When an empty-nester couple made the decision to downsize, they knew they wanted it to be to a low-maintenance, age-in-place home, as well as an architectural showpiece. They had tried condo living, but it lacked the familiarity of a low-rise dwelling. Their son, a builder, encouraged them to push beyond their traditional aesthetic and create a customised, contemporary home — something that he could help them build.
They appointed Architects Luc Bouliane for the design, who quickly established a trusting rapport by paying close attention to the couple’s specific lifestyle. The studio used its distinct design approach to create a low-maintenance ‘forever’ residence that subtly responds to the nuances of the couple’s requirements, both now and in the future. Architects Luc Bouliane embraced the challenges and opportunities of the site to derive the bold, adventurous aesthetic, one that carefully balances spatial complexity and practical simplicity.
As a firm, Architects Luc Bouliane often look to natural forms, both geological or geographical, for inspiration. This interest dates back to founding partner Luc Bouliane’s childhood: he was raised on the rocky shores of Lake Superior in the steel town of Sault Ste. Marie. In the case of Relmar, the ‘geode’ — a stone with a rough shell that conceals a glinting centre — became an apt metaphor when strategies were derived to maximise natural light. Although the home faces a quiet, midtown Toronto street — abutting the leafy Cedarvale Ravine — the narrow lot sits due north, in the shadow of a low-rise apartment building.
Like a geode, the exterior of the project is weighty, with a hard, black brick-and-limestone façade. It breaks open at the roof skylights that bathe the interior walls with sunshine. To help flood the spaces with light, the stairs are displaced off the reflective, polished limestone walls, creating a three-storey, uninterrupted atrium with the kitchen and living room on the ground floor, a mezzanine office space that hovers above on the second floor, and the bedrooms on the third. The views add to the refreshing feeling by focusing on the ravine and the intensive green roofs on the backyard garage.
In addition to creating a lasting aesthetic, Architects Luc Bouliane discretely and purposely built into the architecture many features that will enable the home to last for the owners. A lift is tucked away near the kitchen to provide an alternative to the flights of stairs; the driveway and back patio are heated to prevent the build-up of ice or the need for snow shovelling; the washroom floors andheated benches are tiled with a slip-resistant surface and come prepped for future safety grab bars; and the basement includes a health spa, gym and a future suite for live-in support if required.
To help offset construction costs and to add density to the formerly single-family lot, a similar, semi-detached residence adjoins it to the north. It shares the same critical architectural language, with a hard exterior and crystalline forms, but remains flexible enough in the interior to allow a family to move in and adapt spaces to their needs. Most importantly, it shares the access to natural light, which no doubt will delight any homeowner, regardless of age or stage in life.