written by:
November 11, 2009

As artist Christopher Griffin and aesthetician Oresta Korbutiak prepared to renovate their live-work space in Ottawa, the couple sought an architect who would respect the bones of the building, the land and the neighborhood, and do it sustainably. They found a sympathetic collaborator in Andrew Reeves, who helped them retain the footprint, modernize the place and create private outdoor space for the highly exposed corner building. The mixed-use structure was originally a confectionery built in 1901, and over the years had served as a general store, a post office and a rooming house.

The main street elevation holds the entrance to the cosmetics confectionary, which exhibits a whale diptych by Griffin in the windows. The artist dedicated this side of the building to the air, and carved a flock of birds flying.
The main street elevation holds the entrance to the cosmetics confectionary, which exhibits a whale diptych by Griffin in the windows. The artist dedicated this side of the building to the air, and carved a flock of birds flying.
1 / 17
The footprints for both floors were kept intact and major changes were made only to the exterior. Accessible from the cosmetics confectionary on the first floor are a private hall, family room, study and bath. The upstairs level retained the existing livi
The footprints for both floors were kept intact and major changes were made only to the exterior. Accessible from the cosmetics confectionary on the first floor are a private hall, family room, study and bath. The upstairs level retained the existing living room, bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and updated deck.
2 / 17
The home’s entrance is located just around the corner from the confectionary entrance. The bay window form is original, but was modernized with a concrete exterior. At right, housed in mostly reclaimed cedar, is the portion containing the upstairs deck. A
The home’s entrance is located just around the corner from the confectionary entrance. The bay window form is original, but was modernized with a concrete exterior. At right, housed in mostly reclaimed cedar, is the portion containing the upstairs deck. A new fence encloses the small, previously exposed yard.
3 / 17
Griffin carved a humpback whale into the west elevation, which he dedicated to the sea. A new, aluminum-framed overhang adds a linear element and plays off of the house’s original floorboards employed as accent cladding, near the top.
Griffin carved a humpback whale into the west elevation, which he dedicated to the sea. A new, aluminum-framed overhang adds a linear element and plays off of the house’s original floorboards employed as accent cladding, near the top.
4 / 17
The entrance to Oresta's organic skin care confectionary. To the right of the door is a list of every recorded owner of the businesses the building has housed since the turn of the century, based on the couple’s title and historical research.
The entrance to Oresta's organic skin care confectionary. To the right of the door is a list of every recorded owner of the businesses the building has housed since the turn of the century, based on the couple’s title and historical research.
5 / 17
The architect used horizontal slats for privacy, but alternated them on the fence and second-floor deck to allow sunlight and breezes through. Solar panels atop the roof heat the water; a green roof is in the process of growing in. The project was awarded
The architect used horizontal slats for privacy, but alternated them on the fence and second-floor deck to allow sunlight and breezes through. Solar panels atop the roof heat the water; a green roof is in the process of growing in. The project was awarded Green Renovation of the Year and Best Housing Detail at the 2009 Ottawa Housing Design Awards.
6 / 17
A detail shows where the engraved birds, the original flooring, and two base panels create an interplay of materials. “This project was exciting because architects and artists look at and build objects differently, and this approach created a unique dynam
A detail shows where the engraved birds, the original flooring, and two base panels create an interplay of materials. “This project was exciting because architects and artists look at and build objects differently, and this approach created a unique dynamic,” says the architect.
7 / 17
The building, as it appeared when the owners bought it in 2001. Behind the brick wall at left, the architect and owners found another window, which was reopened. The building has held a confectionery, a general store, a rooming house and a post office.
The building, as it appeared when the owners bought it in 2001. Behind the brick wall at left, the architect and owners found another window, which was reopened. The building has held a confectionery, a general store, a rooming house and a post office.
8 / 17
Griffin carves an exterior panel using a casuary bird femur bone knife—a dedication to early artistic tools and methods. Each panel received a fresh topcoat of concrete, after which the artist had no more than 15 minutes to make his marks before his canva
Griffin carves an exterior panel using a casuary bird femur bone knife—a dedication to early artistic tools and methods. Each panel received a fresh topcoat of concrete, after which the artist had no more than 15 minutes to make his marks before his canvas completely hardened.
9 / 17
One of the artist's finished panels, depicting sunflowers.
One of the artist's finished panels, depicting sunflowers.
10 / 17
The couple’s daughter, Kalyna, puts her own spin on her father’s engravings, which he calls a “concrete coloring book.” Dedicating this side of the building to the earth, he carved herds of caribou into the panels. The abstract marks at the base skirt the
The couple’s daughter, Kalyna, puts her own spin on her father’s engravings, which he calls a “concrete coloring book.” Dedicating this side of the building to the earth, he carved herds of caribou into the panels. The abstract marks at the base skirt the entire exterior and were added for a consistent design element.
11 / 17
The finishing process included smoothing over the driveway with concrete to prepare it for more engravings, notes Griffin, "so the neighbors on that side would have something nice to look at."
The finishing process included smoothing over the driveway with concrete to prepare it for more engravings, notes Griffin, "so the neighbors on that side would have something nice to look at."
12 / 17
Griffin engraved a large sun on the driveway, echoing the one he carved into the south side of the house.
Griffin engraved a large sun on the driveway, echoing the one he carved into the south side of the house.
13 / 17
To acknowledge the property's history, the couple pressed the names of every owner, from the Algonquin people beyond, on the south side of the structure.
To acknowledge the property's history, the couple pressed the names of every owner, from the Algonquin people beyond, on the south side of the structure.
14 / 17
The original floorboards accompany the stamped list of property owners.
The original floorboards accompany the stamped list of property owners.
15 / 17
Instead of removing the old coal chute, Griffin printed the original deed to the property on a new concrete panel covering it.
Instead of removing the old coal chute, Griffin printed the original deed to the property on a new concrete panel covering it.
16 / 17
Using an old typeface, the artist stamped the turn-of-the-century deed into the panel.
Using an old typeface, the artist stamped the turn-of-the-century deed into the panel.
17 / 17
The main street elevation holds the entrance to the cosmetics confectionary, which exhibits a whale diptych by Griffin in the windows. The artist dedicated this side of the building to the air, and carved a flock of birds flying.
The main street elevation holds the entrance to the cosmetics confectionary, which exhibits a whale diptych by Griffin in the windows. The artist dedicated this side of the building to the air, and carved a flock of birds flying.
Project 
Griffin Residence
Architect 

