51 ROXBOROUGH DR., TORONTO
Asking price: $6.5-million
Agents: Donna Thompson and Nick Thompson (Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd.)
The back story
Lawrence and Mary Wolf knew they were challenging convention when they commissioned a house of glass and steel. They didn’t know they would be living in an architectural landmark.
Mr. Wolf pulls out a copy of House & Garden from 1975 and points to the weeping fig tree, which has grown several feet taller, in the same spot in the living room – facing the exterior courtyard.
The Wolf House, built on stilts facing a Rosedale ravine in 1974, has won many awards and international acclaim for architect Barton Myers.
The Wolfs hired Mr. Myers after they visited another famous house of his design – his own residence on Berryman Street in Yorkville. “We saw what he did with his house and we were blown away,” Ms. Wolf says.
The Wolfs were young advertising mavens in the 1970s who would build Wolf Group Integrated Communications into a cross-border powerhouse. Mr. Myers was a Toronto-based architect who would go on to world renown for his urban planning, museums, theatres and concert halls.
The well-connected modern furniture retailer Klaus Nienkamper made the introduction.
Mr. Myers, who currently practises at Barton Myers Associates in Los Angeles, caused a sensation in Rosedale with the Wolf House.
Not all of the attention was positive in such a staid neighbourhood. But the Wolfs had no qualms about building a precedent-setting house.
“Either you can relate to it or not relate to it,” Mr. Wolf says simply. “We were into what was new – what was forward. A lot of people are wowed by it and there are people who would love to live here.”
The steel structure and the mechanical and electrical systems are all exposed. A bridge overlooking the courtyard connects the front and rear of the house on the upper floor.
Mr. Myers was inspired by his early career in the U.S. Navy to try out new space-age materials. In designing the Wolf House, he was experimenting along the way, says Mr. Wolf, who adds that there was no convention for treating the steel and other industrial materials. “We demanded a level of finishing for which there was no tradition.”
It’s obvious the architect cherishes the project to this day: The Wolf House is featured in Mr. Myers’s 2005 tome 3 Steel Houses.“This residence, sited on the edge of a wooded ravine in Toronto, employs off-the-shelf industrial materials in an elegant way,” Mr. Myers writes. “Although the area of the house is a modest 3,000 square feet, the effect is one of unusual spaciousness.”
Architectural Record selected it as a Record House for 1977. Mr. Myers notes the honour on his website. The house won the Prix du XXe siècle from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 2007.
The Wolfs loved the all-white interior and the high-tech components. The elegant, simple lines, Ms. Wolf says, keep the design contemporary and fresh.
“When you come home to a house like this, it’s very uplifting,” Mr. Wolf says. “The exterior is almost incorporated in the interior.”
Ms. Wolf says the couple was fortunate to obtain a piece of land in Rosedale that had been severed from a large estate. And they had no idea at the time they were commissioning a residence from an architect who would become so celebrated.
“Sometimes you just get falling down lucky,” says Ms. Wolf.
The house today
Mr. Myers’s creation remains substantially the same, but the Wolfs have made some changes to the interior over the years.
Because the house was built on stilts, the Wolfs were able to slide a glass box underneath to create a garden-level living room in 1983. A home office on the same level can be enclosed behind panels or opened up to views of the garden.
On the upper level, the kids’ area at the front of the house has been reconfigured to create a guest bedroom and a home office.
“In the late nineties, the family grew and changed,” Mr. Wolf says. “Our sons were older. Then when they moved out, it changed again.”
At the rear, the master bedroom was transformed by interior design firm Yabu Pushelberg. Warm wood furniture built-ins define the space. A new ensuite bathroom features dramatic gold leaf tiles and an oval freestanding tub with views of the ravine through floor-to-ceiling windows.
In 2008, New York-based Heather Faulding of Faulding Architecture was brought in to reconfigure the kitchen and redesign the glass living room. The original galley kitchen was inspired by Mr. Myers’s time in the navy, Ms. Wolf says. That vision translated into a very industrial look.
The work by Ms. Faulding and Yabu Pushelberg has created a kitchen and main floor with cabinets and built-ins of golden pear wood. Outside, the landscaping surrounding the inground swimming pool was designed by Walter Kehm to take advantage of the ravine and rolling terrain.
The best feature
The Wolfs feel very fortunate to live on the edge of a ravine. With his design, they say, Mr. Myers was almost able to incorporate the exterior into the interior.
“We had this incredible lot. We wanted to take advantage of it.”
Mr. Wolf takes pride in another feature: A glass door opens to a terrace at the same level as the kitchen. The outdoor dining area overlooks the pool.
He says he had to press Mr. Myers to build the terrace because the architect thought the protrusion would ruin the lines at the rear of the house. But Mr. Wolf says he is glad he was able to persuade him to find a way.
“This is the most glorious dining room in all of Toronto.”