The listing: 87 Ash Cres., Toronto
Asking Price: $1,399,900
Taxes: Not yet assessed
Lot Size: 25 feet by 125 feet
Agent: Adam Brind (Core Assets Real Estate Brokerage)
The back story
Architect Jeff Geldart of RAW Design and designer David Grant-Rubash of Phaedrus Studio stood in front of an unassuming bungalow on a deep lot in Long Branch on Toronto’s west side and pondered the type of contemporary residence they would each like to live in.
The two had been tossing around ideas on architecture since they met while Mr. Grant-Rubash was working on the Scandinavia-inspired Odin Café + Bar in Corktown and Mr. Geldart became intrigued by the design.
Mr. Geldart graduated with a master of architecture from Yale University before returning to Toronto to work on projects ranging from single-family houses to resorts and high-rise towers. He currently teaches at Ryerson University, where he completed his undergraduate degree before heading off for further education at Yale.
Mr. Grant-Rubash studied architecture at the University of Copenhagen before earning a master of interior architecture and product design from Kansas State University.
In 2015, they decided to come together on a project and, after some searching, Mr. Geldart found 87 Ash Cres. Its setting in the Long Branch area on the edge of Lake Ontario provided a leafy streetscape in a traditional neighbourhood.
“What was really valuable to us was the opportunity to collaborate. A lot of times you wouldn’t achieve the result without the dialogue,” Mr. Grant-Rubash says.
In previous decades, many of the area’s small bungalows had been occupied by workers at the industrial plants nearby. But most of the industry has moved out of the area and the mix of houses is changing as builders and homeowners tear down older homes and replace them with larger dwellings.
Mr. Geldart and Mr. Grant-Rubash decided to do a renovation and addition to the existing bungalow.
Their aim was to prove that good architecture can be created without adding massively to the scale – or budget.
“We’re testing what a good house can be,” Mr. Geldart says.
Mr. Geldart points out that the house is not “modern” in the style of the 20th-century movement, but it is contemporary. He finds that Toronto is still fairly staid when it comes to design, but more people are willing to challenge the norms.
“It’s growing for sure. People want a very well-designed, thoughtful house.”
Mr. Grant-Rubash points out that many of the infill houses on the street built in the past decade or so are much more imposing.
The house today
The recently completed house appears modest to passersby, but the length of the building provides 2,080 square feet of above-ground living space.
That length created a design challenge of its own because it could lead to a dark interior. The pair decided to bring in light from the top and the sides.
Windows are placed to take full advantage of sightlines. Residents at the front of the house can see all the way to the tree in the backyard.
The main floor has an open plan, with a dining area at the front overlooking the street. Residents can walk right up to the floor-to-ceiling window, surrounded by the cedar frame.
“We’re always playing with the inside-outside relationship,” Mr. Grant-Rubash says. “You really feel the exterior of the building wrapping around you while you’re inside.”
He figures that the sociability of dining is well suited to the front of the house.
“People will look in and you’ll look out.”
The kitchen stands in the centre with charcoal and white oak cabinet doors and a 12-foot waterfall island covered in Brazilian soapstone. The very matte material is warm and yielding, Mr. Grant-Rubash explains .
“We wanted to maintain a sort of softness.”
That leaves room for a more private living area at the rear. The entertainment centre can be hidden away behind the wall.
The mudroom – which provides a passageway from the back door to the kitchen – is also tucked away out of sight.
The stairs to the second floor are simple, white-washed white oak.
An exterior lightwell and an interior lightwell are designed to add brightness and air to the interior while creating continuity between the front and back landscape.
“We were trying to dissolve the barrier between what’s inside and out,” Mr. Grant-Rubash says of the exterior lightwell, which is punched into the exterior about halfway along its length. “Before you even get to the back of the house, you’re outside again.”
The rock garden in the exterior lightwell, for example, is the same type as the stone at the front and the rear of the house, he points out.
The interior lightwell overlooking the kitchen not only keeps the people upstairs connected to the folks below, it allows light to stream into the centre of the house from the rooftop skylight.
“We’re carving out volume to bring in light,” Mr. Geldart says.
The four upstairs bedrooms are designed for flexibility, the pair say. At the rear, a bedroom could also serve as a home office with a separate reading nook.
There’s a middle bedroom and a shared bathroom.
At the front of the house, the master suite has an ensuite bathroom with a soaker tub at one end and a walk-in shower with a window at the other. The natural materials are chosen to add serenity.
A wall of light oak in the bedroom hides built-in storage. It also adds texture and emphasizes the separation between public and private spaces.
The hallway running the length of the upper floor is streamlined, without a lot of fuss from details such as door handles.
“This is the space you’re meant to be in,” Mr. Geldart explains, pointing out that the doors are nearly imperceptible to a person moving along the hallway.
He adds that the simplicity allows the residents to notice elements such as the play of light and shadow on a wall.
“To do a house like this and to do good architecture, you’re crafting something,” Mr. Grant-Rubash says. “It’s going to be a place that keeps revealing itself to you for years.”
Looking outside to mature trees and a secluded backyard, he notes that the garage was placed at the rear of the property so that it doesn’t intrude on the house’s design.
The metal cladding on the exterior is a practical and very economical industrial material, Mr. Geldart says. It offers a very different experience from the brick houses that line the street, but the corrugated steel and Canadian cedar are not out of place, he points out.
“Even contemporary design can be contextual and local.”
The best feature
In the house’s living area, the pair removed extraneous detail in order to keep the focus entirely on the space and an expanse of glass that slides away to open the area to the outdoors and a wooden platform with stairs to a seating area at garden level.
“We saw this platform as an extension of the living area,” Mr. Geldart says.
There’s a similar lift and shape to the ceiling inside and outside, Mr. Grant-Rubash says.
Residents have enough space to furnish the room with a large sofa where they can lounge and look upward all the way to the skylight. There’s a cast-iron wood stove for added warmth.
The three subtle zones of the main floor create a subtle haven.