Go Here: Rotterdam

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There are certain charms that North Americans hope for when visiting a Western European town or city: café-lined squares, gingerbread buildings, cobblestonedstreets that twist and turn in every direction.

Arriving in Rotterdam, then, can be unsatisfying, at least at first. Glass-and-steel skyscrapers shoot up from wide, razor-straight, car-filled boulevards. On the surface, everything looks distressingly familiar.

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Sleep Here: Drake Devonshire

Photo by George Whiteside

Photo by George Whiteside

Outside the Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County, one of Ontario’s most picturesque agricultural regions, an upright player piano sits halfway between the parking lot and the front entrance, its strings sutured to amplifiers and extended to reach the inn’s parapet. As guests arrive, the exposed strings vibrate in the wind and Chopin fills the air. The gentle greeting, conceived by sound artist Gordon Monahan, sets the tone for this new type of getaway: the country inn as an art-filled, hipster-friendly retreat.

The lodgings are built around the historical Wellington Iron foundry, which dates back to 1860, now with a new campus of barn-like additions surrounding it on all sides. Together, the cluster of buildings amounts to a 1,200-square-metre interior with 11 guest rooms, two suites and a dining room and bar that seat 75. Various other anterooms offer Ping-Pong, canasta or karaoke until dawn, and a covered patio functions as an event space and an extension of the dining room.

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Not Lame: Living with Your Parents

Photo by Marc Cramer. Design by Henri Cleinge

Photo by Marc Cramer. Design by Henri Cleinge

Ramona Omidvar is part of a growing cohort of young professionals who expects to eventually share a home with her parents, as well as her two children, currently 2 and 5.

The reason for blending the households isn’t financial – both Omidvar and her husband, who asked not to be named, have good jobs (she’s a policy analyst with the Ontario government, he works in banking), as do her parents (Ratna, her mother, is an Order of Canada recipient and president of the Maytree Foundation; Mehran, her father, is an engineer).

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Great Spaces: Inside A House Filled With Can-Con

Photo by Derek Shapton

Photo by Derek Shapton

Mary Abbott grew up outside of Guelph in an old farmhouse so secluded that her parents didn’t bother with curtains. “The land around us was made up of fields and forests,” she says. “It was extremely private.” Abbott has since left the rural life behind. She’s a corporate lawyer, her husband, Kevin Gormely, is an executive at a printing company, and they live in the middle of the city with their two small boys. Still, she channeled her upbringing when they rebuilt their home last year. The property is ensconced in the tree canopy of the Moore Park ravine, so she opted for giant picture windows with no coverings. Even the master bedroom is ­drapery-free—Abbott and Gormely enjoy waking up with the sun. The couple, working with architect John O’Connor of Basis Design Build, also kept the ­interiors spare to better showcase their extensive collection of contemporary Canadian art. Spare, but not spartan: O’Connor incorporated natural materials like soapstone, birch and Douglas fir to add rustic warmth. So even though the house looks modern, the palette is as ­elemental as the towering trees outside.

For the rest of this story, please see the March 2014 issue of Toronto Life magazine.

Great Spaces: Four of Toronto’s Boldest, Boxiest New Homes

(Photography by Derek Shapton)

(Photography by Derek Shapton)

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.

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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.

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How New Home Designs Aim to do More with (Way) Less Space

Bunkie designed by Evan Bare, Nathan Buhler and Jorge Torres

Bunkie designed by Evan Bare, Nathan Buhler and Jorge Torres

There are many, perfectly rational, even admirable reasons why we should all eschew the quintessential, American-style dream of living in a honking big house on a honking big lot. On a basic level, larger houses are more expensive to build, buy and keep up. They also tend to be energy hogs. Then there’s the cleaning – the more rooms there are, the more dust there is to bust.

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Five Ways to Take Your Basement from Grotto to Glorious

Timothy Mitanidis and Claudia Bader's basement. Andrew Snow Photography

Timothy Mitanidis and Claudia Bader’s basement. Andrew Snow Photography

There’s something undeniably odious about the word basement. It unfailingly conjures up a spine-shivering image of something drafty, claustrophobic and dark. But subterranean living spaces offer an important opportunity to accommodate Canada’s shifting housing needs. They work well as in-law suites for downsizers, income rentals for empty nesters or extra sleeping quarters for families who’ve outgrown their current house but can’t afford a larger one in the country’s ever inflating real estate market. And, with the right eye for aesthetics, a basement apartment can be bright, airy and beautiful. It just takes the right lighting, wall finishes and window wells. Here, five tips from top design professionals on how to turn an underground grotto into something glorious. Continue reading