The Galleria project: Westboro infill as a work of art
Westboro sees its fair share of contemporary infill homes. But not many are like this one.
It does not tower over its neighbours, but this house does have a commanding presence thanks to the unusual treatment of the façade, which swoops and bends across the front porch and windows, like a sculptural representation of movement.
The home’s designer — Houry Avedissian of Ha² Architectural Design — has dubbed it Galleria, partly because a central theme of the design was to create a home that would also act as a gallery for displaying the owner’s art.
Houry Avedissian of Ha² Architectural Design has a track record for designing homes outside the box. Photo Kevin Belanger
“But if you think about it, (the home) itself is a sculptural piece,” she says. “I wanted the outside to have that movement, wrapping around, and not just your ordinary box. I wanted to sculpt it like a sculpture as part of this Galleria experience.”
This treatment of the façade is done to help make the basement garage disappear and emphasize the upper living level.
“The garage is always erased in my projects; I always give the access points, the main living area, more prominence,” Avedissian says.
Chunky and angular, the white volume frames the front door and living room, while a similar volume in grey metal surrounding the second-floor office gives a more industrial work-like reference that also complements the lower level’s stone cladding.
The lines are everywhere in this home, and very deliberate. But while the exterior has more of a masculine feel, inside, those lines are peppered with more feminine curves that make for a delightful balance in geometry.
“I’m playing with all these angles,” says Avedissian, who wanted part of the home “standing proud, but all of it exploring the movement.”
Inside, that movement is expressed most visibly through an elegant three-storey circular staircase that forms the hub of the gallery concept and anchors the living spaces. Independent of the surrounding walls, it increases display space for art while being a piece of art itself.
Originally designed to be steel, cost considerations prompted a rethink, with Accurate Stairs and Railings coming on board to help create a wood-framed version wrapped in drywall instead. A discreet reveal just above the treads, which was not required but adds a thoughtful detail, marks where the separate sections of the staircase were joined together.
It took more than a dozen workers to move the stairs into place when they arrived.
“It’s quite the piece of art now. It’s become the core of the house,” says Avedissian.
The stairs were just one of several challenges that made building the home, which took a year to complete, one of the most difficult Roy Nandram of RND Construction has ever done.
“This house is a very complex construction,” he says, explaining that the “the bones” or outline of the home is all steel, with wood-framed walls around the steel. It was designed that way to maximize the open-concept spaces inside.
And despite the home’s rather narrow girth of about 25 feet, it does feel very open. On the main floor, where the living room, dining room, solarium and kitchen are lined up one in front of the other with storage and utility space tucked along one wall, the airiness is abundant.
A semi-enclosed solarium creates an inviting green room between the kitchen and the dining room. Facing south but close to the lot line, which would normally limit the amount of glazing that could be used, it required imported fire-rated glass to achieve the picture-window effect. Photo Kevin Belanger
Finding a balance between creating an open-concept home full of natural light while still allowing ample wall space for art meant shifting windows up near the ceiling for a clerestory effect. It also meant taking advantage of the southern exposure of the solarium by using imported fire-rated glass to meet code restrictions on the use of glazing close to lot lines. The result is a welcoming interior space that still feels intimately connected to the outside.
As with many of the projects RND does, the 3,000-square-foot home is green, being built to R-2000 levels (an R-2000 home is generally 50 per cent more efficient than a typical new home).
In this case, Nandram appreciates the uniqueness of the design.
“It looks different, it feels different,” he says, adding that he also like the challenge it presented. “It’s more fun, it’s not cookie cutter. You learn something from every project and a different way of doing things.”
Like the angled balcony off the master bedroom with a glass railing that leans in. Part of Avedissian’s vision, he then had to figure out how to make it work.
Or the curved, two-sided fireplace separating the living room and dining room. Echoing the staircase, it curves around one end and boasts an angled, cantilevered top in a nod to all of the home’s angles.
Another ‘special detail’ is the curved fireplace defining the living room and dining room. It’s tiled to work with the curvature and the angled top ties in with the many angles of the home. Photo Kevin Belanger
“It’s a special detail,” Nandram says.
The angles continue in the kitchen, where the centrepiece is a dramatic, 12-foot-long, granite-topped island. The tapered effect on the underside of the countertop, paired with island cabinetry similar to the flooring, allows the base of the island to disappear and gives the feeling of a floating, cantilevered counter.
For Avedissian, it’s all part of the depth of the details.
“Every project I do I want people to know that there’s a reason behind every little choice. It’s the experience of it — architecture as an experience.”
The home has been submitted for this fall’s Housing Design Awards put on by the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association. Finalists are to be announced later this month.