Fun for all at Ash & Thorn Farm
This family home near Guelph, Ont., boasts a yellow slide and a meandering floor plan that's calculated for randomness
"Should I go? Really? I'm so scared, I'm so scared!" says the home's designer with mock-fear to his daughter. She laughs, because, how can you not at the sight of a ginger-haired man cramming his burly frame into the mouth of a giant tube?
"Whooooahhh!" Daniel Harland of Roundabout Studio screams as he performs his own wiggly roundabout and picks up speed; luckily, he's slowed at the end by a slight raise in the slide's angle. "That was my first time," he says. "I've said to you before: 'I don't do fun!'"
Mr. Harland is obviously lying. This is a very, very fun house. And he, with partner Gary Westwood, have done it for Cynthia Waldow, a 41-year-old artist, and Mike Bonneveld, a 47-year-old real estate executive, just a short drive from Guelph.
But about that slide: It's a bright "school bus" yellow; it matches the kitchen backsplash about 10 feet away; it's built into the pickets surrounding a staircase to the home's basement; it faces a whimsical round window; and it was "Cynthia's brainchild," Mr. Harland says.
"I love architectural magazines [and] there's lots of stuff that I've seen out of the U.K., where they have a slide straight down beside [the] stairs," Ms. Waldow says. "There's that beautiful stainless-steel one in New York, but [to do it here] was $30,000."
This slide, thankfully, from SPI Industries near Owen Sound, came in at $8,000 supplied and installed. And, because the homeowners also have a serious side, it's been positioned at the "hinge" point of the long, low one-storey house. The hinge sits where the public rooms – cathedral-ceilinged living room, music area, dining area and kitchen – taper off into a zone that features the home's semi-private areas. Those include a mudroom, laundry room and the staircase/slide combo. Beyond that, the home snakes away down a hallway to the reveal the two children's bedrooms, a guestroom and the glassy master bedroom. Ms. Waldow, who co-manages Necessary Arts Co. in downtown Guelph, explains that this private wing is perpendicular to the house because she wanted something that presents a modest face to guests as they approach.
But even without a full network of human Habitrails, there are other fun things to be found at Ash & Thorn Farm; they're just more of the "adult" variety. For instance, because the home sits on 16 sun-drenched hectares (which also contain a barn, picturesque wooden fences and a dressage building), it sports deep roof overhangs and an almost-wraparound porch based on Ms. Waldow's love of Australia's vernacular Queenslander style. This also enables the couple to entertain large groups of friends and colleagues outdoors – sometimes complete with musical acts – which they do often.
Metalwork features by Live Iron Forge, such as the acid-etched fireplace surround, an open concept, quick-access coat rack in the foyer (again, with all the parties, the couple didn't want coats buried away) and the staircase to the basement, all contribute to a custom look, as does kitchen millwork by Lloyd Scott Enterprises in Wellington County.
The kitchen, considered the 21st-century centre of the home, was oriented by Roundabout to provide the best views of the couple's land. One day, Ms. Waldow says, that view will be enhanced: "We'd like to have animals, but there are miles of fences to be fixed first." The other view that's been captured, however, is strictly for the homeowner's eyes only: Sunrises painting an endless sky in oranges and pinks greet the couple each morning and, if the mood strikes and the weather co-operates, a door beside the master's tub leads to an outdoor shower.
And that's the thing: While it may seem inconsequential, site placement and the meandering nature of the floor plan are calculated for randomness, if you will. Whether it's taking a few steps down to enter the living room, navigating the circular window and slide at the hinge to enter the private wing, or simply the way a wood floor transitions to a tile floor, visual interest is sustained … even to the homeowner.
"I think a lot of this house is in the moments," says Mr. Harland, who came to Toronto from London, England, in 1989 and co-founded Roundabout with Mr. Westwood in 2003. "It's turning a corner and seeing a new thing, and the way things line up, there are little pieces throughout the house."
At a recent party in late July, guests were delighting in that discovery: wine, beer and canapés in hand, cries of "Oh, I really like that!" and "There's a band playing on the front porch, let's go," or "This house just keeps on going!" could be heard repeatedly. Lineups at the top of the slide, as well as a traffic jam on the stairs for a return trip, prove that fun was in plentiful supply for the little ones, also.
"Cynthia likes to make fun of me by saying I don't do fun," Mr. Harland repeats, straightening and dusting himself off after his maiden slide voyage. "So doing fun was a challenge for me."
"Daniel did the right amount of pushback," Ms. Waldow counters with a smile. "I would've made [him do] tons of really random, fun things that really weren't necessary that would've cost money."