Looking at this white house in a snowy setting, you might start free-associating A Whiter Shade of Pale. Yet oddly enough, winter could be the most appropriate time to judge G. Bruce Stratton Architects's project. This was no simple renovation (if renovations can ever be called simple). Not only did they have to demolish a one-storey house, they were tasked by their clients with creating something that would both fit into the fairly traditional Kingsway neighbourhood in west-end Toronto and stand out. The Globe spoke with the firm's Emira Galeteanu and Bruce Stratton.
The slope is quite arresting; it's the first thing that I notice.
Stratton: This is a very traditional neighbourhood, but within that genre of buildings there's the odd house that actually has some of these swoops, but not to the extent of this one.
Did the clients ask for the slope?
It just sort of morphed. The material composition of the front façade is an orchestrated collage of white brick, precast concrete, wood, weathered steel, copper and glazing. There is a lively interplay between the curvilinear and angular elements. The elongated, curved roofline introduces a sense of quiet movement into the otherwise angular elements. The organic form and inherent beauty of certain musical instruments have always fascinated me.
What other elements have that organic feel?
Galeteanu: The weathered steel in front of the house will actually change, you'll come back next year and see a subtle difference.
Stratton:It's a beautiful material because it's sort of alive and it moves.
What was the biggest challenge?
Galeteanu: One of the challenges was to make the house appear smaller than it really is, in order to fit in the small lot and to not be overwhelming to the neighbourhood and the houses next door. The way we solved that is by locating the second level of the house mostly in the attic space. This was one of the reasons for the shape of the roof.
What is in the upper-area floor behind the windows?
Those are bedrooms. The upper floor, it's all in the attic. It's sloped upstairs and it's almost like a chalet. It's interesting hearing people's comments, who go by, maybe because it's winter, but it does look like something kind of Scandinavian – probably because of the white wood, and because the steepness of the slope would be something you'd find in the Alps or somewhere like that, mostly to shed snow, but that wasn't necessarily our intention.
You refer to this as 'the white brick house?'
Stratton: It really is white brick. Though you may see some white stucco houses or white painted houses, it's actually brick. It's a brick from Holland. And interestingly you can no longer get it.
Did you contemplate how the colours would intermingle?
Stratton: Yeah. The windows are all Douglas fir. The door and the underside of the canopies are all cedar. The white brick acts as a background canvas that accentuates the autumn-coloured wood finishes and weathered-steel panel that contains the street address that is anchored onto the front-landing precast panel.
Does the interior pick up on these themes?
Stratton: Yeah. When you walk in there's an open staircase. Generally the interior is quite simple. The central stair structure is constructed of plate steel with a white powder-coat finish, which is the same process used to paint automobiles. The stair treads are laminated planks of 1 3/4-inch quarter-cut white oak. The stair ballustrate is solid teak and teak veneer. It required a high degree of precision craftsmanship: Candu Millwork used a computer numerical control saw to cut the pieces. The engineering on it is incredibly precise and only through modern technology is something like that possible.
Galeteanu:We wanted steel stairs originally because when you come in, you're faced with stairs but just beyond is a window where you can see the backyard, so we wanted it extremely transparent, and you can achieve that with steel but not wood. At the same time we wanted the warm feel of the wood, it's much more comfortable.