An architect gives his 50-year-old bungalow a durable new life with corrugated aluminum, concrete panels and skylights in his basement office. Piet Mondrian would be proud.
When Ottawa architect Toon Dreessen pushes away from his drafting board for the day, he likes to toss his hat on the rack and leave it there until morning.
Family comes before any more renovations for this designer, who favours modern lines over tradition in the east-end community of modest homes where he lives.
That’s why the Carleton University grad embarked on a thoughtful renovation of his understated home that was cool, contemporary and completely maintenancefree.
It’s also wise to note that young architects operate on restricted budgets, so he wanted workable, yet creative spaces for his wife and two sons.
To create an industrial effect, Dreessen clad half of his 50-year-old brick bungalow in a corrugated aluminum called Galvalume. He covered the lower half with fibrereinforced concrete panels, mounted to protect the home from the pounding effects of sun and rain and the icy onslaught of winter.
The decision to use these materials was one part cost, and two parts esthetics and longevity.
“I don’t like maintaining things,” says Dreessen, while standing next to his hosta garden. “This I know is something I don’t ever have to deal with because the Galvalume — never in my lifetime — is going to rust away. The fibrereinforced concrete panels, I might have to repaint them in 10 years.”
When Dreessen and his wife, Miranda Paquette, purchased their postwar bungalow in 2000, the Carson Meadows home was a modest, cut-up and dark 1,100 square feet. He pushed out the back, adding room for a dining room and finished the basement. The home is now 2,500 square feet of sunny space, counting the finished basement, which also happens to be his office.
The original brick exterior now displays a clean, modern style, reminiscent of Dreessen’s favourite artist Piet Mondrian, whose patterns are famous for bold primary colours and a grid of clean vertical and horizontal lines.
Perhaps this influence is most apparent in the splash of yellow painted on Dreessen’s front door and chimney.
A hit of red is found in the large rusted steel Cor-Ten panel next to the door. Imported from the United States, this material — usually reserved for bridges and ships — is a steel chosen specifically because of the corrosion that develops over time. “It adds a bit of warmth and it is gradually getting a really nice deep rust to it,” says Dreessen.
The advantage to being an architect and in charge of his renovation is the breadth of knowledge Dreessen pulls from his hat — experience that spans his decade-long career.
Dreessen cut his teeth working for local architectural firms, but now enjoys the freedom of running his own home-based business. He has three full time architectural technologists on staff who also work from their homes.
Dreessen has had his hand in many building projects around town, including a recent renovation of the McPhail Memorial Baptist Church at Bronson and Lisgar Street. He has worked on the hugely successful 360Lofts, a European-style condo to be built by fall 2010 on Cumberland Avenue in the Byward Market.
The Carleton grad scoffs at the idea of using mainstream building materials such as plastic and vinyl siding, when there are a myriad of durable choices. Not to mention, he says, some products are bad for the environment.
“You can put vinyl siding on (a house), but in five years it’s cracked and it’s broken, it looks like garbage, it smells, it can’t be thrown away, it’s toxic when it burns, there’s a lot of negatives to simply chose a cheap material, rather than chose a smart material.”
He also loathes cleaning eavestroughs, so he deliberately lets the rain roll off the deep overhangs to water his lush garden. And the cedar deck? Let it fade.
“I know I am not going to be out here restaining it, refinishing it every spring,” he says. “So it turns grey and it’s done.”
Dreessen got creative when he realized their dying balsam fir was blocking the view of their newly-expanded living room. Rather than cut it down to the ground, they hired a carver and gave him free rein with the soaring trunk.
“He brought out a bear, a tree spirit and a squirrel at the back. It’s a little bit of whimsy. The house is very modern and in some respects it can be quite cold, but (with) all the landscaping, all the planting, it gives it a bit more character.”
The inside is geared to easily accommodate the busy family, which includes two young sons, one dog and a cat.
What was once a front door and porch is now a spacious mud room, with ample closet space. Dreessen installed electric radiant mesh in the floor to control the cold winter moisture, and keep mittens and boots dry.
This room opens up into an open concept living space, with a solid birch sliding barn-style door — with purple heartwood detail on the handle — which separates the living and bedrooms. “If it is Christmas eve or something like that, the kids can go to bed and close this and it’s dead quiet,” says Dreessen.
The living room features a wall-to-wall custom entertainment centre envisioned from Dreessen’s experience designing homes for other people. The deep rolling bottom drawers are perfect to stash blankets, toys, pillows, anything that needs to be accessed quickly and easily.
“We don’t mind a bit of clutter but we don’t want piles and piles of stuff in bookcases and on furniture,” Dreessen says, pulling out an oversized bottom drawer to reveal stacks of family photo albums. “You don’t look at these every day but you do want them sort of accessible.”
The kitchen, which used to be both kitchen and dining area, is now a large room with an island and half-wall that opens up to the addition, a spacious dining area with ample windows.
“I really like to cook, especially for family and big events,” says Dreessen. “So having a big kitchen was always part of my goal and part of my dream.”
The layout works well with a gas stove with two ovens — for example, during Christmas, the family would use one for the turkey and the other for biscuits, with the vegetables on top.
The cabinets are all maple, with a sleek smooth-faced pattern for easy cleaning, and loads of storage on the island. He says they decided to scrimp on the countertops, by installing laminate until their budget allows for soapstone.
“Rather than spend all my money at once to get it right, I’m happy with the laminate counter,” says Dreessen, who spent about $100,000 on the project. “I know that I can pop this one off and put a soapstone counter on it at some point, as one step at a time.” Until then, they have soapstone detail on the half wall.
The high-end faucet was a wise investment. Having purchased it during a renovation in 2000, their Delta faucet stood the test of time and is now being used with their new Blanco sink. A good faucet saves homeowners from leakage, rot and mould, says the architect.
The ingenuity of Dreessen’s basement office is as creative as his designs. He jokes that when he tells people he installed skylights in the basement, they, understandably, have a hard time grasping the concept. But that’s exactly what he did. The result is a beautiful basement office with an atrium effect that allows light to flood in. Instead of working in the dark, Dreessen drafts plans under the window, all the while looking out to his newly landscaped backyard garden.
“I get all the natural light from these skylights, plus these windows (provide) fresh air,” he says. “It’s like you’re outside.”
Dreessen acknowledges that expanding from 1,100 to 1,500 square feet on the main level is not a major renovation size-wise, but as far as utilizing living space, and making it more energy efficient, it has made a big impact on their lives.
“There’s a new furnace, there’s better insulation, new windows,” says Dreessen, who says their energy bills are the same, despite the space increase.
“All of these things contribute to the fact that we’ve got a house that works really well for us and meets the goals that we set out to achieve.”