Family Affair: How one young firm transformed an old factory into the perfect lab for creative experimentation
Andrea Carson

Three years ago, Designlines featured a unique glass-fronted beach house by Reigo & Bauer, a young husband-and-wife team barely out of architecture school but determined to make their mark. Since then, Merike and Stephen Bauer have brought their signature style of highly textured finishes to dozens of new homes, ventures that vary in both scale and budget.

Their own taste is more along the lines of that first beach house project – small and experimental. They live in a 1937 art deco-style building that was once a tile factory. It may not look like much, but the interior is sleekly modern and divided into various mixed-use spaces, with their office on the ground floor and three residential units above that share a vast rooftop garden.

When they renovated their own 60-square meter unit two years ago, the couple was also in the midst of developing a design detail for an uptown residential project that required a lower ceiling. "We decided to test it out in our place first, like a lab," explains Merike. In their living room, the pair covered the original ceiling with drywall and formed edges that appear to float and taper elegantly to a point in each corner. (That same design became damask-covered and illuminated with ambient lights for their client's home.)

Another ceiling-treatment idea was born when the couple was searching for a unique mobile for their 19-month-old's bedroom. They papered the ceiling with textured, abstract wallpaper instead. "We like to experiment with spaces that aren't usually used," says Stephen. Since then, they've adorned a client's kitchen ceiling with opalescent Bizazza tiles.

The couple now invites clients over to their apartment on a regular basis, to show them how certain details might work elsewhere – the kitchen's mirrored backsplash, for instance, which reflects views of their rooftop garden, and custom-built cabinetry doors that rise neatly overhead on bi-fold lift hinges.

Now the Bauers are returning their attention to their own home. Plans have been laid to restore the facade of the building back to its former glory while adding new elements to expand their living space. While the family's rooftop gives them extra room, they're drawing up ideas for a glass box addition. This will surely keep them experimenting, albeit in a slightly larger lab.

Doubled-down and Beautiful
John Bently Mays

It's not the real name of the professional Toronto couple I'm thinking of, but let's call them the Quicks.

Both Mr. and Ms. Quick are business-class passengers on the jumbo jet of life. Both have had busy, fulfilling careers involving much flying, many hotel rooms, and several residences in cities throughout eastern Canada.

But recently the time came for the Quicks to find a permanent roost. It had to be downtown – they are thoroughly urban people – and it had to be a condominium with all the advantages of condo living: views of the inner city, a concierge, ease of maintenance, no lawn to mow and great terraces to entertain and lounge on.

Then the Quicks ran into problems that confront many a home-buyer in the downtown or suburban towers: the bland, generic suite layouts one usually finds in high-rise condo blocks, and the cramped dimensions of even the largest affordable apartments. They came up with an interesting solution, however.

The couple bought two adjacent two-bedroom condos in a recent building near the corner of Queen Street West and Beverley Street. Then they hired Toronto designers Merike Reigo and Stephen Bauer to strip the place back to the bare concrete supports and combine these apartments into a single loft of nearly 3,000 square feet.

The marriage of these flats by Ms. Reigo and Mr. Bauer is thoughtful and always beautiful.

The new configuration of the condo takes the shape of a broad, square U embracing three sides of the building. Floor to ceiling glass walls on all outer edges expose the interior to the many lights that Toronto's skies have to offer: strong sunshine from the south, quiet and healing illumination from the north, and the fires of sunset from the west. The city fabric is dense in this district, but the transparency of the apartment and the spacious terraces projected from its concrete floor plate on the south and west sides create a pavilion-like openness rare in the downtown core.

This effect of simplicity and airiness is reinforced by the black and white colour-scheme and material treatments used throughout. The ash flooring, baked and oiled down to a blackish finish, counterpoints the white paint and textured white paper on the wall surfaces. The play of light and shadow is carried through into the designers' choices of furniture for the most public areas of the suite: modernist black sofas from Kiosk in the living room, for example, and a large, handsome dark-lacquered maple dining table for ten sculpted by Ms. Reigo and Mr. Bauer in league with Group Two Design. (The Quicks like to entertain over dinner, and the dining room, with its graceful table, cheerful, glittering metal chandeliers and north-facing windows, is the centre of gravity for the whole arrangement of the apartment.)

The transitions between areas are subtle, but sure. Instead of a routine modernist open plan, Ms. Reigo said, “we wanted places to be – not a sea of space.” The manner of articulating these places varies from zone to zone. Tall pocket doors do the job of isolating room from room, when isolation is called for. In the south wing, however, Mr. Quick's home office and the den the Quicks share are separated from the adjoining corridor leading to the guest suite by a large clear glass wall–a move that allows the interior rooms to be flooded by south sunlight while drawing a firm distinction between the less and more private sections of the apartment.

The general tone of this renovation is comfortable, but not luxurious; it's roomy without seeming shapelessly vast, and well set up in every respect for two people who work hard and entertain generously. But at the end of the day–after the last e-mail has been answered, and the last dinner guest is out the door–the couple get to retreat to the master bedroom suite, where Ms. Reigo and Mr. Bauer have installed a bit more opulence than the visitor finds elsewhere in the scheme. A tub for a relaxing dip stands near the bed. In the bathroom proper, the walls are paved with lovely white Calacatta marble, while the shower is lined with sparkling glass mosaic tile.

