written by:
photos by:
April 12, 2010
Originally published in Big Ideas for Small Spaces

Toronto designers Peter Fleming and Debbie Adams found a polluted lot and a run-down building­—and saw fertile ground for a unique, eco-minded new home.

After a long renovation, the former brownfield presents a domestic face, with thriving landscaping in the cleaned-up soil.
After a long renovation, the former brownfield presents a domestic face, with thriving landscaping in the cleaned-up soil.
Photo by 
1 / 8
A staircase leads up to the main bedroom; the stairs and the fireplace were designed by Fleming with the architects.
A staircase leads up to the main bedroom; the stairs and the fireplace were designed by Fleming with the architects.
Photo by 
2 / 8
In the living room, Adams relaxes on a chair by designer Scot Laughton while Fleming plays banjo.
In the living room, Adams relaxes on a chair by designer Scot Laughton while Fleming plays banjo.
Photo by 
3 / 8
The dining room has a mishmash of Eames chairs, found in various states and painted black.
The dining room has a mishmash of Eames chairs, found in various states and painted black.
Photo by 
4 / 8
The kitchen, which gets light from three sides, welcomes guests into the house.
The kitchen, which gets light from three sides, welcomes guests into the house.
Photo by 
5 / 8
Both the kitchen and the main bedroom blend polished concrete with white oak cabinets. Fleming spent almost six months building the house’s millwork, which lends the house a warm, bespoke quality.
Both the kitchen and the main bedroom blend polished concrete with white oak cabinets. Fleming spent almost six months building the house’s millwork, which lends the house a warm, bespoke quality.
Photo by 
6 / 8
In the upstairs studio Adams draws inspiration from collections of salesmen’s sample cans, Canadian early-20th-century ceramics, and Electrolux vacuum-cleaner piggy banks.
In the upstairs studio Adams draws inspiration from collections of salesmen’s sample cans, Canadian early-20th-century ceramics, and Electrolux vacuum-cleaner piggy banks.
Photo by 
7 / 8
The main bath has a concrete tub that Fleming cast to fit his wife’s body.
The main bath has a concrete tub that Fleming cast to fit his wife’s body.
Photo by 
8 / 8
After a long renovation, the former brownfield presents a domestic face, with thriving landscaping in the cleaned-up soil.
After a long renovation, the former brownfield presents a domestic face, with thriving landscaping in the cleaned-up soil.
Project 
Adams-Fleming Residence

When Debbie Adams and Peter Fleming spotted their future home, it was a mess. An old industrial building on a street of solid family houses in Toronto, “it was a dripping, scary building,” says Adams. “It hadn’t been used for a while, and I think all the kids in the neighborhood thought it was haunted.” The yard was littered with scrap metal and building materials—–and, they soon discovered, dangerous chemicals had seeped into the soil.

But with some cleanup, the land had potential for residential reuse. It was a sound building on a big lot, and the resourceful couple—–Adams is a graphic designer, Fleming a furniture designer and maker—–imagined it as their dream house. “It took some serious determination,” says the slight, intense Fleming. “And possibly a bit of insanity,” says Adams, the more garrulous of the two. Now, after a two-phased, multiyear renovation, the 2,660-square-foot home is standing proof of their vision: It has the high ceilings of a warehouse loft, and the light and gardens of a modern country house.

A staircase leads up to the main bedroom; the stairs and the fireplace were designed by Fleming with the architects.
A staircase leads up to the main bedroom; the stairs and the fireplace were designed by Fleming with the architects.

Adams and Fleming both brought to the renovation a designer’s sensibility. They seem to have gained both a sense of humor and an air of calm through the process of renovation—–which is a good thing, because this wasn’t an easy journey. Before they closed the deal to buy the site, they began an environmental assessment, which revealed two kinds of contamination: rusting oil tanks in the ground and soil containing cinder, a toxic byproduct of coal furnaces that was once a paving material. The upshot was that it needed an $80,000 cleanup that was going to make the project too expensive. But the sellers volunteered to pay for the work themselves in order to complete the sale. “They said they would rather clean up the property and put the money there than put it into capital gains taxes,” Adams recalls.

