Pie in the sky

Glacial white bergs float over frigid blue water, the azure behind brilliantly lit by ozone-free sunlight. The photograph is small, only 150 square inches, but it proved big enough to inspire the design of the compact 450-square-foot living space that surrounds it. 

Dr. Amir Khakshaee owes his unique home in North Toronto’s Arc condominium to his old high-school chum, Reza Aliabadi, principal of Toronto architecture firm Atelier Rzlbd. It was Aliabadi, after all, who originally shot the photo during an Arctic sailing expedition out of Canada’s Pond Inlet, the world’s most northerly community. Khakshaee not only purchased the picture at Aliabadi’s subsequent art-gallery showing, he also bought the 650-square-foot unit directly above the architect/designer’s own home, and as well commissioned him to completely outfit the place’s wedge-shaped living/dining area, requesting he take his visual cues from the Arctic seascape.

“Because of Amir’s super-stressful job,” Aliabadi says, “he wanted a place that was calming.” And so the designer selected a palette of blue and white, washed with abundant natural light from the condo’s 31-foot-long curved glass wall that faces south, overlooking a wide balcony and a superb, birds-eye view of the city.

The job’s timing and budget were typically tight. Aliabadi and his team were responsible not only for the design and build but for purchasing everything from occasional tables to vases and throw pillows. Within a matter of weeks last summer, Khakshaee was able to move into his new home, dubbed Blue Pie, bringing with him nothing more than his clothing and laptop. 

Before that happened, however, Aliabadi had to “purge the place,” ripping out the  hardwood flooring to expose the rough concrete underneath, then painting this a deep, contemplative blue. Curtains, countertops and a bulky granite island were all excised, replaced by inconspicuous white roller blinds, white-coated counters, and a white dining table that cantilevers out from a supporting pillar. The one full-length wall in the place had to contain all of the client’s lifestyle requirements: a workstation, bookshelves, bench seating and a vertical wine cradle. Aliabadi accomplished this by attaching an integrated millwork unit, also in white, to a supporting series of sandwich panels. Reveals between the bottom edge of both the dining table and wall unit make these two pieces appear to be floating above the surface of the blue floor. The effect is further enhanced by recessed lighting under the central bench. Overhead lights that cluttered up the ceiling were removed, supplanted by a linear line of five strategically placed spots strung from one side of the room to the other. (Says Aliabadi, “I thought if all the furniture looked like it was floating off the floor, why not lights floating down from the ceiling?”) In the centre of the living room, a blue basket seat also hangs from the ceiling, inviting visitors to sample the view, inside and out, via suspended animation.

This little slice of Blue Pie heaven does give one the sensation of drifting along, unencumbered by the day’s distractions. But what was it in the first place that attracted both Aliabadi and Khakshaee, two Middle Easterners, to the cold remoteness of the Canadian north? 

“In the centre of Iran,” Aliabadi explains, “there is a large desert named Kavir. There is nothing there, nothing to distract you, kind of a beige version of the North Pole. Perhaps this is why we are so drawn to empty spaces.”  cI