How do you maintain the charm and street appearance of a 1950s bungalow with mahogany Arts and Crafts styling while doubling its size? With a treehouse addition, of course.
When Anna Conte gardens among the hedgerows at her family’s renovated bungalow in the leafy lakeside Toronto suburb of Port Credit, passersby often stop to snap photos and ask questions. “They always tell us, ‘We absolutely love what you guys did; it’s so different,’” Conte says.
Port Credit’s original modest cottages are regularly torn down to make way for incongruous McMansions. However, Conte, associate director of Human Insights at The Clorox Company of Canada, and her husband, Michael Car, a realtor with Royal LePage, wanted to expand their house without violating its stylistic integrity. The result: an ideal COVID-era work/live environment for the couple (she works from home) and their three children.
‘OF ITS TIME’
While house hunting, the couple viewed the bungalow’s cramped, two-bedroom, 900-square-foot quarters as an asset, not a liability. Wary of their carbon footprint, they regarded their previous, 3,700-square-foot house with five bedrooms and a den as a space-wasting monster home. After buying the Port Credit property, the family did a test drive by living in it for a year to ponder alterations, then moved out during construction.
They chose +VG Architects as renovation architect because the firm has renewed the heritage fabric of Ontario, including such iconic Toronto structures as the Legislative Assembly of Ontario Building, St. Michael’s Cathedral and Old City Hall, while offering sustainable new solutions for facilities of all sizes and types. +VG Architects’ philosophy is: Respect the heritage building’s scale and character while ensuring the new intervention is clearly “of its time.” The thought process for the Port Credit house tapped the same corporate DNA, though on a smaller, residential scale.
The contrast couldn’t be more legible between the existing ’50s tri-color brick dwelling and the new, 1,300-square-foot vertical addition. The addition is clad in charcoal-gray fiber-cement panels to tie in with the color of the roof and pick up on the black accents in the tri-color heritage brick.
The architects put a clean minimalist modern “shoebox” atop, and set back from, the front of the original house. The shoebox sits on the roof ridge, or to be more precise, the ghost of the original roof. The design team had planned to keep the existing roof but after ascertaining its poor condition, it created a new structure that respectfully preserves the original roof lines. The interior makeover yielded a dramatic cathedral ceiling—with exposed mahogany tiebacks—that soars 16 feet at the high point of the gables.
In the open-concept main floor, the fireplace, set into a hulking chimney made of stacked fiber-cement panels, divides the great room and kitchen. The latter includes a mini-kitchen for baking fitted with lowered, 33-inch-high worksurfaces to accommodate Conte’s 4-foot, 10-inch stature.
Upstairs, the addition’s mono-slope roof rises from 8 1/2 to 14 feet, providing room for big windows that overlook the landscape and make you feel that you’re at one with nature. In the hallway, drywall butts against the weathered tapering brick fireplace chimney, now topped with several courses of fresh brick for added height. The crisp new white drywall sets off the chimney as a bold sculptural object.
The original stairs to the basement blocked access from the kitchen to the yard. Its replacement is a favorite architectural moment in the renovation. The new stair, a metaphorical ladder to the treehouse, is the only new vertical element linking the old and new parts of the house. Its simple glass railing and hardwood steps with open risers offer views out through the 2-story-high glazing. Here, the architects specified a glass curtainwall to express the open stair to the exterior. The uncluttered expanse of glass floods the interior with gentle north light.
PHOTOS: David Lasker Photography unless otherwise noted