Seemingly two storeys, Tile House is all business from the street – but the sensational ravined yard tells another story
“Maybe this is silly, but I always thought of residential streets as a type of party,” says Martin Kohn, principal and founding partner at Kohn Shnier Architects. “The street is the social construct,” he says, and the houses guests. What they “wear” is eminently revealing: “How do the owners want to reflect themselves to the world?” In the case of Tile House in Midtown Toronto, the answer is: sophisticated and a bit sassy. “The form matches the neighbours and fits easily within zoning bylaws,” says Kohn. “It doesn’t look like it’s from another planet” – a complaint commonly levelled against avant-garde infills in older neighbourhoods.
The red clay tiles used to clad the front façade and roof, along with eaves that emulate the surrounding houses, help Tile House slip right into the street. Subtle departures tantalize – a window that folds from the façade onto the roof, and a cozy terrace with a profusion of plants.
Led by project architect Tristan van Leur and built by Samaryn Homes, the airy single-family residence was completed over two years. The owners – active empty-nesters who like to cook – wanted a warm, modern retreat for entertaining with room for their visiting children.
The design for the home responds to the site’s unique typography. “It’s funny – there’s so little evidence from the street, but the site slopes downwards dramatically over a full floor,” says Kohn of the ravined rear, where the house has expansive glazing that translates to dramatic vistas.
The forest offers a cooling canopy in summer. You can also see the ravine from the side entryway landing, “where you get this slot between the two houses and this amazing downtown view,” says Kohn. Putting the entrance at the side meant the front room could enjoy the entire street-facing frontage, says Kohn.
Tile House’s layout is unconventional. To ensure certain rooms look onto the ravine, the living and dining rooms were split between levels. The living area is located on the ground floor and the dining room and sleek Bulthaup kitchen are on the lower level.
Another marker that make this home sing: millwork that stretches across the west wall on all levels. On the second floor, a long passageway with oversized pocket doors on either end can be closed off for privacy when guests visit, or opened at whim for a continuous sightline. In fact, every floor has these flex walls in place.
The top floor of the house contains a multi-purpose space used as an exercise zone (with an adjacent spa) and an additional bedroom. There’s also a terrace formed to block winds, trap sunlight and provide total privacy. “It has amazing downtown views because you’re quite high up. You feel like you’re in the treetops.”
Of course, you can’t tell any of this by glancing at the house from out front. As with most intriguing personalities, the good stuff is hidden, the surprises to be discovered.
“Some people want a more colourful outfit, while others are more retiring and want to fit in,” says Kohn, seizing that party metaphor again. The important thing is to be who you are. “My hope for all the houses we have done is that they reflect the owners’ personalities and the vision of how they want to live.” KOHNSHNIERARCHITECTS.COM