NOW Magazine - Toronto Living - - Front Page - By Ge­orge Bo­brovskis

From the de­tached, sin­gle-fam­ily home to vari­a­tions like the semi-de­tached house (twin), row house and townhouse (mul­ti­ple broth­ers and sis­ters), to the quadru­plex, du­plex, triplex, con­do­minium and loft (a real ex­tended fam­ily of char­ac­ters), we live in dwellings of all shapes, sizes and lo­ca­tions.

My fam­ily and I live in a semide­tached house, so we’re in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to our other half. Be­ing joined to­gether has its chal­lenges, es­pe­cially if you want to ren­o­vate, add on or change the house’s fa­cade. The in­evitable ques­tion is how you can keep in har­mony with your com­mu­nity of sib­lings and still make a per­sonal state­ment ex­press­ing your in­di­vid­u­al­ity? “Twins” need self-ex­pres­sion even if they have iden­ti­cal faces and eyes.

To an­swer this ques­tion, I started to look care­fully at what oth­ers in our sit­u­a­tion have done. Driv­ing around the Beaches, I no­ticed many in­ter­est­ing so­lu­tions forged by twins. One ex­am­ple is a home on a lovely stretch at the east end of the Beaches on a street ap­pro­pri­ately named Wil­low Av­enue. Here, the houses rest com­fort­ably be­neath large canopies of trees, where home­own­ers have care­fully de­fined their char­ac­ter through de­tails like painted trim, en­try doors, land­scap­ing and sculp­tural state­ments.

Seem­ingly mis­placed at the foot of Wil­low, among sim­ple and more elab­o­rate de­tached homes, the semide­tached in ques­tion was in need of some ren­o­va­tion when Deb­o­rah Barnes, Terry Stec and fam­ily moved in in 1996. When I spoke with Barnes re­cently, I learned they now live in an­other beach area – in Lake Sim­coe – named Roches Point. I also learned the ra­tio­nale be­hind the changes they made to their Wil­low Av­enue semi: “We wanted our house to feel more like the beach,” Barnes says. “I love ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign, and we wanted to do some­thing sim­ple yet bal­anced and ap­pro­pri­ate. With the help of a de­sign-build land­scape com­pany and our own ex­pe­ri­ence, we were able to see good de­sign be in­ter­preted nat­u­rally.”

The house had a faded ap­pear­ance when the fam­ily moved in. They chose a de­sign-build land­scaper to help them rein­vent their home and give it a spe­cial look. Also, they’d learned a lot from their ex­pe­ri­ence do­ing photo shoots of other great homes for Canadian House & Home. To­gether, Barnes, Stec and their designer chose the ma­te­ri­als and colours and agreed on the de­tails of the trel­lis and wood fence.

In the photo, you’ll no­tice the trel­lis read­ily es­tab­lishes the hi­er­ar­chy of en­try from the street to the more semipub­lic front porch and main door­way. Land­scap­ing near the street, a col­lage of stone and steps with spe­cific, sim­ple land­scape treat­ments, and a large, com­fort­able porch of­fer an invit­ing se­ries of plateaus, wel­com­ing the vis­i­tor to ex­pe­ri­ence the house and fam­ily at a more per­sonal level. The use of cedar fur­ther wel­comes the vis­i­tor, dec­o­rat­ing the house with a se­ries of wooden in­ter­ven­tions that are both public and pri­vate. The new up­per deck fur­ther changes the ap­pear­ance of the fa­cade, sug­gest­ing leisurely sips of cof­fee in the morn­ing and evening and en­cour­ag­ing neigh­bourly con­nec­tions.

When a new neigh­bour moved into the at­tached house, he de­cided to ren­o­vate in ac­cor­dance with some of the ideas that Barnes, Stec and their designer had come up with for their side of the house. The “twin” to the north un­der­went sub­tler changes, keep­ing the cedar rail­ings and adding cedar to the

In­di­vid­u­al­ity and har­mony are the goal when designing and ren­o­vat­ing the fa­cade of two semi-de­tached homes.

beams with solid, sim­ple posts and tongue-and-groove sof­fits. Both own­ers chose stucco in­stead of sid­ing, to give the ex­te­ri­ors a sense of re­lief ( just like be­ing in the Mediter­ranean). Trim and de­tails around the win­dows were also added. On the ground floor, Barnes and Stec ex­tended the stucco over the ex­ist­ing brick, while their neigh­bour chose to leave the brick. Both twins se­lected dif­fer­ent win­dow ma­te­ri­als: one chose to con­trast the stucco with wooden win­dows and doors, while the other opted to keep the con­ven­tional white win­dow and door frames. The neigh­bour to the north se­lected a match­ing door in wood, but with a dif­fer­ing stain.

The pal­ette cho­sen by th­ese twins, in di­verse yet com­ple­men­tary tones, flows com­fort­ably all the way from the fa­cade to the porch (with rail­ing and post-top de­tails down each stair) and along the dis­tinc­tively dif­fer­ent land­scaped pathways, out to the side­walk and the street.

Although each com­po­si­tion is dif­fer­ent, their re­la­tion­ship is har­mo­nious: a re­spect­ful, si­lent code of con­duct and un­der­stand­ing that says it’s OK to be dif­fer­ent. The other houses on the street speak to that code as well. On Wil­low Av­enue, peo­ple take their time, mak­ing sure that changes add to the at­trac­tive­ness of the street they call home in our beloved Beaches.

Ge­orge Bo­brovskis is an in­tern ar­chi­tect with the On­tario Ar­chi­tects As­so­ci­a­tion. He’s also a founder of the YMCA’s Break­fast Of Cham­pi­ons, an an­nual fundraiser to help those in need.

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