The House in Kings Cross is a perfect example of a rebuild gone terribly right (so right, in fact, that it recently picked up an ARIDO Award of Merit). Start with one mid-’60s-era home situated on 2.3 acres in King City township, an upscale country neighbourhood half an hour north of Toronto. Add in a client couple, Rebecca and George, with the smarts to see that a completely new structure would be far more accommodating to their needs than a costly remodel. Then stir things up by hiring Tania Bortolotto, principal of Toronto’s Bortolotto Design Architect. A partisan of natural light, sensuous curves and, when called for, the grand gesture, Bortolotto crafted a space true to her maxim that “the site and its context can’t be separated.”
Situated on the border of Southern Ontario’s Oak Ridges Moraine, a geological landform filled with deep river valleys and rolling hills, the new split-level home was built with minimal invasion on its predecessor’s footprint. But there the similarities between the two houses – or, indeed, any other house – ends.
At the front, the facade performs a playful riff on the mansard roofs of farmhouses found in the region, folding all the way down to the ground and enveloping two sides of the home. Triple-layered grey slate, held on the diagonal by exposed stainless-steel clips, flips traditional roof patterning on its side. Its dark texture is prevented from complete dominance by the sheer relief of a glassed-in mahogany portico entrance, as well as slashes of a two-level window to the left and a high clerestory opening on the right.
The roof-cum-wall acts both as a street-side privacy screen and an abrupt break from the rest of the world. Once you enter the home and move past the floor-to-ceiling teak that divides hallway from kitchen enclave, you are in a space that both embraces the natural and defies the conventional.
Generous windows and a huge, sinuous glass wall that stretches across the structure’s entire back length and rises a full two storeys from cedar deck to cedar soffits bring the beauty of the pastoral setting into the home at every turn. The interior’s neutral palette of light wood, oyster white and dashes of granite grey allows nature to play centre stage, obviating the need for other artwork.
Nifty little touches, such as the way the great room’s wooden floor flows over the edge of the kitchen area and morphs into dual built-in desks, remain lost to the casual observer, however. Eye and mind instead are captured and held by the symphonic sweep of the great room’s ceiling. It dramatically swoops down to cradle the upstairs bedroom level. It curves and billows out, almost touching the inward slope of the front wall (“The drywallers hated us,” Tania Bortolotto comments dryly). It is like a living, breathing thing, replete with scenic parallels to the backyard landscape of lowering ravine and rising hills.
The ever-changing dimensions seem to make the house breathe too. “Throughout the home,” says Bortolotto, “you find compression and expansion. There are lots of surprises as you move through the space – including the fact that there are so many spots where it feels surprisingly intimate. Your focus also changes, from exterior to interior and back again.”
Just like the view that both informs and envelops the House in Kings Cross, nothing remains static. Yet everything simply exudes tranquility. cI