In the opinion of Bob Lymer and Maggie Fuller, the 1,800-square-foot apartment the couple bought at 383 Ellis Park Rd. had everything going for it – almost.
The two-level corner suite sat deep in dense forest at the western edge of High Park, for example, making it a perfect perch for observing urban wildlife and the passage of Toronto’s seasons and weathers. While opening on two sides to the forest floor, the apartment stood just steps away from the subway and from the pleasant shopping of Bloor West Village.
Also, the place could lay claim to a measure of architectural distinction, being situated in an interesting residential complex designed a dozen years ago for Context Developments by Peter Clewes, principal in the Toronto firm of architectsAlliance. In his exterior treatment, Mr. Clewes had successfully married big-city sophistication with a fine feel for the woodsy setting.
The interior of the unit purchased by Mr. Lymer and Ms. Fuller, however, turned out to be less satisfactory than the outside. Entering the suite from the hallway – the front door is on the upper level – one was confronted by walls that squeezed the view to the forest beyond. The kitchen, on the lower level, was stingy, routine and homely, as kitchens in condo developments often are. There were too many partitions and too many in the wrong places.
To clear up their space and more effectively connect it to the verdant surroundings, the couple hired Toronto architect Jennifer Turner, who told me she especially likes to work on residential projects with a large landscape component.
Of course, only so much can be done to a part of a modern condo stack before running into those inevitable eight-foot ceilings and structural supports that can’t be altered. But Ms. Turner’s revision has transformed clutter into clarity and proved condo dwellers need not settle meekly for the layouts decreed by the usual designers of tower interiors.
Take, for instance, what happens at the entrance in the new spatial arrangement. The view from the front door, formerly obstructed by a washroom that protruded into the foyer, now opens directly, straight ahead, through a small office to a wall of glass. Off to the right of the entrance, a bridge leads to the bedroom suite; also off to the right is the atrium through which the staircase descends to the lower level. From the first moment you set foot in the suite, you know you are near the bottom of a northern woodland that is embracing the lived-in space.
The stair takes you to the bottom itself. The living-room and dining areas on the lower storey are framed by glass walls that, on the summer day of my visit, invited inside the forest floor’s luminous dapple of light and shadow. The interior surfaces have been painted white or light grey or black, so that, Ms. Turner suggested, no artificial colour would compete with the natural tinting of the inside rooms by the trees’ green in spring and summer, crimson and yellow in autumn, and the sky’s icy blues and violets in winter. An ample deck, unchanged from the original plan, extends outward from the living-room ensemble.
The mingy little kitchen is gone. Ms. Turner’s new kitchen is long and low-slung, with a large stone island. Speaking of food and the good things that go with it: Mr. Lymer takes pride in his extensive collection of wines. To store the bottles, and to showcase them properly, Ms. Turner has fashioned a glass-fronted, refrigerated cupboard as big as a wall--a kind of monument to convivial civilization that nicely counterpoints the wild nature just on the other side of the glass.
At the dark end of the lower storey – not every wall in a condominium can be transparent – the architect has carved out an attractively secluded nook that serves as a den, but that can also do duty as a guest room. Here, as elsewhere in the suite, hinged doors have been avoided, and privacy is created, when it’s wanted, by sliding out panels hidden in the walls. Space is saved when no provision has to be made for swinging doors. But apart from its practicality, making walls that vanish is an elegant move – and elegance, attention to detail and artistic economy are surely features of this scheme as a whole.