March 19, 2008
Most people are put out when it comes to deciding whether or not to bring their aging parents into their home. Not Cindy Rendely’s clients for the Ravine Residence. Rendely, principal of Toronto-based Cindy Rendely Architexture, says her clients, a couple in their 40’s with three teenage sons, had no problem having their aging parents move in with them. “It was a problem for the parents, not for my clients,” she says. “My clients always knew their parents would live with them. It was just a question of how.” Rendely’s design for the family answered that question, with a 6,800-square-foot home in the North York neighborhood of central Toronto. While that size of home might sound large to some, consider how many people it was designed for—the couple, three teenagers, their aging grandparents and a caregiver couple. “And they are very low key,” says Rendely. “Every space in this house had to exhibit efficiency and practicality. While my clients have the means to enjoy whatever lifestyle they want, they are very humble and choose to live in a home where every area has a purpose and is not wasteful.
That said, Rendely, who was trained as a goldsmith and jewelry designer before becoming an architect, had beauty on her brain as well as practicality. She has built her reputation on designing structures that incorporate economy of scale with both minimal palettes and a variety of textures (think few materials used in many different ways), and this six-bedroom, five-bathroom home is no different. Built on a double lot on one of the many ravines located in and around central Toronto, the house was designed for a private, communal family lifestyle, with a rear façade that opens up toward the ravine, essentially turning its brick-and-aluminum-clad back to the street.
The house is three levels—main living spaces on the ground floor, master bedroom and kids’ rooms upstairs, and a basement level built into the sloping site on the rear. You enter the house on the center level. Once inside, the severity of the front façade is soon forgotten, as a bright vestibule welcomes you. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls wash the main living spaces on the ground floor in sunlight and bring the outside in. To the right is the grandparents’ suite, a full apartment with kitchenette, made to feel intimate with lower ceiling heights than the rest of the home. While Rendely says she didn’t follow ADA codes to the letter, she did make the entire floor accessible—no stairs, pocket doors instead of swinging doors, and a walk-in shower with a built-in bench in the grandparents’ suite. “While my initial design called for an elevator that would allow the grandparents access to the basement level—which contains a suite for a caregiver couple–and the ravine outside, my clients decided against it. They thought having an elevator in their home was just too grand seeming.” While the grandparents must be content with their expansive view of the ravine, the rest of the family can access it by a flight of wide steps that leads from an outdoor terrace.
The clients’ program demands didn’t include specific surfaces and materials, and Rendely says she convinced them to trust her judgment about most but not all such decisions. Her jewelry-making background is apparent in her use of Eramosa limestone as a signature material, cut and finished in a handful of different ways to bring out its hidden properties. On the outside of the home the stone is splitfaced and rugged, while on the inside it’s hammered and cut, polished and carved to provide a variety of surfaces throughout. Similarly she used one wood—white oak—with different stains on floors and for the custom-built pieces that make up about 90 percent of the furniture.
With three fireplaces, radiant floor heating throughout, and all that floor-to-ceiling glass, the home is comfortable year-round. According to the homeowners, the feeling of being immersed in the landscape makes everyone in the family, from teen to elder, feel like they’re experiencing the home for the first time each day, as they watch the light shift and the seasons change.