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A Forest Hill Home Gets Renoed to the Nines

Reigo & Bauer finds harmony with high-contrast architectures, generous curves and coyly remixed Victorian detailing

By Alexandra Caufin
Photography by Doublespace Photography

The timelessness of a tuxedo. It’s the visual that Merike Bauer of Reigo & Bauer had in mind while reimagining Forest Hill House, a grey-stoned Midtown estate. As it was one of the first homes built in the neighbourhood, Bauer and her clients agreed that a tear-down wasn’t an option. But after decades of hodgepodge renovations, the 650-square-metre home was in dire need of holistic intervention.

The central spiral staircase was made by Stockridge Construction and consists of laminated layers of curved plywood and steel rods. It is blanketed with black Object carpeting available through Are & Be.

Unity begins with Bauer’s stunning sculptural staircase, which exiles a dark foyer and allows light to pour in from west-facing windows. The gesture anchors Bauer’s massive reconfiguration of the main floor, in which a two-car garage replaces redundant formal dining, and a warren of rooms was cleared to become a sprawling open-concept kitchen, dining and sunken living room – generous spaces in which the owners’ large extended family could happily gather.

Glass and steel sliding doors (made by Filo Timo) divide the dining room and sunken living room. Here, the palette is black and white with driftwood accents. Smoked oak flooring from Moncer; sofa from Kiosk.

A sharp black and white palette dominates these areas, first established by the statuesque, three-storey spiral. Dark window and door frames and thick black oak thresholds draw the eye to the home’s essential lines, bringing dramatic ceiling slopes and well-established dimensions straight into the spotlight.

A generous bay window in the living room overlooks the new stepped landscaping in the backyard. Black marble surrounds the wood-burning fireplace, whose plaster over-mantle slips behind the drywall of the adjoining wall. Coffee table from Klaus; wall-hung television by Samsung; rug from Are & Be.

To balance this dichromatic starkness, Bauer filled the rooms with velvety furnishings and rounded forms that hearken to the Fibonacci-like staircase. “Nothing has structural corners,” she explains. “Everything is soft, things you can touch and feel.”

The kitchen features HanStone Quartz surfaces and powder-coated steel backsplash. Eero Saarinen Executive chairs by Knoll surround the dining table. Above, an Apparatus Studio chandelier from Hollace Cluny.

To tailor this tuxedo, the firm worked with long-time collaborator Michael Amantea of Amantea Architects for intensive integrated millwork that creates poetic flow between spaces. Transforming a liminal gap between kitchen and living room, Amantea and Bauer inserted a memorable stone divider – one part bench, one part wet bar. Wide stairs lead to the sunken seating area and trace seamlessly toward an angled marble fireplace. You won’t find any overlooked joints here; the various materials twist and turn in the space, fusing in moments of connection as if grown together.

A strategically placed arched mirror shares views of the front and back of the house with diners. Mirror and Gubi chairs from Hollace Cluny; table by More; bench by Arper.

Meanwhile, to situate the kitchen amid the main floor’s gallery-like demeanour, the designers overturn expectations, using pewter-toned driftwood to clad the walls, reserving white for the main cabinetry. Head-on, the materials offer an illusory interplay of depth, fusion and contrast.

An extended sequence of wide platforms by Amantea Architects clarifies the shift from ipê dining terrace to limestone patio to lawn and pool below. Plantings by Tina McMullen.

For a house defined by bold architectures, details become an integral part of Bauer’s design strategy. Shadow-play is everywhere, from powder-coated grips on kitchen cabinets to illusion-framed mirrors. Transposed Shaker-style doors and angled wall planes reinterpret the home’s Victorian past in a modern context.

Not shy of bold swaths of colour, Reigo & Bauer dressed the ground floor powder room in black and shades of mauve. Sink by Catalano; wallpaper by Area Environments; wall accessories by Miniforms.

Such moments fuse the polish of a perfectly tailored tuxedo with any home’s most basic necessity: comfort. Detailing that poses, in Bauer’s own words, an important question: is there a modernism for a broader public? In tracing where the mode can meet traditional counterpoints, Bauer proves just that by transforming austere into familiar, stark into wonderfully livable. REIGOANDBAUER.COM; AMARCHITECTS.CA