This large apartment would not suit every taste and lifestyle, but the ideas driving the design of Ms. Reigo and Mr. Bauer are surely applicable widely. They include imaginative place-making in the city and the skillful carving out of empty space the kind of dwelling-places that urban people want and need. After all those hotel rooms, the Quicks have found their perfect house.

21st Century update on Mid-Century Modern
Dave LeBlanc

I have a theory: There is an invisible string that runs through the decades. It connects us to people, thoughts, ideas, objects and, yes, buildings.

Let’s call that last one “Architectural String Theory.” One can choose to ignore it – a symbolic cutting of the string – and one can fight against it with a sort of tug of war by adding things that don’t belong, such as Styrofoam quoins and keystones to a modernist building. Or, as Andre and Vivian Souroujon have done at their Bathurst and Eglinton-area home, one can acknowledge the string and, at times, use it for guidance.

The Souroujons live in a house designed in 1953 by architect Jack Brenzel for Herb and Miriam Wagman. The Wagmans worked closely with Mr. Brenzel to ensure it came out just right; in fact, they insisted on a rather expensive architectural model to guide their decisions. The result – which they moved into in the spring of 1955 – is a house that’s clean and understated on the outside, yet open, inviting and rather luxurious on the inside.

When the Manhattan-based Souroujons first saw the Wagman home during a 2002 house-hunting weekend, they were bowled over by the two-storey foyer’s enormous window that illuminated a floating staircase (a true floater; there are no visible supports for the lower risers), the towering wall of warm wood paneling and, underneath some dated royal blue carpeting, a sea of creamy travertine floors. Sleek, built-in cabinetry and light fixtures throughout were original despite the Wagmans’ move to California in 1957. “In 20 minutes, we were [saying] ‘We want this house,’” remembers Mr. Souroujon, 41.

“[We saw] houses that were 20 years old, and the faucets were [already] funny—this one was impeccable,” adds Ms. Souroujon.

Over the next handful of years, floors and paneling were refinished, the backyard was refreshed and whatever else a couple with two young children and a startup business (the Distillery District photography studio Pikto) could manage was done. When necessary, Mr. Souroujon would tug a little on his personal string to call up inspirational memories of his childhood home, a modernist gem in Mexico City.

By connecting with Mrs. Wagman through a neighbour, the couple learned of the home’s history, and an invitation to visit was extended. When the octogenarian finally did get to Toronto to see it about five years ago, she was impressed: “These kids really got into the spirit of the house,” she said on the phone from Beverly Hills, Calif.

Despite this respect for string theory, eventually it came time to call the professionals. Of course, if one picks the right designers, then the string carries into the future. Mr. Souroujon first became aware of the husband-and-wife team of Merike Reigo and Stephen Bauer via real estate listings for a few spec homes the couple had built and sold on Ledbury Street and Cassels Avenue. He remembers thinking, “I’m going to keep track of these guys, in case at some point we want to do the kitchen,” he says with a laugh, and, by 2007, he’d sent a photograph of his home’s unique staircase to gauge the couple’s interest. It worked: “We have to come see this place – it looks incredible,” recalls Mr. Bauer, 32.

After just two meetings and three concept sketches, Reigo and Bauer were given free reign, since “they had thought of exactly what our needs were, but made it really modern and fit it into the house,” says Mr. Souroujon. “It was the first project for us where we didn’t almost entirely gut the house,” offers Mr. Bauer. “Often, people approach us and they want complete, wholesale change to whatever they have, but with this, it was one of the first times we had the opportunity to work with something that was worth working with.”

“It was one of the smoothest jobs we’ve ever done,” adds Ms. Reigo, 34. “Personality-wise we clicked, and the plan fit brilliantly together right away.”

And it is brilliant: “Diagonal views” are now possible with the new, large opening that visually connects the kitchen breakfast nook to that fantastic staircase (streaks of sunlight now travel from rear windows all the way to meet it, too, the Souroujons say); a rethink of traffic patterns and a reconfiguration of the attached yet “nebulous” laundry room into a more efficient laundry room/pantry was achieved; the home’s original palette of travertine, buff brick and honey-coloured panelling suggested the smooth, neutral Caesarstone countertops, oak cabinets and low-gloss, cognac-coloured floors.

Big things, such as borrowed space, and little things, such as pantries, are celebrated: “The pantry is something we’re really excited to bring back into the world of contemporary design because it’s such a useful space… you can dump off your groceries right before a dinner party or stuff some extra dirty dishes before you entertain,” Ms. Reigo says as she points to the utility sink.

That Reigo and Bauer have existed for only a half-decade is hard to believe, since this is a soaring design that’s solidly of the 21st century but completely at home in the middle of the 20th. Perhaps that’s because, like the Souroujons, Reigo and Bauer don’t see a string as a tether, but rather as a great starting point to launch a kite into the deep blue sky.

all images and text within this page copyright © 2011 by reigo & bauer.