When Reeves first saw the building, he found what he calls a “dog’s breakfast of architecture—windows were placed arbitrarily, it was a hodgepodge of additions and renovations, and there was no continuity to it.” His plan included creating cedar framing for “an architectural rhythm,” integrated with Griffin’s request for exterior concrete panels he could carve designs into, all tied together with horizontal wood accents made from floorboards from the original house and aluminum reveals for, says the architect, “a sense of formality.”

“We were advised by contractors to just tear it down,” says Griffin. “But we fell in love with the quirkiness of the building, so we chose to gut it instead: We put in new plumbing, electrical, ductwork, windows, doors, walls, floors, and subfloors—the only thing we were able to save was the staircase handrail.” In a fortuitous turn, a nearby 1900s Dutch embassy building was being demolished concurrent with the renovation, and the pair was able to score quality antique building materials, cheap. “We were strapped for cash, so we got amazing materials from a beautiful building from the same period,” says Griffin. “We found these great solid wood doors for 50 bucks each, so we built around them.”

The footprints for both floors were kept intact and major changes were made only to the exterior. Accessible from the cosmetics confectionary on the first floor are a private hall, family room, study and bath. The upstairs level retained the existing livi
The footprints for both floors were kept intact and major changes were made only to the exterior. Accessible from the cosmetics confectionary on the first floor are a private hall, family room, study and bath. The upstairs level retained the existing living room, bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and updated deck.

