Go with the flow

 The two-storey Through House sits tucked into a tiny pocket of midtown Toronto gentility. It is both 127 years old and brand spanking new. A former worker’s cottage and designated heritage home, its red-brick facade and drop-gable roof remain perfectly in period. Step past the discreet white-oak front door, however, and all trace of time is erased. Gone are the room partitions that once made this 1,450-square-foot building dark and cramped; in their place lies a wide-open space, painted a soft pearl white and filled with natural light. No boundaries block the energy that flows effortlessly through the front vestibule, kitchen/dining area and living room, stretching out past floor-to-ceiling windows into the back 

deck and garden beyond. “That’s why we nicknamed it the Through House,” says architect/designer Heather Dubbeldam of Dubbeldam Architecture + Design. “The materials carry through the house and seamlessly on to the outside, enlarging the living area and making the whole thing look larger.” 

Integral to this design are strong horizontals, from the conjoined kitchen island/sapele-wood dining table and long, limestone sink counter to the linear pattern in the heated porcelain-tile floor. These push through the transparent back wall, where they morph into a barbecue counter, an outdoor dining table, a tile terrace. The horizontal insistence draws the eye inexorably towards the farthest point, and that effect is compounded by Dubbeldam’s use of overlapped, slightly tapering and descending levels in the flat surfaces, which creates a subtle forced perspective.

The continuation of indoor/outdoor features plus the use of glass walls and sliders in the living room means that the small backyard becomes part of the home, extending the living space. “The tiled terrace is set flush with the home’s
flooring, so you can just walk through,” says Dubbeldam. “Outside, we strategically scattered planters sunk into the wooden deck to create different zones, like rooms within a larger space. The owner’s love of entertaining led us to create a flow between areas, for hosting and socializing.” Even without such activity, though, the outdoor view would remain charming throughout all four seasons.

Owner Yash Patel, a 46-year-old healthcare professional, made few demands of the designer. Single, hard working, aesthetically inclined, he simply wanted a home where he could chill out, cook and entertain his friends. Uganda-born and Winnipeg-raised, Patel’s dual roots are alluded to in the choice of artwork: wooden figures from local African-import store Kiondo that warm the main-floor vestibule and colourful ceremonial masks that enliven the kitchen’s dramatic sapele-wood display niche. Equally colourful is the Richard Johnson painting of multi-hued ice-fishing huts that hangs over the living room’s neo-sectional sofa. 

For sheer drama, however, nothing can top the space’s freestanding fireplace that juts out, square-jawed, defining the break between dining and living areas. Set into a white marble surround, a stainless-steel trough no more than 13 inches long and one inch wide contains a thin jet of gas-fed flame. Encompassing the whole from floor to ceiling is what looks like stacked fieldstone but, on closer inspection, reveals itself as thick wads of industrial felt. This unique creation by Felt Studio’s Kathryn Walter represents a soft, tactile intrusion into its harder-edged surroundings.

The remainder of the house shows more thorough than through. Every detail has been carefully, often custom, crafted. The L-shaped steel bracket of the central load-bearing column, for instance, subtly repeats in the single leg of the “floating” dining table and again, in the pillar holding up the outdoor trellis. The strong horizontal lines downstairs are echoed in the lengthwise hardwood flooring and long, narrow shelving of the upstairs master bedroom; the stepped-down guest room at the end of the hallway mirrors the dropped ceiling of the living room over which it sits.

Then there’s the light. Natural light flooding in from the ground level floor-to-ceiling windows and filtering through the ingenious translucent sliding screen that acts as a front-window shade. Light streaming down from the upstairs central skylight, past the semi-opaque glass that forms the back walls of second floor’s guest and master bathrooms, spilling down an open staircase balustraded with azure-tinted acrylic panels. 

One can’t help but wonder what the original owners of this heritage home would have made of their reimagined house, now filled with light and air, with an easy, gracious flow from indoors to out. And one can’t help but be a little envious of its new owner, as he sits in his kitchen, sipping a glass of wine and thoroughly enjoying the view.  cI