Black House

A new home located at the heart of the city, Black House designed by Cindy Rendely Architexture sits on a narrow lot that extends to a lush, sloping ravine at the rear yard.  The original dwelling that occupied the site no longer suited the Clients’ needs.  Hence, they decided to tear down the house and rebuild a 3,200-sq.-ft. contemporary home on a coveted Toronto lot.

The design of Black House was challenging due to the narrow width of the site and the restricted building length mandated by ravine bylaws that govern the area. The property originally accommodated a smaller house, which allowed for easy access to the rear yard. The architect’s design challenge was to provide the Clients with the amount of living space they needed while maintaining access to the rear yard and respecting the necessary setbacks from the adjacent houses.

These extensive site constraints created a limited interior space, which nonetheless had to accommodate the Client’s extensive programme.  From the outset, the architect envisioned a sculptural steel staircase that was visually expressed at all three levels of the house.  Although large in scale, the stair’s powerful, vertical and monolithic form – comprised of perforated, backlit, blackened steel panels – minimizes the area that it occupies at all three floors.  It seamlessly links all three floors both physically and visually while achieving efficient circulation throughout the house.  Hence, the staircase is both a functional object and a central, unifying design feature of the project.

Throughout the design and development of the project, the Clients emphasized the importance of an open-concept plan.  They also wanted to maximize natural light at interior spaces, particularly at the main stairwell and rear elevation.  Hence, large expanses of glass with operable glass doors extend along the entire rear façade, providing spectacular views and direct access to the ravine beyond.

On the second floor there is a strong visual link to the exterior as well.  Floor-to-ceiling glass windows at the ravine side of the master bedroom and the adjacent study locate the occupants in the treetops that tower above the lush growth of the ravine below.  In addition, streams of sunlight penetrate the two large skylights, located directly above the open stairwell and the double height space on the opposite side of the suspended bridge-like element linking the two.  The occupants enjoy the beauty of the outdoors throughout the entire house and through all seasons, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside.

Black House gets its name from the extensive use of blackened materials throughout the project.  At the outset, the Client had expressed a desire for an entirely black house.  The architect responded by proposing a mix of blackened cladding materials, including black metal panels and black handmade brick, to add texture to the all-black volume.  Black window frames integrate seamlessly into the façade.  Blackened hardware and blackened steel trim are specified throughout the interior.  An unexpected pop of cobalt blue at the entrance canopy adds personality and colour to the streetscape.

Photography by Nanne Springer