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Tanya and Mike Kangrga's Toronto home was designed by Rick Galezowski of Great Lake Studio. Though its built in a modernist style, it doesn’t tower over its neighbours and its roof pitch, while severe, is familiar and traditional.Scott Norsworthy/Scott Norsworthy

“I’ve always been an architect,” says Rick Galezowski of Great Lake Studio, gesturing with open hands that he then lays flat on an enormous harvest table that he designed.

“Perhaps not at the age of 5, though?” this writer asks.

“I’ve always built environments,” he answers. “I spent a lot of time playing by myself, I was kind of shy and liked to get lost in a world; there was Lego, and then there were larger [tools] like foam core.”

Today, Mr. Galezowski is sitting in the Toronto dining room of Tanya and Mike Kangrga, and it’s all smiles as the three recount the story of how this contemporary-yet-respectful house – it’s on a street filled, mostly, with bungalows – came into existence. In continuing what may or may not be cheerful hyperbole, the University of Waterloo graduate attributes some of the building’s main features to his time living out of a tent while on a cycling sabbatical that took him from Alaska to the tip of South America.

“It’s a whole different experience of shelter and relationship with the outdoors,” he explains. “It’s always a fine balance with any house, whether it’s downtown or in the woods, between fitting into context [or standing out].”

To illustrate this, he points to the enormous picture window on the east façade, which frames the tidy postwar homes across the street, and then to the completely glazed west wall that drinks in photons and views of the lush backyard. A horizontal, literal through-line of (suburban) nature, a quick trip up the stairs reveals the opposite: the second floor is all about vertical spaces, with tons of volume overhead terminating in a dramatic peak, tall doorways and skylights … a place where real clouds drift by and towering trees grow in the imagination.

But first, the bricks-and-mortar reality of this tale: The Kangrgas had owned and rented out this Eatonville house for some time, but their growing family – they have three teenaged children – caused them to take a lustful look at its wide lot and dream of what might be built here. So, after scrolling through various shelter websites and finding much of it “formulaic,” Ms. Kangrga came across Wanda Ely’s work, which was anything but. Although her dance card was full, she recommended Mr. Galezowski.

“What I had envisioned myself living in [was] a little house in the Kingsway [neighbourhood], heritage style, Pottery Barn [furniture], that kind of thing,” she says. And despite the avowed modernist Mr. Galezowski telling her he didn’t design in that style, she went with him anyway due to a “gut feeling” that good things could come from the relationship.

  • The Etobicoke home of Tanya and Mike Kangrga. esign by Rick Galezowski, Great Lake StudioScott Norsworthy/Scott Norsworthy

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And she was correct. Even from the street, the quality of this build is evident. Under dramatic, extended eaves, the building stands proudly in a suit of charred shou sugi ban. Five windows offer peek-a-boos of walls and doors, leaving just one that reveals wooden millwork and a Saarinen “Womb” chair in royal blue. By carving away the south corner to provide a sheltered front-door landing, the building’s girth is reduced; here, an off-cut of the marble kitchen backsplash provides a warm backdrop for address numbers.

Open the front door and views are directed to the fireplace behind the Saarinen chair. A short walk in that direction and, voila, the rest of the main floor unfurls before one’s eyes; to keep things interesting, short walls that double as cabinets partially shield the dining area from view.

“We needed a big, open living space,” Mr. Galezowski explains. “The kitchen, the dining area, the living area are differentiated by these long arms of oak cabinetry to provide a little bit of containment and intimacy for each.” And because all of that millwork – bathrooms included – was fabricated by one of the city’s top tier firms, Gibson Greenwood, it’s flawless.

For additional concealment and visual interest, an interesting vertical screen partly blocks the floating, sky-lit stair from the main living space; what can been spied, however, takes hard surfaces such as MDF and drywall and makes them look as light as origami due to ‘effortless’ folding.

Down the stairs and the mudroom sports a window almost as big as the one in the dining area; a little further down and a family room with the requisite large TV appears. Jog all the way up to the second floor and things become far more interesting: another family room appears, complete with a slouchy Togo sofa by Michel Ducaroy, a high ceiling composed of wonderful angles and light, and access to a shared balcony. While small, the area is a necessity since the rest of the floor is given over to a long corridor that leads to three completely equally sized, dorm-like bedrooms (to avoid sibling rivalry) and the primary bedroom with its warm ensuite, which shares materials with the main floor.

“The material palette, overall, is quite restrained and applied consistently throughout the house, which creates a nice, durable backdrop for all the chaos of family life,” Mr. Galezowski says with a chuckle.

To give opportunities to create even more calmness, there is a “terrace/bleacher” style deck in the backyard where each member of the family can engage with the outdoors in their own way.

Calm is a good word for the Kangrga residence. While modernist, it doesn’t tower over its neighbours. Its roof pitch, while severe, is familiar and traditional. While it is dressed, inside and out, in quality materials, they’re restrained, elegant, and not at all ostentatious. Inside, warm woods and natural light are the stars. It’s a wonderful, custom little world for this family of five … from someone who has been creating worlds all of his life.

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