DUBBELDAM architecture + design made this Victorian house in Toronto bigger and more energy-efficient. In architecture, as in life, you can often kill two birds with one stone. DUBBELDAM architecture + design demonstrated that recently when tasked with remodeling a 1,850-square-foot Victorian house that was not only dark and cramped, but also a major energy drainer. How to make the house breathe easier and more sustainably? The firm overhauled the floor plan in a way that smartly opens up the space, introducing better lighting and passive ventilation without increasing square footage.
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“Sustainability is very important to us,” lead architect Heather Dubbeldam says. “It is easy to design with passive systems, to use passive sustainable principles to influence the design and layout of the house.” Her team reduced the need for air conditioning and artificial lighting through carefully positioned doors and windows that draw in natural light and breeze. New insulation, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and low-energy lighting also minimize the homeowners’ dependence on utilities.
The architects created the illusion of more space by opening up the floor plan, repositioning the staircase and introducing sight lines to the large windows on the south side. Recurring black accents—from the dining room’s Serge Mouille light fixture to its tall bookcases—contrast the brightness of the crisp white walls. Walnut floors and lighter wood furniture like the Klaus Willhelm table and Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs cozy up the home, while colorful objects animate it. “We strongly believe that people do not need more space, they just need better-designed space,” Dubbeldam says.
The architects knocked out the kitchen’s back wall, where a single window had formerly let in a miniscule amount of light, and installed sliding glass doors instead. A soothing charcoal accent wall anchors the bright white cabinetry and Corian countertops, while pendant lights by Alvar Aalto hang above an oak island. The fixtures are from KWC, Dornbracht, and Catalano.
“The original stairs were not lined up vertically, which took up much of the internal space,” Dubbeldam explains. The architect replaced them with black walnut wood risers that seem to float from the basement to the third floor, allowing light to spill into the house’s once-dark interior.
Directly at the top of the stairs on the third story, oversized sliding glass doors lead out to a sunny roof deck. To the left, an ensuite bathroom is furnished with Duravit and Wetstyle fixtures. “It has tiny white tumbled marble mosaic tiles, which are very soft underfoot,” Dubbeldam says.
Two Harry Bertoia-designed chairs sit on the main third story deck, which includes a hidden green roof that absorbs rainwater, cools the upper floors, and purifies the air. “It’s a nice little oasis on the roof, with plants that bloom at different times of year. The owners love spending time up there,” Dubbeldam says.
“I love the master bedroom, with the geometry of the white-painted, angled roof lines and the varying shadows that this creates,” Dubbeldam says. The naturally lit space features built-in shelves and a floating desk that overlooks the street below through a tiny window. An aluminum Eames task chair and a Serge Mouille wall light adorn the space.
The team carried the concept of contrast through the exterior, juxtaposing the home’s 125-year-old red brick façade with vertical, black-stained cedar cladding at the back. “We wanted to celebrate the old alongside the new,” Dubbeldam says. Since the house is so well insulated, the extra heat that dark exteriors typically draw doesn’t penetrate beyond the boards’ surface.