/Get Inspired/Spaces

This Kohn Shnier Split-Level is Designed to Move You

The home isn’t immediately intuitive, but it’s not meant to be

By Gregory Furgala
Photography by Doublespace Photography

Maximizing resale is often a key consideration in any reno. And why not? For most of us, homes aren’t just places to live; they’re investments and nest eggs. So when a reno is being planned, careful attention is paid to au courant features like double-height ceilings, expansive open floor plans and abundant natural light. Spaces are consolidated and made more efficient. The process makes for a comfortable, intuitive home and adds value to boot.

Kohn Shnier Architects - split level house
The large translucent window, by Alumilex, creates a lantern-like effect that leads people up the driveway to the concealed front door that’s to the right of the cut granite slab (from York Fabrica). The addition above the brick massing contains the master bedroom, while blackened lumber cladding provides some distinctive curb appeal.

John Shnier, co-principal of Kohn Shnier Architects, doesn’t like to think in terms of resale. Luckily, his client, also an architect, wanted a design-forward forever home for herself and her two kids. So instead of renovating for a future listing, Shnier renovated for one family’s present and future, transforming the 1960s split-level into a meandering, gallery-like space that invites residents and guests alike to explore.

Kohn Shnier Architects - split level house
The millwork, built by The Wooden Tradition, is meant to guide movement and views, as well as contrast with the material and colour palette. Carrara marble tile is from Stone Tile

The distinct criteria is apparent from the street. In a neighbourhood whose postwar bungalows are being replaced with suburban chateaux, Wrap House, as it’s called, stands out for its humble scale, contemporary lines and unconventional layout – the latter of which lends the home its unique sense of play and movement, and which Shnier accentuated throughout. It starts from first approach. The front door is concealed from the street, with a translucent window, cut marble slab and terraced steps signalling its location. Guests turn toward the door and, upon entering, turn again. Then, after a glimpse straight through the home toward the backyard (and a way through, if desired), turn again down a corridor. Mirrored pivot doors conceal a powder room and utility closet at its end, at which point – you guessed it – another turn. “It’s a transformative experience,” says Shnier, adding, “I’m a big fan of delayed gratification.”

Kohn Shnier Architects - split level house
This corridor, a hairpin turn from the foyer, draws out the entry sequence. The floor-to-ceiling mirrors are actually pivot doors that hide a powder room and utility closet, both marked off by polished black marble.

The winding journey, which ends in the kitchen and dining space, is an establishing sequence for the rest of the home. The half-flights of stairs, non-linear millwork and carefully calibrated interior views subtly prompt guests to explore the home’s seven split levels. A half storey down from the kitchen, a music room with a TV room just visible behind it; a half storey up, a corridor leads to the bedrooms and master suite. For new guests, there’s a sense of discovery; for the owners and regular guests, familiarity. The bedroom corridor, a nominally private space, is even calibrated to lull wanderers. “If I put art on those walls, it’s not just decoration. It’s a kind of gallery,” says Shnier. “It pushes the envelope of what’s private and what’s public.”

Kohn Shnier Architects - split level house
A view of the kitchen from the entryway corridor. The kitchen island to the right is enclosed by a high Carrara marble cowl. To the left, staircases hint at the home’s multiple levels. The floors are white oak and finished to retain a natural appearance.

Achieving a sense of movement wasn’t Shnier’s only goal. The split levels also provide a fluctuating sense of intimacy and connection – nobody’s far, but there’s still room for oneself. And despite his aversion to resale-friendly features, Shnier isn’t arbitrarily opposed to them, either. A long, narrow light well above the dining table modulates natural light in the space, while high end materials, including Carrara marble and white oak flooring, are surely listing-worthy. Despite the home’s white walls and austere material and colour palette, there’s a tempering informality. This isn’t a museum piece.

Kohn Shnier Architects - split level house
The music room, complete with baby grand piano, is situated a half level below the kitchen. With its central placement, music filters through the home whenever the kids play.

Instead, the home nurtures its residents and entertains guests. It’s an active, playful home that will age, but never get old. Whatever features it has or doesn’t, that’s invaluable.


Categories: Spaces

You may also like