Modern Love - Funky homes may not blend in, but they do fit in
The quaint streets of Toronto's historic Beach area are lined with picturesque brick or cottage-style homes featuring welcoming verandahs, leaded windows, wood trim, hardwood floors and lush gardens. But lately, modern homes with imposing walls of glass, stainless steel accents, crooked angles, black-and-white exteriors or whimsical shapes have struck a pose in this traditional, tight-knit neighbourhood.
If these funky interpretations don't exactly blend in, they still manage to fit in. "The nice thing about the Beach is the eclectic mix of homes and that adds character to the whole neighbourhood," says Henry Bliss, a Re/Max real estate agent in the Beach.
Builders and owners are winning over neighbours by embracing local flavour while presenting an updated look. "Whenever you build something modern when there's nothing else modern around it, you never know [how people will react]," says Merike Reigo, partner at Reigo & Bauer, a design and development firm in Toronto. "But the overall market in Toronto is becoming design-savvy, and the interiors have been getting modern for quite some time, so it's not such a jump to see a modern exterior."
Reigo & Bauer recently filled a small empty lot tucked between a row of houses near Woodbine Avenue and Kingston Road. The property was only 16½x55 feet so the architects approached the design much as they would for a condo, building a tall, thin white house, with black side walls, whose front is almost entirely glass; passersby can easily gaze Into the upper and lower rooms.
Also striking is the roof line, symmetrically pitched on the street side and matching those of the houses next door. "The barn-type roof is a strong form in the neighbourhood, and we wanted to work with that," says Ms. Reigo. But the roof ridge veers from tradition by stretching to the northeast corner at the back of the house, adding "intrigue and spatial character."
The new house took a while to sell, whether because of the price, the small size or the striking design. Initially on the lookout for a condo, the owner, Richard Godin, was attracted to the 1,000-sq.-ft. home "because it was different, first and foremost. It appears to be paper thin and like a fishbowl. It's all glass - it's not for a bashful person."
Having previously lived in a larger, traditional home, he admits it took a few drive-bys to picture himself living there, but the newfangled amenities - the radiant floor heating, external ductless air conditioning, commercial-grade windows, contemporary kitchen and an open-riser stairwell - sold him." It has a lot of peculiar lines. I found it interesting and every room has a different feel."
For the most part, in-fillers put in homes that respect the neighbourhood, says Gloria Smith, an agent for Royal LePage in the Beach. But really modern properties can be a challenge to sell or resell, she says, particularly dream homes designed by the people living there who have chosen a personal style.
Diana Kolpak and Michael Melling built their ideal home in the Beach in 2003. The flat roofed blue-and-green stucco house, with a laser-cut stainless steel street number, noticeably stands out from its modest redbrick neighbours. The house was originally a small bungalow built in the early 1900s, but the new owners envisioned a modernist design; however, they were not keen to build a monster home on the 25x220-ft. lot, says Ms. Kolpak, 'We tried to stay within the scale of the neigbbourbood."
Working with WK Lim Architect in Toronto, the couple created a colourful, boxy home that is dramatic both inside and out The open-concept house takes advantage of the sloping lot to expand from three floors with eight-ft. ceilings at the front to two floors with 14-ft. ceilings at the back. The south-facing, garden-side exterior is all glass, allowing light to shine in on the artwork on the ample walls, custom-designed wood furniture and silver accents.
Cars often slow down to take a look and passersby, now and during construction, have often said they admire the design, says Ms. Kolpak. "I believe modern houses can fit into traditional neighbourhoods. It's good to challenge people's ideas on what a house should look like."
Just around the corner live Gibran Guts and Margot Rockett, who have done major renovations to their home over the years. Built during the 1930s as a bungalow, the two-storey house now features an updated wood porch in dramatic shades of grey, offset by vertical posts and fascia trim in stainless steel. Inside, black and white accents are prominent, with a darkly, stained pine floor, white furniture, white walls, a dark wood staircase trimmed with square aluminum posts and a zebra wood handrail with horizontal airplane wires.
The couple have done all the work themselves, trying to stay true to the house's original layout, while adding their own contemporary style. Ms. Rockett says she knows of one neighbour who is not so keen on the upgrades, but most are appreciative, "I don't know what traditional is," she says. I've lived in this neighbourhood all my life; I know the Beach style. A true Beacher welcomes something different and creative.'