Torontonians enjoy an almost half-and-half kind of existence: For five months, we're a verdant place with buzzing bees and big trees bursting with leaves. For another five, we're a grey and white mosaic of snow and cloud, bare arthritic tree limbs and salt-stained roads. For the former, we crave the California lifestyle, where walls of glass slide open to patios and barbecue pits; for the latter, we'd like nothing more than to curl up in a room where fireplace flames flicker off of wood-panelled walls.
Architecturally, it's a delicate situation in which the modern is united with the old-fashioned. Consider Daniel Libeskind's new "Crystal" addition to the Royal Ontario Museum and the love-it-or-hate-it reaction it engenders.
If only Old Man Winter and the Boys of Summer could get along under one roof.
Tamara Deverell and Ken Woroner have found a way, although they started with a more pressing need: a bigger kitchen for the bigger house they'd just purchased for their family of four. They'd been trying for two years to find something in their area -- the Hillcrest neighbourhood in the Dupont and Christie Street area -- that hadn't been renovated. A tall order in this town.
"It's very rare, I think, to find a house that's been renovated, that's renovated the way you want it to be renovated," Mr. Woroner says, tying his tongue a little in the process.
The detached three-storey on a large pie-shaped lot filled the bill wonderfully, since its two previous owners hadn't done much over the past eight decades: the stained glass, brick fireplaces framed by built-in bookcases, a gumwood-lined dining room and the bathroom fixtures were all original. Unfortunately, so was the cramped and dated kitchen.
Transforming the third floor from two small dark rooms into a spacious and airy master bedroom was a priority, as was completely overhauling the ancient plumbing system and knob-and-tube wiring. But Ms. Deverell, a 45-year old film production designer, and Mr. Woroner, a 44-year old stills photographer, started conceptual work on the new kitchen almost immediately. Although pleased with their self-designed master suite, it soon became apparent that the kitchen expansion would require an architect.
As fate would have it, 32-year-old intern architect Doron Meinhard was at a mutual friend's Hannukah party, and he was thirsty. "You guys were frying latkes and I went in to get some water and I think you asked me what I did," remembers Mr. Meinhard.
"No, no, no, we knew already that you were coming," says Ms. Deverell, cutting him off.
Regardless of how they met, it was a perfect match. Mr. Woroner offers: "Doron was a young architect. He hadn't really done a whole lot of this kind of stuff; we had never done anything with an architect before. We didn't want to spend a gazillion dollars and we were willing to be open to all kinds of fresh ideas."
Fresh ideas came fast because the design-savvy trio met regularly and saw "eye-to-eye" on things, Mr. Meinhard says. "The time involved on the project was just trying to make it beautiful, not rehashing stuff."
And beautiful it is. Construction began in August, 2005, and by the following April, a dilapidated two-car garage at the rear of the house had been torn down and a 260-square-foot copper-clad jewel-box added to the house. It gave the couple, essentially, a Modernist house that marries effortlessly with their dark brick Craftsman.
While it's a small addition, Mr. Meinhard's design reaches back and opens up the originally divided kitchen/breakfast room, which makes it feel much larger. It also manages to add a mudroom and two-piece bath.
Upper cabinets were rejected while lower walnut cabinets were designed with legs "like individual pieces of furniture" to retain the sense of openness.
Add the liberal use of glass via a mammoth sliding wall, skylights and a clerestory over the pantry/fridge area, and the outdoors is pulled in. Slate is used as wainscoting to tie the room together (and doubles as a chalkboard for artwork or grocery lists), and it's set at a height that approximates the gumwood in the original dining room. The Aga stove and subway tile are nods to the home's 1920s feel.
To further the Modernist California feel of blending indoors and out, many design elements continue past the walls: the bench made from a 17-foot beam salvaged from the old garage, the Venetian plaster wall (which features a cutout and a cubby for curios on the exterior portion), slate panelling, cedar soffits and the stone flooring, which creates a huge 300-square-foot patio.
"What I wanted to do was have an outdoor living room that was the same size as their indoor living room," the architect confirms, adding that the notions of the Venetian plaster wall and outdoor fireplace (constructed of bricks from the old garage) were "always there." In summer, Mr. Meinhard says, the outdoor living room is "probably more important" than the indoor one.
Working at Montgomery Sisam at the time (he's now with Hariri Pontarini), Mr. Meinhard was able to bring in high-profile trades: contractor Derek Nicholson, who worked on Shim-Sutcliffe's award-winning Weathering Steel House and the Massey College renovation, and Daniel Thompson of Wood Studio Cooperative.
While Mr. Woroner says the space is "still evolving," it's clear that he and Ms. Deverell are happy with the "summer home" that Mr. Meinhard has given them. "Something just clicked with Doron," she says, beaming.
Jack Frost, shake hands with Mr. Golden Sun.
Dave LeBlanc hosts The Architourist on CFRB Wednesdays during Toronto at Noon and Sunday mornings. Send inquiries to email@example.com.