difficult exteriors

Toronto green architect Carolyn Moss, of Moss Sund, recently renovated a High Park home, and i had the pleasure of visiting it last week. i wrote about the project for blogTO and i’m fascinated by people’s comments about the home’s new exterior.

it’s difficult to know how the finished project is going to look–i photographed the home during a snowstorm (welcome to home visits in Toronto in January) & the green roof will only be installed in the spring.

i think the planted roof of the entrance area is going to really soften the feel of the home. (below, a photo of the original house, then Moss’ computer sketch, then my photo of the current house)

High park original exterior

Moss drawing green roof

High Park exterior in snowstorm

renovating the outside of a building is a tricky proposition. on the one hand, there’s the community to consider–will the new look fit in, will it upset the neighbours, will it endure? and on the other hand, there’s the purpose of the renovation–more space, more environmental responsibility, more value for the owners.

what’s exciting about the High Park renovation is how Moss has balanced all of these considerations. the neighbours have been enthusiastic about the reno; the house roofline and basic window positions remain the same as neighbouring houses; and the green improvements in the house are extensive. (below, the back of the house during construction)

High Park back extension

the most obvious exterior change is the stucco exterior–and it’s a heck of a change. i’m not crazy about the colour–very bland, especially in grey Toronto winter. but the stucco does insulate the house, a major green improvement. the original brick walls were notorious for their lack of insulation…the only way to change the original masonry is to add insulation on the inside (diminishing the square footage of the home–and the rooms are already small by contemporary standards) or add the insulation to the outside–which is what the home-owners and Moss decided to do.

to create a more functional entranceway for the house, Moss created a small rectangular addition for the front of the home, using stone interspersed with windows and a translucent glass panel. i immediately fell in love with the personable grey Eramosa marble, quarried here in Ontario. Moss also used it for the interior floors.

High Park interior

“I wanted the sun to penetrate as far as possible into the house,” says the homeowner. And even during a snowstorm, the house was light and refreshing…with gloriously warm floors, heated by the geothermal loops that Moss has buried in the front yard.


The White House

1962 White House Christmas card

in honour of the inauguration of Barack Obama today, a few facts about his new Georgian  Neoclassical address.

first off, he might want a map: the place has 132 rooms.

the original building was designed by James Hoban, an Irishman who may have based his contest-winning plan on Leinster House in Ireland (now home to the Irish Parliament). the painting by N.C.Wyeth shows Washington and Hoban discussing the construction.

NCWyeth painting

the building was begun in 1792 and built of  Virginia sandstone, quarried by slaves & free workers. Scottish stone workers, alongside Irish and Italian brick workers, did much of the detail work on the building.

in 1800, John Adams moved in, though the interior wasn’t yet finished. during the war of 1812, the building was burned down by British/Canadian soldiers. the damage led to a white-washing of the stonework…which is why the building came to be known as “the White House”. the name only became official in 1901 under Teddy Roosevelt.

Michael S Smith interior

to bring all this up-to-date, the Obamas have already chosen their decorator–Michael S. Smith from Santa Monica will redo the private rooms for the First Family. this living room is from Smith’s book of interiors…he’s known for child-friendly combinations of formal antiques & more contemporary fabrics, which sounds like a sensible combo for the White House.

for their decor, the Obamas will be able to wade through the 40,000 sqft warehouse of White House furnishings; since the Kennedy administration, nothing has been thrown out. that must be quite the warehouse!

home & tiny memoir

Robert Creeley in 1972“The local is not a place but a place in a given man — what part of it he has been compelled or else brought by love to give witness to his own mind. And that is THE form, that is, the whole thing, as whole as it can get.”  (Robert Creeley, “a Note on the Local” in A Quick Graph)

i found this quote on rob mclennan’s blog, where it’s part of the kick-off for his memory project “house: a (tiny) memoir” (he’s been working on these short pieces for a while, but i only just discovered them.)

in his intro to the project, rob writes: “What makes up home? Home is a series of recollections, of distances, as easily remembered as mis-remembered, and a blending of events that can sometimes never be confirmed.”

Cited: Rybczynski

Cosy hearth at Ann K's house “I was not a willful designer, and attempted to accomodate my clients’ demands, but I usually did so with a vague sense of unsettled compromise. It was only when my wife and I built our own home that I discovered at first hand the fundamental poverty of modern architectural ideas. I found myself turning again and again to memories of older houses, and older rooms, and trying to understand what had made them feel so right, so comfortable.”

– Witold Rybczynski

Blue desert house

i keep coming back to these New York Times photos of the desert house Tom Kundig designed for Jan McFarland Cox. it’s in southern Idaho, and i’m curious what other kinds of development are going on in the landscape–it seems so pristine in these photographs by Stuart Islett, seems a shame to build there. check out Islett’s gorgeous photos here: Tom Kundig Idaho House

(while i love the main space in the house & the scuptural garden walls, i’m less excited by the artist’s office, which seems cramped…but then i always prefer a work space that’s connected to the main living space, especially for an artist living alone.)

renovating Toronto one house at a time

visited two houses by Carolyn Moss of Moss Sund yesterday…one in High Park & one in the Beach. Moss is a trail-blazer in green building & reno techniques, and the houses are gorgeous! more coming soon…here’s a sneak peak…

Moss Sund Beach Home

exterior of the Beach Home

(a complete rebuild of a one-storey brick bungalow)

Moss Sund High Park home

interior of the extension build for High Park Home

(i’m in love with the stone floor, heated with geothermal power)

Radiant stone floor

close-up of the floor…Eramosa stone quarried in Ontario

snow, Toronto, and the army

ten years ago, Toronto’s esteemed mayor Mel Lastman called in the Canadian army to deal with snow that had blanketed the city. well, it was a lot of snow, Toronto isn’t known for its winter abilities, and Mel remains our city’s very own misunderestimated politician. he thought it made sense: 400 soldiers from Petawawa drove down to Toronto in their armoured personnel vehicles & dug out the city…they drove sick people to hospital, shoveled out our bus stops, and organized the snow. and then, eventually, the snow melted.

today, ten years later to the day, it’s snowing again in Hog Town. but hopefully loyal citizens will remember how to use their shovels, and the army can go help out Ottawa…

Toronto snow