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Back at the eco-deco mansion Add to ...

The thing about massive renovation projects is that they always look their worst just before they start to look better.

With that in mind, I visited for the second time the future home of David Daniels - once the home of Major-General Donald M. Hogarth - after first reporting on the project in November, 2007. Designed by Toronto architect Mackenzie Waters in 1935, the 8,000-square-foot, sturdy art deco brick box is slowly, methodically being brought into the 21st century - spatially, sustainably and otherwise - by architect and green expert Paul Dowsett of Scott Morris Architects.

Punctuated by the squeal of power saws, our tour began just outside the home's formal front door, where deliveries were occurring so frequently a turnstile might be more appropriate.

Here, in the wall of the porte-cochere, a large, original metal window has been installed for decorative purposes rather than being sent to landfill; surrounding brick has been salvaged from other areas of the house and the colour and texture of the new mortar has been painstakingly matched.

On the porte-cochere's roof, where once there stood a dilapidated old potter's shed, a modern, glassy guesthouse now sits, which connects to the main house by an equally modern umbilical cord of a bridge. "It was one of the first conceits when we first started talking about the house," says Mr. Daniels about the bridge idea, "and it's actually come true, out of all the crazy ideas that I've had throughout the last few years, and I think it's better than I imagined it."

In a way, the porte-cochere can be seen as a microcosm of the entire project: Old parts have been salvaged and repurposed; efforts have been made to duplicate original work; and there is the marriage of old and new architecture.

In the backyard, stacks of cedar from a demolished sauna await new life as partition walls in the pool house. Underfoot is a rich, creamy "Algonquin stone" from Owen Sound - "as local as we could get," chuckles the architect - that will spill out into the rest of the yard; above our heads is the new, pre-patina'd copper flashing with a folded "three-part detail" to echo the banded (and very deco) lines of the brickwork.

Despite the construction storm before the calm, there is much to see inside the house. Mr. Dowsett is conducting tests of art deco moulding styles for the ceiling, because, as he puts it, "in drawing you can only do so much." The jury is still out on whether these will feature curves, hard angles or a combination of both.

The entire "east wing" addition has now been clad in the high-tech, triple-glazed pale green curtain wall that adorns the other modern additions (in my first report this wing was just a skeleton), and it is here that I got my first glimpse of the much-ballyhooed walnut shell flooring by Granular Hardwood Technologies Ltd., which simulates the look of expensive terrazzo by using waste walnut shell pieces as the aggregate after they've been used to clean jet engines.

Here, too, in what will become a chef's delight of a kitchen is another interesting feature: a remotely activated, large sliding glass door - not unlike the kind at the local grocery store - that Mr. Daniels predicts will become the home's principal entrance. "I think your family is going to live in this room," confirms Mr. Dowsett. "This is the view, it's just stunning."

Not only is the view stunning, so is the performance. The curtain wall system has proven so effective an insulator, an earlier plan to install solar blinds has been scrapped. "Some of this stuff actually works," laughs Mr. Daniels. "As a consumer, you're inundated with it every day now; every day you turn on the TV, you pick up a newspaper or magazine and all you hear about is this green material, that green material, and thank God some of it works!"

Upstairs, awaiting refinishing are original hardwood floors that have been patched with pieces from other areas. Cuts to this three-quarter-century-old wood were done so precisely, says project manager Nick Egizii, the flooring contractors said it was "easier working with this than working with new wood."

Reflective high-albedo paint isn't the only thing covering the roof this time. Lined up like a giant's fallen dominos are massive solar panels that will supply the home with its entire hot water supply. Not only that, says Mr. Dowsett, they do double duty by helping to shade the roof. Popping up here and there are electrical goosenecks that will eventually connect to solar-electric panels: "At one point in time, we imagine that it will be cost effective to install solar-electric," says Mr. Daniels.

Until then, green pioneer Mr. Daniels is having a blast doing nightly research into sustainable technologies with a low-cost/high-benefit ratio, and Mr. Dowsett and Mr. Egizii are busily making it all happen.

And I, your humble Architourist (who can see past the mess) will bring you the finished project some time in late 2008 or early 2009. "We're as on schedule as you can be in a renovation," finishes Mr. Daniels.

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