Standing behind the long, cool-grey bar, crooner Matt Dusk admits his mixology skills are lacking – his repertoire contains only a few cocktails.
“I’ll make you a Paper Plane,” says the 42-year-old, who began singing professionally while attending Toronto’s St. Michael’s Choir School in the mid-1980s. “It’s what I make for most of my guests,” he laughs while reaching for bourbon and Aperol.
Upon first sip, the drink is both refreshing and complex, a nice balance between bitter, sour and sweet.
The singer’s bar area is refreshing also: eschewing gimmicks, novelty glassware, or clutter such as Las Vegas tchotchkes – a place in which Mr. Dusk has spent a great deal of time – it’s a Zen-like space where the crisp lines of porcelain countertops, the trio of slim hourglass fixtures overhead and the perforated metal cabinet doors all recede into the background to allow the spotlight to shine on the row of colourful bottles and the person tending bar.
If it weren’t for the framed Beatles drum skin nearby, one might mistake this large, comfortable, lower-level space – complete with sliding glass doors that lead to a swimming pool – for a swanky hotel. And that’s just what Mr. Dusk wanted when he hired David Small Designs to build this more than 6,000-square-foot house in 2015, and, when it was finished, FOHR Design Studio to handle interiors.
And if that size seems excessive, it should be noted that Mr. Dusk shares the space not only with his wife, Julita Borko (and their five-year-old daughter), but also with his widowed mother, Cora Dusk, and his brother, John-Michael Dusk. And, rather like an old English country home, the Dusk family also host other family members or close friends to stay for extended periods.
“So we wanted to give it this hotel-y kind of feel,” Mr. Dusk confirms about 20 minutes later while showing off his mother’s area, which sports a lovely walk-in closet that leads to a big bathroom. “This is how everyone gets their own living space; because I travel so much I wanted to pretend everyone had a one-bedroom suite.” And, for maximum privacy, each ‘hotel’ suite is as distant from the others as possible: Ms. Dusk’s is on the main floor, Mr. Dusk and Ms. Borko are on the second and Mr. Dusk’s brother lives on the lower level.
But because the Dusks love to socialize with one other, there are plenty of spaces to chat or hang out, watch 007 movies (Ms. Dusk says her son once subjected her to a Bond marathon), or even make music. To the left of the bar area there is a piano and ample space for other musicians to set up (Mr. Dusk’s eight-piece band rehearses here) and, opposite the bar is an L-shaped sofa that faces a pull-down screen for a projector.
Formal gatherings take place on the main floor in the double-height living room or its attached deck – which Mr. Dusk calls “the lanai” – overlooking the pool. And although the living room is the first thing one spies upon opening the front door, that guests must walk past a fountain (a tribute to Mr. Dusk’s father, who always had a “crappy one that would leak everywhere” at the front of the family house) and under a bridge means there is a sense of discovery as well.
“This was one of my conversations with David Smalls,” Mr. Dusk says, “about how to create push-and-pull … that’s what makes a house interesting.”
It’s also Mr. Dusk’s love of Frank Lloyd Wright and, in particular, Buffalo’s Darwin Martin House, that informed those conversations. Mr. Wright, after all, loved to compress and expand space in order to delight the senses. He also loved to combine natural materials, such as stone and wood, and, with his Usonian houses, allow Mother Nature inside via large windows.
“I had a vision, and we started with a Pinterest board or a Houzz account, and then we collaborated together,” he says. “Making a house is like making an album, it’s literally no different, it’s project management [and] I was excited to see how things would be done. … I know where every beam is, I know how the wood was cut, how it was stained, I chose every product.”
Many of the products Mr. Dusk selected came from China. But rather than simply ordering from a catalogue, the singer, during performances there, visited factories personally, armed only with a sketch of a lighting fixture, a chair, or kitchen cabinets.
Often, when the finished piece would arrive at his doorstep, it would lack instructions on assembly. “This took me and my friend 26 hours to do,” Mr. Dusk says with a laugh as he points to a light fixture over the open-riser staircase. “This one took us 54 hours to do,” he says while pointing at another. “The benefit of China was that it was affordable, and they could do whatever you want.”
And while that level of dedication and detail is evident everywhere, once a guest drinks all of that in (and realizes that what he or she is seeing between the distant backyard trees are golf carts zipping around at Etobicoke’s St. George’s Golf & Country Club), it’s likely the big kitchen is where they’ll end up, since the Dusks love to entertain.
It’s a good kitchen for it. There are three prep areas, a pair of deep brass sinks with built-in ridges to hold racks (made in China to Mr. Dusk’s specifications), gobs of cupboard space, two ovens and porcelain countertops that can take a beating or a hot pot. Speaking of which, the black surfaces, by Fenix (Arpa Industriale), are anti-fingerprint and, fantastically, scratches can be removed by applying a hot iron to the affected area. A long dining table that seats 10 completes the space.
Radiant floors keep energy bills down and heavy drapes keep Mr. Dusk’s small den/recording studio pin-drop quiet (the only area of the home that sports gold records and images of the singer on the walls).
Three years in the making and two years since moving in, the Dusk residence is performing exactly as intended: there’s privacy where needed, there are multiple ways to get together and guests are immediately put at ease by the lack of pretense. It has hosted birthday parties for other people’s kids, and at least one physically distanced stag when a best man couldn’t find a venue during the early months of the pandemic.
“When we first moved in, it was just a building,” Mr. Dusk finishes. But not any more. Today, it’s a happy, happening pad … albeit one with a limited cocktail menu.
Sinatra fans, such as this writer, will be pleased to learn that Mr. Dusk’s postponed tour (in support of his newest release Sinatra with Matt Dusk) will take place in 2022. While dates have not yet been announced, check mattdusk.com in the autumn.
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