Great Wide Open
Clearing a dingy rooming house for a bright family space
Photography by Naomi Finlay and Scott Norsworthy
Dylan Horvath used to walk down St. Clarens Avenue en route to the grocery store. He loved the eclectic Brockton neighbourhood – the mom-and-pops, the local school, the older homes in various stages of repair or disrepair. The director of Cortex Design Inc., a product design firm, Horvath regularly draws up plans for everything from keyboards to medical equipment and office furniture; he knows good form when he sees it. So when a decrepit, east-facing rooming house with good bones came up for sale in 2009, he moved in with his wife, Sunshine, and their children. Eager to reveal those bones, Horvath tore out the walls that divided the main floor into small, useless spaces. Once he’d reached the cross-trussed rafters and exposed brick wall, however, he and Sunshine knew it was time to enlist help.
At his kids’ school, Horvath met Wanda Ely, an architect who had recently launched her own studio after working with major firms for years. “Is that your house on Argyle Street?” he asked, guessing that hers was the one nearby with the modernist cube affixed to its flat roof. After touring her open concept suite with a walkout deck, he knew he’d found the person to “bring my ideas to life.”
Topping his wish list were clean lines, timeless style and (with three kids) durability. Ely recalls how he had manhandled everything from hinges and doorknobs to flooring “like a handshake. If it was limp, it had to go.” His insistence on sturdiness inspired her to source commercial-grade products. The result: a fun, sophisticated, withstand-the-test-of-time family home.
In the entranceway, a washable marble mosaic runs up one wall and across the ceiling. Three colourful reclaimed metal-mesh lockers, embedded in a slick plywood storage unit, circumvent the typical front hall coat-boot-and-backpack jumble. A mall-style metal grate catches dirt and water with its hidden pan. From here, the entire oiled white oak main floor is on view: from the living room and its opaque, tilt-and-turn window to the dining room with its perfectly parallel electrical conduits – all the way to the kitchen.
“I wanted the kitchen to resemble a machine,” says Horvath. Stainless steel clads its countertops, and appliances and storage areas are safely compartmentalized, with plenty of kid space between them and the twin oversized glass doors leading to the back. Another wraparound, custom clad and reconfigured IKEA unit connects to the dining area. Perfectly kitty-corner, the two systems hide the home’s electrical and storage nerve centres.
In the family bathroom at the top of the stairs, another tilt-and-turn window directs airflow, while Edison light fixtures echo those in the front hall, and porcelain tiling replicates wood grain downstairs. Here Ely contained a stacked washer and dryer in a cupboard and installed a sink long enough for the kids to brush their teeth together. Outside, blueprint-blue chalkboard paint coats one wall in the family room – a nod to Horvath’s and Ely’s designer beginnings. Perhaps the duo can use it to start plotting Phase Two – remodelling the second-floor master bedroom and third-floor kids’ room – of this intriguing reno. WANDAELYARCHITECT.COM