When she found the home, it was a de facto kennel, but a thorough redesign brought it back to life
Brenda Izen, principal of her eponymous architecture firm, got into the profession earlier than most. As a child, she regularly visited job sites with her grandfather, an architect, who taught her how to read drawings and visualize the shape and scope of built forms. Perhaps more importantly, though, he engendered a lifelong love of the trade which, with her all-women team and role as an Ontario Association of Architects mentor, she’s working to make more equitable. Amongst her projects is her own home – dubbed House 66 – a renovated postwar Ledbury Park bungalow that she’s adapted to suit living and working. Let’s take a look:
Designlines: Who lives with you?
Brenda Izen: I live with my husband, Max, and our three children, ages nine, seven and five.
Designlines: What part of town is your home located in and how long have you lived there?
Brenda Izen: We live in what was formerly a divided, postwar bungalow near Bathurst and Lawrence. We purchased the house in early 2014 from a dog-walker who boarded dogs in the house. It was quite run down but checked all of my boxes: it has a perfectly square ground floor plan and an existing forced-air system on a 40-foot lot. It was a diamond in the rough. Pre-pandemic, our house served us as a home base with a revolving door – there was always somebody coming, going, yelling or laughing. We have a tiny home office for paying bills or writing a quick email, but both my husband and I really valued our work-life separation and rarely worked from the house.
Designlines: Have you done any work to the home since moving in?
Brenda Izen: Working with the existing foundation and exterior walls, we deconstructed boundaries in favour of an open floor plan that emphasizes connectivity and flexibility. Millwork creates a visual distinction between rooms while providing the illusion of spaciousness – it’s one of the main design concepts of the home.
Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of the home?
Brenda Izen: I love how bright the house is. We increased opening sizes and invested in really large windows as well as a skylight over the open stairs. We kept the material palette very minimal, repeating the same three materials throughout the entire house. We also have a massive sectional that’s a respite for all of us.
Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic, or how did it serve you differently?
Brenda Izen: It’s an ongoing evolution. Between our demanding jobs and virtual school, we now have five people working out of our open-concept space, all day. I’m now getting material samples delivered to the house and have had to make space for a small materials library. We had to rearrange our kids’ bedrooms and purchase new furniture in order to accommodate desks, and we turned our main basement room into a working space. We also converted our guest bedroom into a home gym and built a skating rink in our backyard so the boys can maintain their hockey skills.
Designlines: Moving forward, are there further changes you would like to make to your living environment?
Brenda Izen: I’ve drawn up plans for extending our basement into the backyard. The roof of this addition would be a large deck at ground floor level, where we can expand our outdoor space to include outdoor living and dining areas. The new basement area would also give us a space with a higher ceiling for a gym and indoor hockey, and additional storage for my material samples.
Designlines: Creativity and business wise, what strides were you able to make during the enforced time off? And what about personally?
Brenda Izen: Personally, we decided to watch all the Avengers movies, as a family, in order of release from beginning to end. We have a weekly movie night and only have Endgame remaining. We’re going to watch the entire Harry Potter series next.
Professionally, I’ve had to make a psychological shift to compartmentalize our goals into things that are in and out of our control. People are moving out of the city in droves, and our portfolio is now an equal mix of urban and rural projects. The site conditions, building science and systems are completely different for rural homes, so we’re spending a lot of time learning about and optimizing for this new set of parameters. The opportunity to learn and expand our knowledge and practices has been a silver lining of the pandemic.