Imagine for a moment you're an architect. You've got a client - a really nice guy - who tells you he sleeps on a yoga mat on the floor. And he wants a home that is so stripped of ornament that, to some eyes, it will seem stark and cold. Also, he's a very private person who wants a place of quiet solitude, but located in a dense urban neighbourhood.
If you're Andrew Reeves of LineBox Studio, you welcome the challenge.
"One thing that LineBox has always been true to," says the 34-year-old architect, "is trying to design a space that really is that person … if anyone knows Patrick, when they come by, they say: 'This is Patrick's house.'"
Certainly, there is no mistaking Patrick Flynn's home, which has been dubbed "Mini House." Tucked between small worker's cottages at the top of Craven Road where Little India terminates at the railway tracks, the building is a study in raw materials. Wearing a cloak of concrete and Galvalume with rusting metal "trim" framing the door, its wedge-shaped profile stands head-and-shoulders over its immediate neighbours. But rather than saying "I'm better than you," it asserts: "I'm friendly, but I'm also different."
Inside is pretty different, too.
Standing just inside the front door, the underside of a perforated metal staircase greets visitors. Underneath that is an indoor "garden" of pebbles, punctuated by three illuminated fluorescent tubes. Rough concrete floors are underfoot, and, to the left, a small kitchen area looks incomplete with only a two-burner induction cooktop placed on a rolling cart, an exhaust fan, a few cabinets, a metal sink and a fridge. On top of the fridge is a tiny composition of two stainless steel monoliths by Russian sculptor Kosso Eloul.
Sound depressing? It isn't. A view straight through the space to huge sliding glass doors pulls the visitor, magnet-like, towards the living area at the rear. In the kitchen/den area at the front, pure white walls allow rectangles of light entering from three staggered, skinny windows to travel upward in an ever-changing composition. An inspection of the home's cinderblock core reveals a wonderfully minimalist bathroom with an interesting view: sitting on the toilet, one can study the guts of the radiant floor system and other plumbing behind a sheet of Plexiglas.
"One thing I think that's been consistent all the way through is everything is raw and the way it came: the steel inside is unprimed, it still even has the numbers that were written on it in the factory about what piece it is!" Mr. Reeves says. "He didn't want to cover things or paint things to mimic certain other things."
Perhaps this love of authenticity started when Mr. Flynn lived in hard lofts before stumbling upon this vacant 14-foot-by-70-foot lot (the former house-cum-meth lab had been demolished). Combine that love with an already minimalist lifestyle and the loft-style bedroom - complete with the yoga mat on a concrete floor for a bed - starts to make sense. It also makes things fun for the architect, says Mr. Reeves: "As a designer, it totally erases any preconceived idea of what a bedroom should be and also allows you to play around."
Up there, despite a commanding view of the main floor below, one is riveted in place by the nakedness of it all, or by the sensation of vertigo, since this is more of a floating platform than a room. There is no traditional furniture to ground the space, there are no walls to enclose and cocoon (save for the thin wire grid under the metal railings) and the closet looks more like a cage to store winter tires or hockey equipment than a place for clothing. The closet, actually, was the one thing Mr. Reeves - who wanted millwork - says he and Mr. Flynn fought over.
But after the initial dizziness passes, all that matters is the light pouring down from skylights, the pin-drop silence, and a feeling of floating above the dirty, messy world below. How can that not induce a restful sleep?
Some build in anticipation of those few times a year, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, that require a dining room big enough to seat a dozen guests. This house is about planning for the other 95 per cent of the time by asking "what do you really, genuinely need and use?" says Mr. Reeves.
Overall, it's a bold statement that never apologizes for itself - why should it? - where Mr. Flynn can shed the stresses of the big city while still remaining thoroughly immersed within it. It's a rare space where a client's vision - all 566 square feet of it - was never watered down by the architect's.
And all of this is just fine by Mr. Reeves: "You hire an architect for their brand, and you force your lifestyle to fit into their brand," he says. "I find it more exciting to deal with people who very much know what they want, and you get to explore and push that.
"I can't move in here [but]I wouldn't live in any house I've designed thus far, because it's not mine."
The skinny on the mini house
Lot size: 14 feet by 70 feet
Floor area: 566 square feet
Ceiling height: 20 feet (at highest point)
Soft costs (architect, engineer, surveyor): $30,000
City fees (minor variance, pre-application aw review, building permit): $5,000
Land cost: $110,000
Lawyer fees: $15,000
Construction costs (all in costs): $210,000
City services (hydro, gas, water, sewer): $15,000
Total Cost: $385,000