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A Streamlined Home Gets Ahead of the Curve

With Flow House, architect Heather Dubbeldam radically rethinks a narrow Victorian semi to be more open and roomy

By Simon Lewsen
Photography by Riley Snelling

In 2007, a ceramicist and her husband, an entrepreneur in the travel industry, purchased a tired Victorian semi in the South Annex. The rooms were dark and poky, the floorboards cracked, the framing rotting, and (for lack of a better option) one of the three kids had to make do with a bedroom barely larger than a walk-in closet. The family also had an eclectic collection of furniture and tchotchkes – too much for an already-cramped space. “It was cluttered, like a cabinet of curiosities,” says the owner.

Flow House by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design
The kitchen is a contrast of sleek oak and white cabinets paired with classic marble apron sink and brass faucets. The owner’s pottery animates display areas throughout the house.

The couple hired Heather Dubbeldam, principal of Dubbeldam Architecture + Design, to streamline and open up the space (Flow House). She added 440 square feet to the back, enlarging the kitchen and creating enough space for three kids’ bedrooms on the second floor. For the principal bedroom (accompanied by a generous walk-in closet and ensuite), she added a whole new level: a third-floor box tucked discreetly behind the front-facing gable. 

Flow House by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design
The kitchen has sleek finishes – Caesarstone countertops and a marble sink – offset with tactile accents like tarnished brass faucets and hand-moulded pendants. An arched passageway integrates a bar and powder room.

The property (Flow House) is narrow, so while Dubbeldam could expand the home, she couldn’t possibly widen it. Instead, she found ways to make it feel roomier. A skylight above the stairwell and a new side window bring sunlight deep into the interior. Light finishes – white oak floors and white walls – brighten the rooms, and various curvilinear features, such as the arched passageway that introduces a bar and powder room between the living–dining area and kitchen, refract light at odd angles to create a sense of variation and dynamism.

Flow House by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design
The dining room table, custom design by Dubbeldam, was fabricated by Commute Home. The view through the interstitial arched bar area leads to the kitchen and floor to ceiling glass door beyond.

Perhaps the most radical element is the sculptural stairway, which twists and winds like a nautilus shell. This design was born partly of necessity (“Had the stairway been orthogonal,” says Dubbeldam, “it wouldn’t have fit in such a constricted space”), but it is also a whimsical reference to the owner’s sculptural vocation. 

This juxtaposition of practicality and whimsy is apparent everywhere. “Throughout the home, there’s a contrast between smoothness and texture, blandness and character, narrowness and openness,” says Dubbeldam. “It creates a sense of tension and release.”

Flow House by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design
A skylight installed above the staircase was one of several steps taken to make the narrow property feel more expansive.

In the kitchen sits one of the owners’ ceramic pieces: a double-handled bowl, like a teacup for giants. It could be used to hold flowers or fruit, but discussions of utility are, ultimately, beside the point. “Function is good,” says the owner, “but function can get in the way of fun.” DUBBELDAM.CA

Flow House by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design
The design of the rear garden continues the sense of compression and expansion, achieved through planters and defined areas for dining, lounging and play. The cladding comprised of grey-toned cladding panels is a subtle backdrop to the warm brick pavers and lush planting. Flow House backyard view, windows and doors by Bauhaus – Dubbeldam Architecture + Design

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