Once they arrived at an agreement, the real work began: The sellers replaced three feet of topsoil from the entire 60-by-110-foot property, and the couple hired award-winning local practice Levitt Goodman Architects to oversee a quick two-month gut, with sustainability in mind. Partner Janna Levitt and project architects Samantha Scroggie (phase one) and Amanda Reed (phase two) decided to retain most of the old concrete-block building. “We didn’t alter the exterior structure that much, which meant we didn’t have to take much to the landfill,” Fleming says, sitting at the refinished Eames table in their dining room. “We were more or less adding to what was here, rather than tearing stuff down.”  

In the living room, Adams relaxes on a chair by designer Scot Laughton while Fleming plays banjo.
In the living room, Adams relaxes on a chair by designer Scot Laughton while Fleming plays banjo.

Soon those great bones Adams and Fleming had detected on first seeing the place became readily apparent. “The nice thing about sites like this is that you get anomalies,” says Levitt. “You would never find a lot this wide—–that makes it possible to have a good yard and light on three sides.”

Inside the building on the ground floor, a 13-foot-high, column-free interior meant the architects had plenty of space to play with. In fact, there was so much room that they decided to carve some of it away: In one corner, they built a three-foot-high platform, creating a raised zone of private rooms—–two bedrooms, a den, and two bathrooms—–with a less cavernous ceiling height. “The most important move was raising the floor,” Levitt says. “You could have two levels comfortably, so you could move from private to public spaces with a couple of steps.”

The rest of the main floor forms an L-shape made up of an open kitchen, dining room, and living room and large entry vestibule. To Adams, it feels like a suburban house from the ’60s—–like her childhood home on Canada’s west coast. “We’re both really happy with that,” she says. “I’ve always felt uncomfortable in Victorian houses here, which don’t coincide with my experience of the house I grew up in, or living the way I envisioned.”

The dining room has a mishmash of Eames chairs, found in various states and painted black.
The dining room has a mishmash of Eames chairs, found in various states and painted black.

But the soaring ceilings, polished concrete floors, and natural light give these rooms the cool grandeur of a loft. And they’re home to a gallery-worthy collection of photography (including work by fellow Torontonian Edward Burtynsky) and mid-century-modern furniture classics, from an heirloom Eames lounge and ottoman to chairs by Canadian modernists Stefan Siwinski and Russell Spanner.

Despite the lofty dimensions, the house stays comfortable thanks to radiant heat in the concrete floors. Visually, the space gains warmth through broad expanses of white oak—–custom millwork designed by the architects in collaboration with the homeowners and built by Fleming. From the kitchen cabinets, the millwork wraps around the corner into the dining room; additional millwork encases the two-sided fireplace and then forms drawers that lead to the closets in the bedroom. The white oak was beautifully detailed by Fleming, who heads the furniture program at a local college and also creates custom pieces. “It’s like being a tailor—–the haute couture of the furniture world,” he explains with a hint of a smile.

Both the kitchen and the main bedroom blend polished concrete with white oak cabinets. Fleming spent almost six months building the house’s millwork, which lends the house a warm, bespoke quality.
Both the kitchen and the main bedroom blend polished concrete with white oak cabinets. Fleming spent almost six months building the house’s millwork, which lends the house a warm, bespoke quality.

He also built a showpiece: a bathtub in the master bedroom that’s a curvaceous monolith of concrete, warmed by the radiant heating system. “It’s one of Peter’s masterpieces,” Levitt says, “and it was a total act of love. It weighs 2,000 pounds and it’s scaled exactly
to Debbie’s body.”

The couple approached much of the project with a DIY attitude. Last year Fleming also did finishing work on a second-floor addition that adds an open-plan office, small jewelry studio, and enclosed patio. For the new staircase, he took several beams of Douglas fir salvaged from the building and milled it into broad stair treads.  And then there’s the large garden with a reflecting pool and patio, paved and landscaped by Adams and Fleming. “We’re people who like to make things,” Adams says. “And now we feel very safe digging around out there.” 
 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

