Canadian Architecture and Design Magazine – May/June 2009
Set on a hill in a historic neighborhood just an hour’s drive from Toronto, this 13,000-squarefoot Georgian-inspired residence sets an imposing tone, reminiscent of a traditional English country house in its stately lines, tall elegant windows and grand rooftop cupola. Even the public green space adjoining the back of the generous property suggests a “great park” and invites the eye to wander uninterrupted.
The massive feel of the residence is pleasantly arresting, a masterful statement of balance and refinement, of Palladian order and proportion. Not surprisingly, the architect’s deft hand is none other than the celebrated Gordon Ridgely of Toronto.
In keeping with the owners’ vision of a traditional-styled home that would fit naturally into the mature neighborhood, Ridgely created a neo-classical exterior solidly rooted in historic architectural lines. Inside however, the light-filled interior blends tradition with contemporary in unexpected ways.
The entry foyer, graced by a centre-hall table and crema marfil floor of honed and inlaid polished marble, is a marvel of design. Awash in natural light radiating from a magnificent third-storey glass cupola directly above, the foyer is viscerally engaging in its celebration of space and light. The riveting cupola’s finely detailed dome draws the eye to the heavens as it were. And, the view from the foyer looking up through a second storey open rotunda to the source is both breathtaking and somehow liberating.
“To me the whole house has the feeling of a breath of fresh air,” agrees interior designer Alison Knapp, partner in the design firm Barnard Speziale Design Associates. She has worked on the residence “from the day the foundation was first poured” back in 2004.
Eschewing a more traditional look for this Georgian classic (“it’s been done and done and done”), Knapp set out to mix antiques with contemporary “for a little bit of the unexpected.” “We wanted to do something different,” she admits with a smile.
While great consideration was given to the comfort and scale of the rooms — drawing room, library, gallery-style hall, dining room, family room, kitchen and back hall on the main floor — Knapp worked the contemporary alongside the traditional with some clever twists.
Sourcing the overall color scheme from the client’s 12 x 16-foot dining room carpet, Knapp confesses both she and her clients “fell in love” with the fresh contemporary feel of the carpet’s celery green, shell pink, cocoa and cream.
While the modern palette carries throughout the principle rooms and adjoining areas, Knapp has devotedly kept both walls and ceilings in an off-white to highlight the remarkably fine architectural detailing in the plaster moldings, casings and trim.
In the dining room for example, the carved reedand-ribbon design within the detailed ceiling molding has painstakingly been repeated on the metal door handles and face plates. Such dedication to fine detail is only one of the many elements that lift this residence into the exceptional.
“For most of the main and second floors, the color scheme and styling of the furnishings and window treatments have a very light and airy feeling, complimenting the light that seems to pour into the house,” Knapp explains, referring to the abundance of tall windows, French doors and generous 11½-foot ceilings.
While the kitchen carries a 1920’s feel, accentuated by retractable period faux gas lamps complete with reproduction knob-and-tube wiring, its amenities are very au courant: multiple refrigerator drawers (as well as a full-size built-in Sub-Zero), custom beer taps, a stove-side pot filler, built-in espresso machine, twin ovens either side of the Wolf gas range just to cite a few.
The surprise mural in the butler’s pantry injects character and whimsy as does the stunning full-size trompe l’oeil in the main floor powder room, which was hand painted by Horrick’s and Co., Hamilton. The 1920’s tone continues in the back hall and laundry area where an antique linen press sourced by Knapp, weaves a warm air of authenticity.
Antique lighting fixtures throughout the residence, including a variety of period chandeliers and vintage sconces from a number of fine lighting dealers including Kantelberg Antiques & Interiors, the Paisley Shop, Residential Lighting, Vintage Lighting by Victorian Revival and Stanley Wagman & Son Antiques Limited, all of Toronto.
The upstairs bedrooms each have distinctive characters. Knapp’s use of faux wall finishes, here and on the lower level, brings added individuality and interest. Her use of subtle accents such as cording on a classic bergere cushion, or the addition of a childhood Sheraton-style desk alongside the clean lines of a Thomas O’Brien armoire blends comfort with the unexpected for a contemporary feel.
At the other end of the long upstairs gallery lies the master suite. Here the color palette takes an unexpected shift to soothing blues and soft cream. A separate “very inviting, very warm and cozy” sitting room “for her” overlooks the gardens, while the spacious master bedroom has a view of the park. The chandeliered master bath has all the amenities for two including his and hers vanities and WCs. The washer and dryer in the walk-in sit-down closet reflects an eye for functional detail.
The highlight of the second storey is the small rotunda where, as Knapp puts it, “you can’t help but smile when you arrive in the circular dome area.” The passage of light from the cupola spills through the second-storey opening to the foyer below.
Following the spiral staircase down to the lower level leads one to the climate-controlled wine cellar and a sit-down wine-tasting area. Here Knapp introduces a palette change to “colors that exude warmth” as the lower level tends to be cooler in temperature.
The billiards room with its fireplace, drop-louvered shutters that create the illusion, Knapp says, “of being on the main floor,” a well-equipped fitness studio, and comfortable media room with full-size screen, swivel-and-recline chairs, fridge, microwave, and ubiquitous beer tap, round out the principle areas of the lower level.
And then there’s the Georgian-paneled elevator, a metaphor for the old, the new, and the unexpected.