More space, light and storage were on Dianne White’s wish list when it came time to refresh the Toronto house where she and husband Nigel (plus their two kids and two dogs) had lived in for 17 years. They had already replaced the home’s dreaded knob-and-tube wiring, dating from the 1930s, and updated the plumbing. But this most recent renovation was an opportunity to do much more. “We’d always wanted more open space – and more space [generally]. It was just a matter of affordability,” White says.
It was also a matter of finding an architect who could listen. White had been following the work of Toronto-based firm Plant Architect for years. When it came time to design a space specifically suited to the family’s needs, she reached out. “They came to see the existing space and listened to what was important to us in terms of the flow and connection between the different parts of the house,” White says. To be sure, there were distinctive features they wanted to keep, but the dated and compartmentalized layout had to go. “The thing that was missing was light,” she explains.
Plant opened and enlarged the first-floor space, connecting the mudroom entrance and kitchen to a sun-filled breakfast nook and the south-facing backyard beyond. “I love the flow of light from north to south," White says. From front to back, “it’s bright and very functional,” she says. The mudroom, in particular, gets a lot of traffic. “Our Labrador retrievers are not little dogs. It’s a very useful space for wiping off paws and rounding them up for walks.”
The kitchen is more functional, too – for canines and humans both. “We do a lot of entertaining for our family and friends,” White says. “When we get our families together, it’s so much more manageable now.” For one thing, she no longer has to keep big pots in the basement. And there’s a lot more space to move. “Before, you couldn’t open the fridge and put the dishwasher door down [at once] – there was just no space.” Now there’s breathing room and cupboard space aplenty. “It’s maybe too much storage,” she says, adding cautiously, “I don’t want to curse myself.”
A large and deep island is a focal point and hangout zone, featuring (even more) built-in storage with frosted glass doors, a Caesarstone quartz countertop, stools from Restoration Hardware and light fixture Sky Bang by Stickbulb overhead. “It’s great when we have guests over,” White says. “I can put appetizers out and people gather round. I don’t feel like I’m not involved in what’s going on.” Functional decor items such as the kettle and tray, both a distinct scarlet hue “to give a pop of colour,” White says, are from Hudson’s Bay and a favourite local shop, Write Impressions, in Toronto’s Leaside neighbourhood, respectively.
But, White admits, the process wasn’t all idyllic. When it came to picking finishes, she recalls some impassioned battles. “I tend to like things that are more modern and my husband tends to be a bit more traditional,” she says. And while she preferred a clean, monochrome kitchen, her husband advocated for warm woods to match the wainscoting found in other parts of the home. “How can we mix those two things together?” she asked. Here, again, Plant mediated. The result: rift-sawn white oak cabinets (this same finish appears on the underside of the bulkheads) combined with white drawer fronts. A perfect marriage of styles, and elegantly executed. “They listened to us bicker and came back with a solution,” says White. “We fell in love with it.”