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Engraved House

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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.

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  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.
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  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.
    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.
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  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.
    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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
    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.
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  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.
    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.
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  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.
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  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.
    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.
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  One of the artist's finished panels, depicting sunflowers.
    One of the artist's finished panels, depicting sunflowers.
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  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.
    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.
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  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."
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  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.
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  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.
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  The original floorboards accompany the stamped list of property owners.
    The original floorboards accompany the stamped list of property owners.
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  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.
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  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.

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