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The Playful Plywood House

Canalside Studio reimagines a builder-finished family home as a delightful, whimsical space

By Christy Wright
Photography by Kenneth Wong

Plywood, that most humble of materials, is often relegated to out-of-the-spotlight supporting roles in terms of design (think sub-floors, exterior wall sheathing, roof linings), but in this cute-as-can-be home, it takes a star turn. “The choice of plywood came very naturally and early in the planning,” says architect Etain Ho who founded Canalside Studio with architect Francis Lam. “We wanted a material that would give warmth to the space and create interesting shapes, while being on budget for the young couple who lives here.” The shapes conceived by Ho and Lam, along with the choice of maple plywood, conjure an animated playfulness in Plywood House that’s in step with the twenty-something owners’ love of jigsaw puzzles and Jenga, as well as their plans to start a family – it’s easy to imagine little ones colouring and piling up building blocks just out of frame.

Budget-friendly hard maple plywood is used to create various multi-functional storage and seating units.

A tight budget dictated that the renovation of the two-storey, 1,880-square-foot house in Richmond Hill focus on just 730 square feet of premium space: the entryway and staircase, the kitchen and a dedicated playroom. “Rather than re-doing the entire house, we put all of the resources on these ground-floor areas for maximum impact,” says Lam.

Plywood House
In the foyer, closed storage was a priority. Throughout, the studio used interesting shapes to great effect.

In Plywood House’s entrance, a triumphant mix of sleek lines and warm, cozy vibes, delights with an angular portal that mimics the shape of a roof. A set of staggered, black-fronted cabinets offers hidden integrated storage. “We wanted the tall-to-short cascading design of the cabinets to resemble a family welcoming you as you entered,” says Ho. “The contrasting black keeps the scheme from feeling too childish.”

Plywood House
The studio worked with woodworker Matthew Van Slutyman, who fabricated the unique millwork.

Black touches continue in the kitchen where pendant lights, appliances and a laminate veneer on the built-in fridge add dimension to the otherwise pale backdrop. “We extended the plywood from floor to ceiling to make the kitchen seem taller and treated the windows as part of the cabinetry for an effect that hugs the room,” says Ho. The capsule-shaped island, which features a base of movable storage trolleys, tightens the aesthetic by echoing the cabinets’ curved, cut-out pulls and rounded tops.

Arched wood details are peppered throughout the home, muted by the plywood’s softness to create a gentle visual effect.

In the playroom, vertically cut plywood slats with chamfered edges line the walls and recast a once generic space as a never-ending fun zone with a healthy dose of hygge. “We very much like the playroom’s coziness,” says Lam. “It was a favourite spot for gathering and games during the pandemic lockdown.”

Plywood House
Plywood timber slats are used in the playroom to resemble a log cabin interior. The owners love this space to build puzzles.

Throughout Plywood House, colourful home furnishings and lighting, chosen by the owners Jessica Ho and Kenneth Wong, are perfect counterpoints to the neutral, yet not so muted background. Ho says, “It’s like we set-designed a place to house all of their art, cute collectibles and graphic puzzles. The design is simply a reflection of the stuff they really like.” It’s also as fun as all get-out. CANALSIDE.STUDIO

Originally published in Designlines 2023 Small Spaces issue.


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