An Architect Couple Turn an Urban Eyesore Into a Home That’s Both Peaceful and Playful

An Architect Couple Turn an Urban Eyesore Into a Home That’s Both Peaceful and Playful

By Caitlin Wheeler / Photos by Tom Arban
Clean, streamlined spaces with a reverence for the outdoors reflect a Toronto family’s adventurous lifestyle.

When architect couple Rick Galezowski and Maggie Bennedsen noticed that the house next door—"the ugliest house on the street" and a clear teardown—was on the market, they snapped it up. What came next, they describe, was a design that indulged their "own quirky lifestyle."

The outdoorsy, athletic pair wanted a base camp for adventure, but also a private escape that would take advantage of the neighborhood’s canopy of mature oaks and maples. Bellwoods Lodge is just that: a fuss-free home with an easy-access bike prep station on the lower level, and a forested backyard with a picnic bench and fire pit—perfect for at-home camping.

Working with the natural slope of the site, Rick arranged the house on multiple split levels around a central light well.

The setup creates living areas that are distinct, yet communicate well with each other; Rick, for example, can prepare dinner in the kitchen while chatting with his son sitting in the library below.

"For us, there is no downside to this interconnectedness," he says, "except, perhaps, for the couple of months during the COVID-19 lockdown when we rented our son a drum kit." 

Biking and kayaking adventures aside, Rick tends to move up through the house over the course of a day, eventually escaping into the leafy seclusion of the tree canopy. Mornings are spent on the ground floor, where Rick and Maggie have breakfast with their son and take coffee into the library. The room’s floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors provide sunshine as well as a view of the street, while the low-walled front porch prevents too much exposure. 

Before settling down in Toronto, the couple had done several long bike tours, including one from Alaska to the southern tip of Chile. The library features the spoils of these journeys: a framed Quechua textile from a market in Bolivia, clay bowls from the Amazon basin, a singing bowl from Tibet, sand from Wadi Rum, and a gilded Budha from Myanmar. 

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From the library, Rick moves up past the kitchen, its floor a combination of honed and cleft slate, to spend the heart of the day in the heart of the house: his studio. 

While a home office is typically kept out of sight behind a closed door, Rick chose to place his studio in the very center of the home, overlooking the light well. "It enjoys a tremendous feeling of vertical space," he says, "and receives wonderful light, but because it is in the middle of the house, it’s also very quiet and peaceful with no direct views to the street or other distractions. The only exterior views are through the skylights, of clouds moving overhead, which is calming and meditative." 

In the evenings, the family retreats up into the third-floor living room, an "urbanized version of a cabin in the woods" with a wood-burning stove and a sloping, cedar-plank ceiling that connects a view of the trees on one side, and a wide expanse of sky on the other. The heat from the stove releases the unfinished cedar’s natural aromatic properties.

For his son’s small bedroom, Rick designed a loft bed, which frees up floor space and "functions as a catalyst for imaginative play." He was somewhat concerned that his son would want to sleep in a "real bed" down the road, but a friend’s teenage son’s proclamation—"I want that bed!"—assuaged that worry.

The home’s interior has a purposefully natural flow toward outdoor spaces, so morning coffee in the living room transitions into coffee on the porch, where they can greet neighbors and kids walking to school. The pandemic has made the front porch "more vital than ever," says Rick. "The porch is a unique space where one is simultaneously at home and casually engaged in the goings-on of the city."

Likewise, evenings in the living room often become evenings on the roof deck spent star-gazing. "Saturn is the absolute showstopper," says Rick of the view through their telescope. "On a clear night you can see its rings and the shadow they cast over the planet."

The backyard is used most in autumn and early winter, when the fire pit is lit and the trees are emblazoned with color.

While working on Bellwoods Lodge, Rick launched his own architecture firm, Great Lakes Studio, where he concentrates on work that is "highly personal" for his clients.

"I like working closely with families, understanding their routines and rituals—what they like to do together, what they value, and responding with a design that is perfectly tailored just for them," he explains. "The Bellwoods Lodge supports and enhances the way we love to live, which is exactly what a home ought to be."  

Related Reading:

How an Architect Couple Built Their Dream Home in Toronto’s Tight Housing Market

A Narrow Victorian in Toronto Gets a Mullet Makeover

Project Credits: 

Project Design: Rick Galezowski, OAA, MRAIC & Maggie Bennedsen

Architect of Record: Rick Galezowski, OAA, MRAIC / Great Lake Studio /@greatlakestudio

 Construction: Catalyst Design Build / @catalystdesignbuild

Structural Engineer:  Blackwell 

Landscape Design: Great Lake Studio

Lighting Design: Great Lake Studio

Interior Design:  Great Lake Studio

Cabinetry Design:  Gibson Greenwood / @gibsongreenwood 

Photography:  Tom Arban  /@tomarbanphotography

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