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A Forest Hill Home With a Mediterranean Layout

Form and function come full circle in this family home by Kohn Shnier architects

By Will Jones
Photography by Naomi Finlay and Tom Arban

A distinctly modern three-bedroom house in Forest Hill stands out from its neighbours in more ways than one. In stark contrast to its pitched-roof counterparts with their centre-hall plans – dining room and kitchen on one side of the hall, living room on the other – this home has a Mediterranean layout. When you open the front door, you can see all the way out to the garden.

Unlike its more traditional neighbours, the new flat-roofed home sports such modern features as iron-spot brick and grey-tinted windows. Photo by Tom Arban.

Iron-spot bricks and tinted glazing present an austere face to the street. Step inside, though, and you’ll find the home is filled with light. Designed to fulfill the dreams of a semi-retired couple, it’s not exactly an empty nest. The house regularly accommodates visiting children and grandchildren.

A vertical oak screen separates the dining room and foyer. Philippe Starck chairs from Italinteriors and Flos pendant from Quasi Modo. Photo by Tom Arban.
The first-floor washroom is defined by a curved ceiling and floor, as well as a red wall. Clear glass surrounding the mirror provides a peek outside. Photo by Tom Arban.

To the right of the foyer is a vibrant red wall of back-painted glass that runs the entire height and length of the house. The main floor is open-concept: a short flight of steps leads from the entry to the dining area and kitchen. The living space can be accessed from two short runs of stairs on either side of the enormous kitchen counter overlooking it. From here, a massive sliding glass door leads to a deck and an infinity pool bordered in black porcelain tiles.

One of the interior’s most dramatic features is a red, back-painted glass wall that runs the entire height and length of the home. Photo by Tom Arban.

Linking the house’s three levels, the red glass wall turns the stairs from object into experience. Its reflective qualities capture glimpses of the outdoors, while changes in daylight cast pink hues onto the white walls. “It gives you something different every time,” says architect John Shnier of Kohn Shnier, who designed the home.

At the top of the stairs is a “treasure wall” and an office that can disappear behind a sliding door. Photo by Tom Arban.

The same is true for the rest of the house. From the upstairs landing, the second floor can be circumnavigated in two directions. Head left and you’ll come to the guest rooms; go right, past a concealed office, and you’ll come to the master bedroom, which overlooks the pool. On the far side of the room, the path continues. Round the corner and you’ll find a walk-in closet, master bath and a few short steps that lead to a second office. From there, a hallway completes the circuit, taking you past the guest rooms at the front of the house and back to where you started: the main staircase and the red wall.

Shnier doesn’t believe in dead ends, which explains the circuitous layout of the second floor. “Doubling the design experience,” he calls it. “Exceed expectations by creating things that couldn’t have been predicted.”

A huge, sliding glass door separates the living space from the deck. The infinity pool with its inset hot tub was built on-site by Bonavista. Photo by Tom Arban.

“Ask someone what they want in a house,” he says, “and they’ll most likely give you a list of rooms.” Shnier had his clients write a short narrative describing a typical morning in their household, their relationship with their children, how they want to spend the rest of their lives. “I gleaned a lot from their text,” says the architect. “This drove a design that seeks to constantly surprise and delight; an architecture that has impact but also a lasting appeal that they will never tire of.”

Originally published in our Fall 2011 issue as Multiple Manoeuvres.