By Alex Bozikovic
Photo by Ben Rahn and Naomi Finlay
“When we tell people where we live,” says Anda Kubis, “they always say the same thing: Oh, it’s that house.” Yes, the home that Kubis shares with her husband, Dean Martin, is an oddity of sorts. You may have seen it: a two-storey wall of windows just visible through the trees that rise above Mimico Creek, as you head north on Royal York Road. The split-level bungalow with its zig-zagging sloped roof is smaller and cooler than its neighbours.
When the house, designed in 1955 by British-born architect Basil Capes, went up for sale in 2007, architecture buffs Kubis and Martin – who lived nearby – just had to take a look. They fell for it hard. Its exceptional ravine site was a draw, and while others might have torn it down to build anew, the couple loved everything about it: its glam carport, cedar-panelled ceiling, exposed steel roofbeams and soaring windows. “All of our homes have had a mid-century feel,” Kubis says. “That’s part of our roots. My father was a furniture designer from Eastern Europe, working in the modernist tradition. So, in a sense, we were the ideal people to own this place.”
After living in the house for a year, Kubis, a painter and department chair at OCADU, and Martin, a creative director in advertising, called in Levitt Goodman Architects to update the house. The firm drew up plans for a major addition, but it was pricey and would have destroyed too much of the house’s character. “We decided to be much more modest, and the result suits us perfectly,” Martin says.
The main entrance was moved from the front of the house to the side, so guests now enter through the carport, immersing themselves in mid-century style even before they reach the door. And the main floor was gutted: down came the walls separating the back of the house (which once housed two small bedrooms) from the living space at the front. The architects kept the original brick fireplace, which now divides the cedar-roofed living room from a new, all-white and wood kitchen. The original cramped kitchen, to one side of the living room, is now a study packed with paintings, photos and books. In a bold move, the architects transformed the garage at the back of the lot – a slightly clumsy 1970s addition – into living space, linking it to the house with a small addition. The garage is now a spacious master suite with French doors opening to a tree-covered back patio. Downstairs, a bedroom was updated for the couple’s eight-year-old son, and a storage room was turned into a painting studio. And the rec room enjoys a leafy ravine view, now that an old deck has been pulled off the back of the building. The tightly planned home feels much larger than its 242 square metres.
LGA partner Janna Levitt sees the house as a Toronto version of California’s Case Study houses – an example of modernist domestic design for real people. “That way of living, when it was well executed, is still relevant,” she says. “Natural light, open space, an open plan, natural materials – it works.” And it works even better now.