A narrow, cramped house gets a bright new look, with help from one of Toronto’s leading residential architects
When architect Heather Dubbeldam, of Dubbeldam Architecture + Design, was invited to tour a Victorian not far from Summerhill station, she asked the owners to consider selling rather than renovating it. While beautiful on the outside, the interior was cramped and dark. The central staircase took up valuable interior space, and the rest was divided into small rooms. “It was really run-down,” recalls the architect, who’s well-known for her modern renovations of historic homes.
But the owners were determined to get more light and space for entertaining – without moving. Dubbeldam conceded, and masterfully transformed the interior. The major changes were moving the space-hogging staircase to one side, adding windows wherever possible, and strategically contrasting white surfaces with dark ones.
Most of the ground floor can now be seen from the vestibule, and guests move easily through a white-walled living/dining area into the kitchen. Here, in the renewed two-storey addition, light pours in from sliding doors that open onto a patio and garden. At the centre of the galley kitchen, Dubbeldam designed a three-metre-long tapas bar, ideal for casual get-togethers and informal meals. Along one wall, a Corian countertop crowns white drawer units by Boffi, while on the other wall, full-length sliding doors hide an impressive amount of tableware.
Because storage is always in short supply, especially in Victorians, Dubbeldam cleverly utilized every spare inch throughout the house. The third-floor master bedroom, for instance, is a vision of uninterrupted white, but almost every wall is a cupboard. Just how effectively Dubbeldam tackled the lack of light becomes apparent on this top level, where sliding doors open onto a private deck; sunlight streams in and is channelled down through the staircase’s open risers.
Aside from strategic window placement, Dubbeldam utilized contrasting white and black tones on the walls and floors. “White reflects light,” she explains, “while black absorbs or attracts it; it pulls light into a space.” Throughout the house, these contrasting hues work magic. Dark walnut floors play off white-walled bedrooms and living areas; black walls in the vestibule and other living areas punctuate these pristine spaces.
“Light and space almost always top the wish lists on projects like these,” says Dubbeldam. “If you can solve the light issues, then the home feels bigger already.”
Originally published in our Spring 2011 issue as House of Contrasts.