On the sleek, white countertop sits a shallow, blue-and-white china bowl. At some point in its history, the bowl was dropped, which caused it to break into three pieces. Using the centuries-old Japanese technique of kintsugi, which translates to “golden repair,” the bowl was joined back together with gold-powdered lacquer; fractures now highlighted rather than disguised, the bowl, now even more beautiful, is ready for a second life.
“It’s kind of fitting for this place,” architect Timothy Mitanidis of Creative Union Network says with a laugh, “because it was pretty damaged when we started.”
The place in question may have started life as a stable – the building had what seemed to be a hayloft and is certainly barn-like in appearance – and Little Portugal neighbours remember a time when it was some sort of workshop, but when owner Stéphane Monnet set up his graphic design firm, Monnet Design, in the main building some years ago, the diminutive, 300-square-foot laneway building was simply an automobile garage.
A garage so “out of plumb,” says Mr. Mitanidis, he and life/design partner Claudia Bader had to thicken the walls to transform what was, essentially, an outbuilding into a sexy pied-à-terre for Mr. Monnet when his business trips to the Netherlands became so frequent he decided to take up residence there.
Of course it wasn’t just the walls that needed attention. The old garage slab had to go in order to get an in-floor heating system installed. Then, the new concrete was polished to achieve a terrazzo-like finish.
Under the stairs, this floor was dropped to create enough headroom for commode-sitters in what Mr. Mitanidis calls the “Dutch Special” bathroom. In addition, width was gained by mimicking the staircase-shape with medium-density fibreboard (MDF) cut on a CNC machine; this transformed what would’ve been a two-piece into a full bathroom with shower, sink cabinet and toilet. To conserve even more space, Creative Union used a wall-hung toilet, since the tank is hidden behind drywall. And a canary-yellow epoxy floor added the necessary design flourish.
And about that MDF: used on the stair wall and the kitchen wall, the precise cuts and beveled edges enabled the team to create an almost moulded, “monolithic” look; indeed, bathroom door, electrical panel and cupboard door are just thin outlines in a sea of creamy-white, the AC and energy recovery ventilation vents just Kubrick-esque slots where HAL 9000 may or may not be hiding. “It’s similar to drywall,” Mr. Mitanidis says. “You can pin it, screw it, add a little bit of wood-filler and then create a nice, smooth surface again. … I think that’s a big plus [and] you couldn’t do it with other types of wood paneling.”
Add an oversized (and asymmetrical) sliding door where the garage door used to be, a mostly glass entry door and a big window over the kitchen sink – all made by Canadian manufacturer Loewen – and the bright, white, airy room seems much larger than it is.
Since the laneway home’s occupancy will be sporadic, the short kitchen counter (made of Corian) features a two-burner cooktop, and there is no oven. “The real objective here was to keep it as simple as possible,” Mr. Mitanidis says. “The way that it’s intended to be used is not a full-on residence; it’s a little bit more like a hotel suite that’s furnished the way you like.”
It helps, too, that Mr. Monnet has chosen clean-lined, small-scaled, modernist classics to furnish the room, and populated the walls with simple graphic- and typography-themed artwork rather than with rich, complex paintings (the Expo 67 poster tugs at this author’s heartstrings).
On working with such a design-oriented client, Ms. Bader says: “I find they have a very keen eye for composition and a meticulous attention for detail. This gives us a great opportunity to explore those same values in our own work, and strive to create a space that reflects our client’s sensibilities.”
Up the stairs, the bedroom enjoys generous headroom offered by the original peaked ceiling, but made roomier by replacing the thick wooden collar ties with slim metal rods. Since the boiler for the radiant floor is located in the main building, only a small closet for tubing and piping is necessary. By turning the stair guard into a small wardrobe/dresser, and by using voids in the thick walls to create bedside lighting and shelving nooks, every square inch has been utilized.
The overall effect is a compact, efficient, and very Euro-sexy apartment that suits the jet-setting ways of a designer on-the-go. Since Germany-born Ms. Bader and Mr. Mitanidis both studied and worked in Europe, it’s not surprising that they achieved that look.
Outside, however, the building continues to look non-Euro, Toronto laneway, with its board-and-batten cladding repaired only where necessary, and the original dormer still in place. Interestingly, because the building didn’t meet the city’s new laneway guidelines – it sits too close to the main house for one thing – Creative Union did visit the city’s committee of adjustment to fight for its retention. “Part of the argument was: ‘We have this beautiful old barn that’s been in the neighbourhood for years and years, so we don’t want to demolish it to build this laneway suite,’” Mr. Mitanidis says, “and they thought that made a lot of sense in preserving the character of the neighbourhood [since] everyone knows it, it’s a little guy but it’s unique enough.”
And now, with sags propped up and cracks repaired with gold – metaphorically speaking, that is – this “little guy” stands ready for a long second life.
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