Modern Grace for An Old Stone House

Putting a modern addition onto a traditional building ideally involves a certain sensitivity. Sure, you might go completely rad — the Michael Lee Chin Crystal at the ROM is one local example — but the results may not be universally embraced, nor even always successful. (The Crystal, as striking as it is in form, seems to work less well in the function part of the Modernist equation. It was, perhaps, never quite the optimum design for housing museum displays, and is currently undergoing yet another renovation.)

Toronto architect Warren Grossman actually studied under Daniel Libeskind, the Crystal’s architect, at U of T some years ago. But when it came to renovating and expanding his own home, a splendid Old Ontario-style Georgian in North Toronto, he instinctively had something a little less radical in mind. But just how to approach the addition was a bit of a conundrum.

Do you strive for a literal copy of the stone exterior and linear proportions of the original — impractical at best, and at worst, inauthentic — or do you go with a completely new design? And how do you keep the two halves of the house from looking like they just sort of fell together?

The house is actually much younger than it looks; it was built in 1932 for a prominent local family by B.H. Wright, a respected Toronto architect of the time. Among its most striking features are 24-inch stone walls, visible inside as well as out, from three different Ontario quarries: Muskoka, Owen Sound and Kingston, each with its own distinctive colour and pattern. The layout and finishing details were created with equal care, and Grossman felt it was worth the effort to update the house in a respectful way.

But for all its elegance, there were major issues. The plumbing and electrical services …read more

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