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.