An important tenet was that the renovation remain as green as possible while staying within the couple’s limited budget. Reeves used fly-ash concrete—a byproduct of coal-fired electric power generation that traditionally ends up in landfills—for the exterior. The couple found the original building’s flooring in the basement; Reeves used it as accent cladding. The cedar surrounding the deck is mostly reclaimed, and all the materials used were locally sourced. Solar panels on the green roof are used to heat the water, and the home is bullfrog powered (by wind and hydro facilities), a technology now offered to all residents of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

Griffin carves an exterior panel using a casuary bird femur bone knife—a dedication to early artistic tools and methods. Each panel received a fresh topcoat of concrete, after which the artist had no more than 15 minutes to make his marks before his canva
Griffin carves an exterior panel using a casuary bird femur bone knife—a dedication to early artistic tools and methods. Each panel received a fresh topcoat of concrete, after which the artist had no more than 15 minutes to make his marks before his canvas completely hardened.

The two-story building measures about 2,100 square feet split evenly between the floors, with a portion of the downstairs still zoned commercial, where the confectionary once stood and where Korbutiak houses her skin treatment rooms and what she calls her organic skin care confectionary—where she also sells organic chocolates and candy. “The upstairs was never really historic, so we tore two walls down to create more of an open concept,” notes Griffin. The top floor includes the living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms, one for the couple and one for their 5-year-old daughter, Kalyna (which means “cranberry” in Ukrainian, a reference to Korbutiak’s heritage). Just off the kitchen is the deck, newly enclosed with alternating reclaimed cedar slats to provide privacy from the nearby office tower yet allow sunlight and breezes in.

The architect used horizontal slats for privacy, but alternated them on the fence and second-floor deck to allow sunlight and breezes through. Solar panels atop the roof heat the water; a green roof is in the process of growing in. The project was awarded
The architect used horizontal slats for privacy, but alternated them on the fence and second-floor deck to allow sunlight and breezes through. Solar panels atop the roof heat the water; a green roof is in the process of growing in. The project was awarded Green Renovation of the Year and Best Housing Detail at the 2009 Ottawa Housing Design Awards.

During the renovation, the couple quickly found that their home was a place of local legend, evidenced by the visitors who approached them during the process to tell their stories. There was the man who told them that as a young boy he had helped his parents run the confectionary, and the woman who announced that she was born in the building in 1927. “I believe we are only occupying this space for a limited time and it is important to acknowledge past incarnations of it,” says Griffin. To that end, he stamped, using an old metal typeface, the names of all the owners of the land, from the Algonquin Indians to the family, on one wall of the house. Next to the confectionary entrance, he stamped every recorded business from the turn of the century to the present. In one concrete block, the family engraved their names alongside the names of the construction crew, and upon the old coal chute, Griffin stamped an exact copy of the original deed to the property.

Griffin’s exterior engravings were the final piece of the remodel. Working in individual concrete panels, he only had about 15 minutes to engrave each one before the concrete hardened. Using a 14-inch-long bone knife that he acquired from a traditional hunter in Indonesia, Griffin “went by gut feeling. It was a Zen moment where you almost can’t think, you have to go and trust, and just flow with it,” he says. “I dedicated the south wall to fire, so I did a large sun, sunflowers and a rooster. For the north side, the earth side, I used caribou. The east wall was air, so I did a flock of birds flying, and the west side is water, so put a large humpback whale there. I have been influenced by cave paintings and indigenous art; they are ways of communicating across thousands of years. I see my engravings as way of communicating with the public.”

To acknowledge the property's history, the couple pressed the names of every owner, from the Algonquin people beyond, on the south side of the structure.
To acknowledge the property's history, the couple pressed the names of every owner, from the Algonquin people beyond, on the south side of the structure.

Most appear to be responding well to Griffin’s communication. “We had an 8-year-old kid on a skateboard come by and say, ‘Wow, cool building,’” he says. “And an old couple walked by one day, and one of them said to me, ‘We really don’t like that modern stuff, but this is wonderful.’”

 

 

To see more images from the project, please visit the slideshow.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
18
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016