Great Spaces: Five Garage Conversions to Swoon Over

Geoffrey Roche in his North York pool house (Derek Shapton)

Geoffrey Roche in his North York pool house (Derek Shapton)

Torontonians don’t like compromise. We want to live in the city, and we also want guest rooms, art studios and dens. The answer? Convert out unused sheds, garages or pool into precious square footage. Here, five drool-worthy makeovers.

Photo by Derek Shapton

Photo by Derek Shapton

Who: Geoffrey Roche, a 60-year-old entrepreneur and former ad executive, and his wife Marie Claire
What: An 800-square-foot pool house with an office, dining area and sleeping quarters
Where: North York

For over 20 years, Roche was one of Canada’s top ad executives, but in 2011 he left the business to start a social media company called Poolhouse. He keeps an office at Yonge and Eglinton but often works in his backyard pool house, which is the perfect place to hold meetings, impress clients or steal away for a few hours of solitude. When he bought the property, the pool house looked like something out of That ’70s Show. Architect John Tong redesigned it with vibrant orange walls, two fireplaces (one inside, one outside) and a bar area, giving it the playfulness of a Silicon Valley start-up. At night, the place can be used for parties or poolside cocktails. And tucked in the back are a Murphy bed and bathroom for guests who’ve had a few too many to drive home.

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Hive Mentality: New Homes for Nature’s Great Pollinators

Elevator B designed by students in Buffalo, New York

A bee hotel designed by students in Buffalo, New York

Every year, the AZ Awards, organized by Canadian design magazine Azure, celebrate cutting-edge architecture and interior design from around the world. The expected all-white buildings and futuristic furniture got nods at the most recent ceremony in downtown Toronto, but the $5,000 top prize was given to something decidedly more unusual: a man-made beehive erected on a derelict industrial site in Buffalo, N.Y.

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Reason to Love Toronto: Because the Shark Tank is Open

Ripley's Aquarium TOronto

Ripley’s Aquarium TOronto

For decades, parents trying to edu-tain their tots have had to choose between the same old standbys: the AGO, the ROM, the Science Centre. This summer, though, there will be a new option—Ripley’s Aquarium, a 135,000-square-foot, $130-million fish tank at the foot of the CN Tower. Over 15,000 species from all over the world will be on display. Budding Cousteaus will be drawn to the extensive education programs (including overnight aquarium camps that teach about biodiversity, conservation and the difference between kelp forests and coral reefs). Continue reading

Great Spaces: A Yonge and Eglinton Home That’s Designed to Age Gracefully

great-spaces-yonge-and-eglinton-intro

Photo by Derek Shapton

Farzad and Connie started thinking about building a house five years ago when they were living in Cambridge, England. Farzad was finishing his doctorate in management and Connie was working for a Dutch bank. Their two kids were young, and the couple wanted to settle in Toronto, where Farzad grew up (Connie is from Hong Kong). They imagined a house that was minimalist but kid-friendly, environmentally conscious but not visibly so, and most importantly, adaptable. They hired the architect Paul Raff, and the resulting space, on a leafy street near Yonge and Eglinton, feels like a swanky yoga studio minus the mirrored walls. The kitchen is flanked by two identically sized spaces, which can be used interchangeably, as the living room or dining room—Farzad and Connie sometimes swap the two by season, eating next to the big backyard window in summer and cozying up by the same window to read in winter. The basement is kitted out with a kitchen in case their kids boom­erang in their 20s and want their own space. And although the main level of the house is, right now, perfectly suited to family life, it was designed to be converted into a one-level retirement suite in the future, with Farzad’s office becoming a master bedroom and the entryway powder room becoming an ensuite.

For the rest of this story, please see the May 2013 issue of Toronto Life magazine.

Ditches, Beaches and Woods: Where Designers go to Forage

Natalie Stopka's Napkins

Natalie Stopka’s Napkins

For devout foodies, scavenging through public parks and roadside ditches to pick wild, esoteric ingredients is an almost sacred ritual. Although the yields are small, the thistles, berries and greens they collect are nutrient-packed, deeply flavourful and, perhaps most importantly, not what the neighbours are eating.

But gourmands aren’t the only ones out foraging. Pioneering designers, including furniture makers and architects, are uprooting their own raw materials to make everything from cabinetry to structural columns. Turns out there are lots of aesthetic possibilities when working with forage. Roadside weeds can be boiled down to dye textiles, for example, while a naturally fallen tree can make a fetching coffee table.

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Why Uneven Floors Might be a Good Thing

403architecture's texture-rich flooring

403architecture’s texture-rich flooring

Outside of funhouses and roller rinks, warped floors are usually considered a defect rather than a virtue. They make it impossible to place furniture (unless you like wobbly tables), are the bane of health and safety nuts (two words: trip hazard) and often warrant a call to a contractor (it’s possible the subfloor needs replacing).

But avant garde architects and interior deisgners have been embracing uneven surfaces for the past few years. It’s partially for the aesthetics — there’s something undeniably striking, even if disconcerting, about a rippling ground plane — and partially for the health benefits. An influential 2005 study by the Oregon Research Institute suggested that walking on uneven terrain lowers blood pressure and improves balance (which diminishes the inherent trip risks). The scholarship only confirmed what practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have long believed — that walking on challenging topography is a good idea (which is why many elderly in China make a routine of strolling, dancing and standing on rugged, cobblestone walking paths).

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A House I’ll Never Own or Decorate – The David Bowie Dream Home Edition

Shim-Sutcliffe’s Weathering Steel House. Photo via http://dereknicholson.com.

In real estate, as in love, there are homes that you have a fleeting crush on, ones that you want to have a family with, and others that are just so out-of-your-league gorgeous they become the stuff of fantasies. Such is the case with 87 Highland Crescent, which I’ve loved from afar for years and which is now on the market. Am I going to be placing an offer? Given an asking price of $6.85 million, I’m afraid my feelings will have to go forever unrequited: with Canada’s maximum 25-year mortgage terms, even if I (miraculously) had a 10 per cent down payment, and borrowed the $6.2 million balance, every month I would have to give the bank about $37,000 (assuming a reasonable interest rate of 5.24 per cent per year). $37,000. A month. That’s more than my yearly take home pay. The only way I could swing that would be to invent a time machine, go back about 10 years, and tell my teenage self all about Facebook so I could scoop Mark Zuckerberg. Anyway, the house actually appeared on the market two years ago at a higher price — $7.995 million — so whichever gazillionaire buys it can sleep easy on his mountain of money knowing he got a relative deal. David Bowie is rumoured to be a fan of the home’s architecture, so maybe he’ll snag it for Iman. Sigh, below is why I love it so much.

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