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A roundabout approach to house design with curved stairways, closets

When it came to rebuilding their Calgary house, Jennifer and John Dugdale threw a curveball. Their contemporary house in the southwest community of Wildwood features curved walls that run from roof to basement. The distinctive curves can even be seen aerially, resembling the rise and fall of a whale's tail.

Photos by Gary Campbell

On ground level, the most prominent curved wall embraces the front of the house, completely clad in natural stone. Leading up to it is an undulating rock path accompanied by wooden planks mimicking the wall’s camber, and that are reminiscent of a boardwalk. While one might think that a stone partition could set a standoffish tone, it’s actually quite welcoming, creating a sweeping entry into the house.

“We wanted a curve to soften the stone wall,” Mr. Dugdale says. “If it was a square wall, it certainly would have a different flavour.” The curvature of the wall tempers any fortress-like associations, and serves not only as a visual juxtaposition to the straight lines of the main structure behind it, but as a source of intrigue. The transformation from a 1950s, 1,100-square-foot bungalow to a modern, 2,700-square-foot two-storey was completed more than three years ago. Yet, strangers still ring the doorbell, asking for a tour.

Photos by Gary Campbell

To accommodate their growing family (two kids and dogs), the Dugdales first ruled out a major renovation before deciding to recreate their house from scratch. “We really just wanted something not so square or stark,” Mr. Dugdale says. “We wanted flow, and curves are inviting, comfortable and welcoming.”

To make their curvy vision a reality, the Dugdales brought in Calgary architecture firm Inertia Corp. “Curved walls are fairly easy to design,” Stephen Barnecut, principal at Inertia, says. “Building them, of course, is a huge challenge.”

The framers and drywallers cut the top and bottom plates out of plywood and used up to eight times as many studs as for a straight wall to ensure the drywall followed the curve perfectly.

Such attention to detail can be found throughout the house. Nowhere does the curvature simply drop off. The stone wall, for example, continues from the exterior into the house, as does the curving bulkhead opposite to it.

Photos by Gary Campbell

“We maintained the same form throughout,” Mr. Barnecut says. “That’s the modernist in me. If there’s a feature element, you need to be able to read that it’s an element. You don’t want to turn the corner and it’s a whole new thing.”

And it’s not just walls that curve. Harmonizing arcs abound, whether it’s the kitchen island, basement bar or several closets, including Ms. Dugdale’s master-bedroom closet. That carousel-esque masterpiece runs the length of the bedroom, ceiling to floor.

“The curves work really well with circulation areas like corridors, but not so well with rooms where you are trying to fit furniture, so we used it more in auxiliary spaces like storage,” Mr. Barnecut explains.

And, of course, the most obvious place to create a curve is the stairway. Ms. Dugdale reveals that the winding hardwood stairs, complete with metal backing, were inspired by the David Yurman jewellery store in New York.

Curves aside, the house also epitomizes open concept. The entire main floor, save for the kids’ bedrooms, is essentially a single loft-like room divided into two sitting areas and the kitchen at the far end. “We wanted to open things up as much as possible with no wasted space,” Ms. Dugdale says.

“Turns out I created my own bar,” Mr. Dugdale says with a laugh. “I wanted a stage, a dance floor and a bar in the back. We didn’t want the room to be cavernous, so that’s why there are three distinct areas. It works really well when we entertain, and also for our family.”

Mr. Barnecut also notes that the 12-foot ceiling height of the main floor is the ideal height for the space. “So many houses have a full two-storey volume ceiling, which is like 20 feet. You don’t even get a sense of the grandeur because it’s like there is no ceiling. Here, the ceiling is shorter, so you can really feel the space.”

Photos by Gary Campbell

Doused in natural light, the house encourages inward movement, toward the dining area that extends seamlessly on to the rear deck. The back “yard” isn’t a yard at all, with not a blade of grass; rather it’s a tiered, stone-and-wood outdoor living room with a patio and seating, barbecue and hot tub. “We didn’t need more yard, we needed more liveable space,” Mr. Dugdale explains.

Primarily, the Dugdales wanted warmth and usability – a house where nowhere is off-limits. “I didn’t ever want to feel like my kids are over there where I can’t see them, and over here is my space. I didn’t want it to be broken up like that,” Mr. Dugdale says.

“What I love most is that there is space, but we are all connected,” Ms. Dugdale agrees.

Ultimately, this curvaceous beauty offers an “ooh” factor, whether you’re a fan or a critic. “I haven’t done anything as unique as this house,” Mr. Barnecut says. “I just don’t think most people have the courage. It’s easy to weaken a design when faced with community reaction, construction realities or costs, but John and Jennifer dodged those temptations and pressed forward with the house they wanted.”

Says Ms. Dugdale: “We were building for us, but we have a great deal of respect for the neighbours and community, and did not want to build a monster that was overbearing and did not fit.”

Even though the construction dust has long settled, the Dugdales’ house continues to generate talk in the neighbourhood. “It was always amazing to me how vocal people were about the house,” Mr. Dugdale says. “Some people hated it, while others loved it. But that’s okay; when you don’t get a reaction at all, it’s usually because you haven’t really done anything.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

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