NURTURING NATURE

GEORGIE BINKS
TORONTO STAR JANUARY 17, 2004

Family’s Scarborough home is designed to complement its natural setting. The Open concept house capitalizes on sun, wind and view of the lake.

When you find the perfect lot to build on, the last thing that you want to do is shut out the beauty of nature. When architect John O’Connor of Basis Design Build was hired by his clients who had purchased a lot in Scarborough, he knew his challenge would be to integrate as much of the stunning setting as possible into the design of the house. (His clients interviewed seven architects before deciding to go with O’Connor.)

Not only has O’Connor made the most of natural materials in creating a setting at one with the environment, he has also ensured that the design allows the maximum amount of light and air into the home. The 35-by-140-foot lot sits on the edge of the Toronto Hunt Club on Wood Glen Rd. O’Connor says that his clients purchased it for the view (the backyard looks onto the golf course, which opens up to Lake Ontario) and for the beautiful oak trees in the backyard. “It was a dumpy little house, built in the late 40’s with a great view,” he says. The original house came down, although O’Connor was able to use parts of the old foundation for the new building.

The house, which measures under 3,000 square feet, has two storeys. The price came in at about $ 185 a square foot, including O’Connor’s fee (about twice the cost for a standard subdivision house).

The first floor is one big room, with a tiny den at the front. By using a combination of huge windows and having the roof stretch up to a large skylight with an open staircase to the second level, there is a feeling of an immense amount of space.

“The idea was to make just a big, simple, sloping roof, with the skylight to bring a lot of light into the centre of the house, with all of the stairs and circulation in the middle, so you can see people coming and going,” O’Connor explains.

He wanted to carry the feeling of the oak trees in the backyard into the house, so he used Douglas fir structural posts.

“I always thought of this as being the introduction to the forest. As you walk through these columns here, it becomes a reference point through the house,” he says.

The open kitchen area combines modern stainless appliances and materials reminiscent of nature. For instance, the granite countertops, in greys and browns, resemble a stream running over small river stones. “The owners have a property up on the French River on Georgian Bay, and when they first interviewed me, they asked, ‘What things about Georgian bay could you bring into the house?’ So it was always in the back of my mind,” O’Connor explains.

Kitchen surfaces combine painted light grey surfaces and natural ash to create a balance. A huge gas and electric stove sits on the wall side of the kitchen. “It scared me when they said that they wanted to buy this, because it has so much cooking surface, it needed a huge-capacity vent,” O’Connor says.

A limestone clad, wood burning fireplace with three-sided glass panels sits in the middle of the main floor, opening up to the family room, the front hallway and the kitchen. It vents to the roof, drawing the eye upward, and also gives the feeling of a campfire, creating a visual centre to the room.

The back room, while completely open, is divided into three furniture groupings: a dining area, a family area, and a small sitting area with several chairs. To enhance the feeling of separate areas and to keep costs down, O’Connor installed three sets of sliding doors out to the backyard. He says the doors are all standard sizes purchased from a factory at a fixed price. “We used a lot of standard components and then added custom pieces. Rather than try to have custom glass everywhere, we tried to maximize the value from the budget.”

However, the owners did put extra money into the mechanical system of the house, O’Connor says. “Because the house faces west and we were worried about a lot of heat upstairs, we spent a lot of money on (air) recirculating. They didn’t want to have to use air conditioning very much but hoped to rely more on the breezes blowing in from the lake.”

O’Connor has used all reclaimed wood in the home. The floors are 100-year-old ash and the stairs are all old Douglas fir. Honed limestone has been used as flooring in the main hallway and bathrooms. O’Connor sees the limestone, which is almost honey-coloured, as a stone version of the adjacent wood. It has a lot of texture and variety and warmth.”

The staircase is open, but perforated metal has been added as a protection on the sides, along with a steel handrail.

The exterior of the house has three finishes to give it variety, explains O’Connor. There is grey board and batten, stucco and horizontal cedar beveled siding.”

The children’s bedrooms are all on one side on the second level, accessible by a small staircase, and they are sound insulated. Each is painted a different shade of blue.

There is another family room on the second floor, with huge windows opening to a cedar balcony with a steel frame. Transom windows also provide ventilation.

“Even though we have a lot of ventilation, in the summer it will heat up, so we wanted a way to let the air pass through,” says O’Connor.

The children’s bathroom has two sink areas, one next to a shower with a seat in it, the other next to a toilet. Both can be closed off with doors for privacy.

The master bedroom and ensuite is up another small staircase. O’Connor says the owners didn’t want a huge master suite, but one of the walls can be knocked down when the children move out. Expanses of glass along one wall look out over the lake but instead of windows, O’Connor has used sliding doors that start at about mid-hip level. “It gives a lot of circulation,” he explains. “But we were also conscious of the budget. I was concerned with large areas of openings for air circulation.”

Adjacent to the bedroom is an ensuite, visible through a glass window. “There will be a curtain across it so that when you are in the bathroom, you can still enjoy the view, but it’s still private,” O’Connor says. A door closes off the toilet area. Another cost-cutting measure was to use one thermostat for both the shower and the soaker tub.

Throughout the house there are small alcoves, which draw the eye upward and provide the perfect place to display art or books.

The house has a chalet feel to it, providing a peaceful escape from the fast-paced city life. The combination of natural materials and a design that exploits sunshine and breezes has created a perfect retreat for nature lovers.

 
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