marcel breuer architect letter office kansas city snower house
See a glimpse into the office of a master architect.
May 01, 2016
Santa Monica living room with an Yves Klein coffee table
Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron talks us through Dwell's May 2016 issue.
May 01, 2016
house that sottsass built maui hawaii memphis group home renovation ettore facade colored volumes
In Maui, of all places.
May 01, 2016
two of a kind padua italy matching family homes facade green roof doors color
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to dream homes , we visited homes from Haiti to Italy. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
April 30, 2016
houseofweek
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
April 30, 2016
W House living room
Our best reader reactions this week.
April 29, 2016
Vineyard house illuminated at night
Rammed-earth construction fuses this Portuguese house to the environment.
April 29, 2016
vintage Scandinavian furniture Kathryn Tyler
In southwest England, interior designer Kathryn Tyler built her home around her ever-expanding furniture collection.
April 29, 2016
steel facade home Seattle
On the sandy shores of Fauntleroy Cove in Seattle, renowned firm Olson Kundig Architects crafts a subtle home with striking steel accents.
April 29, 2016
seperate piece renovated guesthouse eames storage unit cork floor tiles living room
An architect and an interior designer put the tools to the test for this impressive renovation.
April 29, 2016
Ceramics by WrenLab
Manhattan doesn’t get to have all the fun during NYCxDesign. Brooklyn is set for the return of BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few exhibitors we are excited to see this year.
April 29, 2016
n0a6974 dxo
Architect Diego Revollo refreshes an apartment with a standout kitchen.
April 29, 2016
img 8652 1
The city of San Francisco has been eagerly awaiting the reopening of SFMOMA for years—and as the May 14th opening approaches closer everyday, the anticipation continues to build for art enthusiasts both near and far. This morning, we were given the opportunity to explore the newly expanded space before the crowds roll in. After a series of speeches, remarks, and tours, we left the grounds feeling thoroughly inspired and excited to share what we discovered.
April 28, 2016
gramercy 1 ar53319
A family doesn’t have to travel far for a private oasis away from the busy city.
April 28, 2016
Renovation of 1967 Hamburg apartment with Vipp kitchen.
In our April issue, we showcased an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, with a striking, matte-black kitchen from Vipp. The 77-year-old company became famous for its iconic pedal trash can before venturing into kitchens and other tools for the home. This isn't the first time that the Danish company's products have graced our pages, and here we've gathered additional examples from our archive that show how the brand's minimalist black kitchens are always a win in modern interiors.
April 28, 2016
Zafra residence living room.
A man and his wife make an emotional return to an apartment building he loved as a kid.
April 28, 2016
the garden inside concrete dining pavilion indoor outdoor custom cabinets thermador dishwasher refrigerator
A skylit conservatory doubles as a verdant dining parlor in Sonoma County, California.
April 28, 2016
Details of the Calico collection.
Calico Wallpaper founders Nick and Rachel Cope showed us through their home in our March Issue, now step inside their studio.
April 28, 2016
william krisel pow 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
April 27, 2016
Dwell on Design and designjunction at ArtBeam
It's all part of Dwell on Design + designjunction's three-day event, featuring a program of talks chock-full of leading figures in design, architecture, urbanism, and beyond—coming up May 13-15 at ArtBeam in New York.
April 27, 2016
seattles mariners floating house prefab facade exterior fiber cement panels
A prefabricated floating home drops anchor in the Pacific Northwest.
April 27, 2016
royan treatment living room stone fireplace vintage new furnishings
French designer Florence Deau effortlessly mixes the old with the new.
April 27, 2016
modern netherlands 13 noordeinde schoolhouse parquet herringbone floors stove
Take a lesson from this school-turned-home.
April 27, 2016
The sidewalks of Copacabana in Rio De Janero, Brazil, designed by Roberto Burle Marx
The Jewish Museum in New York City takes it outside with a celebration of the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.
April 26, 2016
Waterfront home in Belvedere, California
A 1960s home infested with powderpost beetles had to be sacrificed before this this Zen-inspired house could happen.
April 26, 2016
dialogue house
At the base of Echo Mountain in Phoenix, a geometric home by Wendell Burnette opens up to the surrounding desert landscape.
April 26, 2016
street smarts kitchen full view
A creative couple transforms an old Toronto storefront in Dundas West into a home and studio.
April 26, 2016
hald strand
This architect thinks of everything for his summer escape, pizza oven included.
April 26, 2016
gans turin residence living room
Thanks to a contemporary interior that she’s been updating for a decade, modern architect Abigail Turin has learned to love her traditional 1925 San Francisco home.
April 25, 2016
131
Johannesburg-based design studio Counterspace was founded in 2014 by young architecture graduates Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar. Their projects are collaborative, research-led investigations into possible futures and ideas of otherness in Johannesburg.
April 25, 2016