Torontonians are finally rejecting fussy Victorian architecture and going bold. In almost every neighbourhood, there’s a house or two that stands out. They’re tall, modern and boxy—the new Toronto aesthetic. Here, a look inside some of our favourites.
he people: Alireza Saeed, a structural engineer, his wife, Azi Lessani, and their two kids, five-year-old Deniz and two-year-old Doreen
The place: Tetris House, a 3,200-square-foot home near Avenue and Lawrence
A few years ago, Saeed commissioned the architect Reza Aliabadi to build a gleaming modern house in North York. It was perfect—except for the school district it was in. The family only lived there for a year before they decided to move to Avenue and Lawrence, where the kids could attend the public schools Ledbury Park and Lawrence Park Collegiate. But Saeed loved his first house so much he wanted an exact replica in his new neighbourhood, so he enlisted Aliabadi to do a repeat performance. The resulting place is 1,000 square feet smaller, but all other specs remain the same: a home office, basement guest suite, walk-in wine cave and party space, all stacked neatly on top of each other like pieces in a game of Tetris, which gives the house its name.
The people: Stephen Fishman, a retired dentist, and his wife, Rose, a retired pharmaceutical consultant
The place: A 3,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home in Cedarvale
The Fishmans’ house is the result of two almost incompatible goals: they wanted the look and feel of a luxury boutique hotel, but it had to be thoroughly kid-friendly to accommodate their four young grandchildren, who visit often for sleepovers. The couple worked closely with the architect John Shnier of Kohn Shnier to make that happen. The entire ground floor is a single airy space that steps down to the backyard, making the property feel much bigger than it is. Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, there’s a large patio and infinity pool, where the Fishmans spend most of their time—with or without the grandkids. The focal point of the house, though, is the back-painted glass wall by the stairs that offers an unexpected punch of colour.
The people: Ken Leung, an IT manager, Bonnie Lam, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, and their kids, Cooper and Ella
The place: A 2,100-square-foot ode to Japanese minimalism in Birchcliffe-Cliffside, Scarborough
In 2005, Leung and Lam spent a month trekking through Japan, Singapore and Bali. They returned with a love of ultra-minimal, ultra-modern Asian architecture. At the time, they were living in an industrial loft near the St. Lawrence Market. But they were thinking of having kids, so they started looking for a tear-down. They found a rare double-wide lot in Scarborough—an area they liked because it was close to plenty of parks to walk their dog, Pixie. They split the property in two, sold the existing house and hired the architect Donald Chong of Williamson Chong to a build a new place. (Their neighbours later followed their lead and built a modern box next door.) It’s full of subtle effects, like the way the light spills across the bleached oak floors, for example, or the relaxing, sauna-like scent from the Spanish cedar window frames.
The people: Hairstylists Robert Langton and John Farrauto, and their dogs, Xochil and Lola
The place: A 2,000-square-foot two-bedroom near Danforth and Woodbine
Langton and Farrauto never imagined themselves in a house, much less one they designed and built themselves. Two years ago, they were living in a loft at Queen and River and, aside from coveting another bedroom, were content. But one day Langton picked up a shelter magazine in an airport lounge and fell in love with a picture of a modern boxy house. He called Farrauto and told him to start looking at properties. They commissioned an architect, drew up plans and, when they found a teardown they could afford, started building. They moved in a year later. Their place is oriented around a column with built-in shelves to display art. There’s a hot tub in the backyard and an organic garden on the roof deck. And while the house is three storeys, it feels bright and open—almost like their old condo.
For the rest of this story, which was co-written with Peter Saltsman, please see the November 2013 issue of Toronto Life magazine.