Filtered sunlight penetrates enormous, floor-to-ceiling windows at both front and rear. As a sunbeam crawls across the herringbone floor, each chevron lights up as if powered internally. As glossy white kitchen cabinets ping light in every direction, the brooding, dark marble island acts as absorbent counterpoint. No matter, artwork over the dining room table—John MacGregor’s swirls of sky blue, red, orange, and ochre—create a happy rhythm that seems to respond to Paul Desmond’s soft saxophone as it oozes from hidden ceiling speakers.
Just above those speakers, a secret, second-floor courtyard awaits a stronger kiss of sunlight before it can be enjoyed. Until spring arrives, however, the generous basement provides distraction via a home theatre large enough to charge admission.
And if all of this doesn’t sound like a typical multi-generation family home, that’s because the Porcos aren’t your average family.
“Well, you have to like each other,” laughs Michael Porco as he sits down on the mushroom-coloured sofa near the rear window-wall. Joining 70-year-old Mr. Porco in the filtered sunlight are three of the five people he likes enough to cohabitate with: Nara, his 62-year-old wife, and children Lucas and Elizabeth. Absent this day are Nara’s parents, 87-year-old Olga Giampietro and 91-year-old Antonio Giampietro.
The house, which sits a few hundred meters from the Humber river in Toronto’s northwestern corner, is as crisp, modern and open as the living room’s Saarinen Womb Chair or Warren Platner coffee table; it rejects the typical closed-in, tucked away granny suite, or the perceived need for isolated, almost ‘themed’ spaces that cater to each generation. This house, which was built by Lucas, 27, and Elizabeth, 26, via their new company, Porcobuild Inc., boldly contends that a love of light, clean lines, thoughtful common spaces, and even the languid tones of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, can be enjoyed by all.
The only concession to the older generation, really, is an elevator, and a slightly larger bedroom suite for the two most senior members of the family.
“We built this house to suit our needs now,” says Lucas Porco, who does all the cooking for the family. “This is really meant to be for six people; it’s meant to be for a family that lives mixed, it’s not like there’s a separate kitchen, [or] where there’re different entrances.”
And, should the younger Mr. Porco decide he’d like to own a separate downtown residence, he’ll find a way to make that happen, just as he did here. While building a house can never really be considered a whim (unless one has unlimited funds), this multigenerational dwelling came about due to a childhood dream: like Michael Porco had done a quarter-century before, Lucas Porco wanted to build a house. So, even though he had bigger fish to fry with his studies at Osgoode Hall Law School, he convinced his parents to let him start with a small build.
When that went well, the family put their own house, and that of the Giampietros, which had “so many stairs,” under the microscope. Once they found the generous 55- by 320 foot lot (walking distance from both dwellings) in late 2017, Lucas and Elizabeth, an art history expert, began to draw up plans. And then Michael, a retired art teacher and fine artist, joined in.
“Everybody thinks they’re an architect, right?” laughs Lucas Porco. “The original concept was totally different.”
“It was an L-shaped house,” adds his father.
“It would’ve been much bigger,” the younger Mr. Porco continues. “But anyways, we had a lot of arguments about that, so we said ‘we have to go to the next level, we need professional help.’”
When they found Jaegap Chung, co-founder of Studio JCI, and his “Courtyard House,” they knew they’d found their architect. However, laughs Mr. Chung, when he learned of the family’s $750,000 budget and accompanying wish list—which included luxury finishes, a minimalist “living room style” kitchen, and a separate, skylit art studio for Michael Porco on the main floor—he told them it might be unrealistic.
“It’s more like 1.4 [million],” Mr. Chung remembers countering. “I come from the world of $3,000 to $4,000 per square foot construction, I worked on Mike Lazaridis’s home in Lake Huron [while with Hariri Pontarini Architects], where it was a $150-million budget.” But, seeing the younger Porco generation’s doggedness and reminding himself that he started Studio JCI to make “accessible” architecture, he took them on as clients.
When the 3,500 sq. ft. house was built for close to that budget, and in less than a year, Mr. Chung was pleasantly surprised. “Kudos to them,” he says, looking around the room, his eye landing on the hidden door to Michael Porco’s art studio.
A look at other things the brother-and-sister team was able to achieve and it’s hard to believe this wasn’t a multi-million dollar job. The second storey courtyard, in particular—a secret oasis of captured sky, Ontario limestone floor, and interesting shadow play on a handsome brick wall—looks like something from a 1970s issue of Architectural Digest, and the ingenious tandem garage hidden behind oak battens should be made mandatory in suburbia. Other items of note? Almost too many to list, but: Planters at the front of the home that provide privacy while dining; the precise millwork throughout; a floor plan that doesn’t reveal everything upon entry yet still feels open; and how the elevator shaft combines with a coat closet to minimize its impact.
Overall, it’s a house of light, art, and ingenuity that anyone of any age can appreciate.
“The most important thing is you guys are happy living in it,” says Mr. Chung. “And that is the biggest compliment, as an architect, that I can get.”
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