For a number of years, the small family residing in a coveted, West End Victorian in Toronto was content with their home. Over time, though, they began to crave modern, fluid, light-drenched living spaces, a departure from the dark confines of their more-than-a-century-old house. Through an innovative extension, local architecture firm Williamson Williamson made it possible, allowing them to simultaneously revel in freeing, open layouts and appreciate the abode’s rich heritage.
"What they found out living in a skinny Toronto Victorian is that there were never enough rooms for what they needed to do," says principal Betsy Williamson. "We didn’t give them extra space by adding a huge room on each floor. We took the existing spaces on the back of the house and added a bit of square footage to each one and then transformed them for a contemporary feeling."
Most often, additions to the back of Victorians are relegated to the lower level. Williamson Williamson did enlarge the 655-square-foot ground floor by 126 square feet in the form of a family room which looks onto the kitchen and offers direct access to a deck just beyond. But the 612-square-foot upstairs was also plumped up by 152 square feet, and that fully glazed room strikingly projects over the solid base below. From behind there is a sense that the additions, both wrapped simply in gray stucco, are at once grounded and floating.
A work-at-home graphic designer, the father typically decamped to a bedroom during business hours. Now he heads to a proper office on the reimagined upper level, which also serves as an exercise studio for the fitness-conscious couple, starring a Pilates Springboard.
"They also wanted a big, free space so that their daughter could sprawl out on the floor and play. Behind a wall is a lower pull-out couch area. That way the father can still work at his desk and not feel like he's in the guest room," points out Williamson.
During the year-and-a-half of construction, the family was adamant about staying put, so Williamson Williamson built a frame wall and completely sealed off the original part of the home from the in-progress portion. By building from the back, the family was displaced only when it was time to attach the two realms.
Williamson Williamson ensured there was tremendous synergy between the two halves. Red oak, common throughout Victorian houses in Toronto, was replicated to maintain continuity, just as the family’s impressive collection of furniture and art also created a common thread.
What truly strengthens the relationship between the two spheres is the second-floor ceiling, faceted to reflect light. It rises and culminates in a 14-foot-tall glazed window "that connects back to the Victorian roof profile," points out Williamson, while letting in heady views of Stanley Park and abundant treetops. "Right where we connected the new piece back to the original house, we carved in two skylights on the second floor and one on the ground floor. Having those skylights is critical because they capture the southern and western sun. It’s not just the morning light through the window. Light coming from different ways all through the day adds so much."
In traditional Victorians, adds Williamson, the living room, dining room, and kitchen are all compartmentalized. With this extension, the new spaces "are un-programmed and flexible, with high ceilings and lots of glass. The lower level is cozy and the upstairs is contemplative because of the sky. It’s something different for a Victorian."
Builder/General Contractor: Derek Nicholson
Structural Engineer: Blackwell
Cabinetry Design/Installation: BLWD
Other: Tradewood Windows & Doors
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