the barn and used it to build the new house, which they situated on top of a hill to take advantage of the rural views and daylight. “For a year and a half, I was up there Monday to Friday, helping out,” Kenyon says. “It was very educational. I know exactly how the house was put together.”
In the new structure, which Kenyon now uses to host his extended family as well as get away from it all, the wood beams are linked by insulated metal panels, commonly used in industrial buildings. Outside, the beams got a dark grey stain, while those inside were left as they were, many sun-bleached and handsomely worn. Railings, stairs and even kitchen cabinets were also made from hunks of the old-growth wood. The house, though, is unmistakably 21st-century, its polished concrete floors, black aluminum windows, stainless steel appliances and luxurious master bathroom as contemporary as they come. Still, the wood is the soul of the home, its crafting by a long-ago barn framer so inspiring to Kenyon that he is now building a full woodworking shop in order to keep his own hands busy.
“I had no idea what it was going to look like,” he says of his remarkable home. “I just wanted it to be unique.” And it is certainly, memorably that.