“It never came to blows but it came close,” says architect Jillian Amis, her tongue mostly in cheek. “There were times when I really disagreed about certain things and Michelle was the tie-breaker.”
The laughter bouncing off of the rich walnut walls of Michelle and Steve Steinowicz’s living room proves no one is actually offended.
Still, builder Casey Brooke offers his take: “Sometimes [conversations] were heated but we were all truthful with each other,” he says, setting his wine glass down onto the square glass table. “We were working with clients that understood what they were talking about; a lot of the time you’re dealing with people who don’t … I understand, it’s your dream home, you want to do it this way, but these are the reasons it’s not the right way to do it.”
The home is a dream indeed, but it was never pie-in-the-sky; it was thought out and meticulously planned from the get-go, because Mr. Steinowicz, currently a builder of hotels and condos, was once an architect himself.
“I wanted to do a reality show called ‘My Two Architects,’ ” quips Ms. Steinowicz, a vice-president at a consulting firm.
Even before the couple knocked on the door of a stranger’s house in Lawrence Park and asked the nice couple inside if an architect had been involved (it was Ms. Amis, and she’d done the interiors too), Mr. Steinowicz had been sketching designs for the lot they’d purchased in Sherwood Park, where they’d lived for decades. An architect at firms such as E. I. Richmond and Page and Steele, not only did the Modernist lines flow freely from his pencil, he’d “been bugging” his wife of 30 years with “I wanna build a house.“
“I thought renovating would satisfy him but it never did,” Ms. Steinowicz says.
So, because the former architect admits he’s “not that strong in terms of interior finishes,” the decision was made to hire Ms. Amis, who had worked at Hariri Pontarini on the award-winning McKinsey & Co. building, and who welcomed the collaboration. Casey Brooke, who had just hung up his Brookebuilt shingle, came on board only after he’d assured himself he could give the project full attention.
“To be a part of a project like this is why I went out on my own,” Mr. Brooke says. “I worked for a larger firm, we did beautiful homes … but you get on that rat-wheel and you race and race trying to chase payroll and the next thing you know, you have seven, eight jobs on the go, and it’s not what I wanted to do.”
The final result of their collaboration is stunning, even from the sidewalk. While it wasn’t dug out of the Don Valley, the red brick façade roots this as a Toronto home, and is a refreshing change from the ubiquitous Opera-House-black-brick homes the city has seen over the past decade. Stepping into the foyer of the 3,500 square foot home is also a treat because the entire plan doesn’t reveal itself right away: the couple’s office, to the right, is a few steps up (Mr. Steinowicz says he had a “three step rule”), and there are only peekaboo views of staircase, living room and backyard greenery.
Walk a little further and the ceiling stretches to 25 feet – there’ll surely be a gasp if this is one’s first visit – over the dining table, with punctuation provided by a monumental fireplace trimmed with veined, grey marble and sound-absorption panels. “I liked the idea of a courtyard house,” Mr. Steinowicz says, “so, therefore, the glass ceiling in the central area of the house was very important to me – ”
“ – He thinks he’s Italian,” interjects Ms. Steinowicz with an eye-roll and chuckle.
Even here, however, a full view of the kitchen isn’t possible because of the tall, walnut column that provides cabinetry to the kitchen. This, Ms. Amis explains, is how she creates “object-type spaces, and I often will use millwork walls or pieces that help define space.”
And about that millwork: Not only is it everywhere, it’s gorgeous, warm and, most importantly, consistent in grain and colouration, since every square inch of it was ordered at the beginning of the project by Emanuele Furniture Design.
Even standing in the living room contemplating the very modern landscape by Mark Hartley through triple-paned, made-in-Denmark windows, there are still visual surprises. Look over here and one might notice that the 11-foot kitchen island is made up of one single piece of quartzite; look up and one notices a bridge…where does that go?
It goes to the master bedroom. And, once up there to inspect the tidy, not-too-big room – and the to-die-for walk-in closet – there are still a few interesting items to keep the eye interested. The main one, perhaps, is the cottage-like deck that’s tucked in from the exterior wall; not only is it a great little morning coffee spot, it allows for a view straight from the bedroom to the big sculptural bathtub. Eagle-eyed architecture aficionados will also spot the exquisite, smaller details, such as the expertly done drywall, the disappearing-wall-effect achieved by corner windows, and the warmth that wooden baseboards bring.
So, despite the occasional heated conversation, a dream of a home was achieved … and, Mr. Brooke says, with very few issues or delays. “I think one of the strengths of having two architects on the team is that they were able to quickly collaborate and come up with a decision that made sense,” he says.
“And,” Ms. Steinowicz adds with a laugh, “we each had a couple of vetoes that we could use, strategically.“