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’50s bunaglow gets 21st century makeover

When Brad Hayes knew exactly what he wanted when he went looking for a house: a small, brick bungalow with a minimal yard and enough basement room to build a home theatre. And it had to be within walking distance of his downtown shop. Comics North.

He found a typical post-war bungalow in the lower Donovan neighborhood built in 1954. It had only 850 square feet of finished space with two bedrooms and a single bath, but it perfectly suited his needs.

The house sits on one half of a subdivided lot in an area where most of the surrounding houses are a bit older. The construction was solid and the basement was dry and completely unfinished, but the house had lost many of its original interior features. The heating and electrical systems needed to be renewed.

Fortunately, Brad’s brother, Ken, is an architect, and though he has not pursued a design practice, he was able to give some advice. A consultation turned into an intensive renovation project, one that turned the ordinary house into something new and surprisingly complete.

The house presented a number of problems. The entry lacked a coat closet, the one bathroom was a narrow slot with badly arranged fixtures, and a small, useless hallway ran along the bearing wall in the centre of the plan.

The original kitchen was in the south-east corner of the main open L-shaped living space, and though at one time there must have been a counter separating it from the dining area, it was long gone.

The dining space was amorphous, half in the kitchen and half in the living room.

Most of the interior finishes needed to be renewed, but fortunately the house was insulated and the original plaster was almost entirely intact.

Priority in the renovation was given to eliminating inefficiencies, providing missing amenities, and clarifying the spaces.

The entrance was divided from the living room with a credenza and by installing a linear fluorescent fixture above it.

The small, vestigial hall presented an opportunity to build a closet near the entrance, and its other end provided a niche to house a refrigerator, a microwave and a wall oven.

A distinct dining room was created by moving the kitchen into the centre of the open space. The new kitchen is a galley type, with two parallel peninsulas extending out from the south wall. It was ‘anchored’ in the space by dropping the ceiling in a wide bulkhead that contains halogen fixtures and which also concealed a structural beam.

Once the kitchen was freed of the refrigerator and oven, it could be reconceived as a large piece of furniture. It was built in solid black walnut to emphasize its space-defining presence and fitted with black epoxy countertops made by Black Loon Mills in Sault Ste. Marie. The taller west cabinet protrudes into the living room, but its solid face looks at first glance like an entertainment unit. The lower cabinet on the dining room side has a privacy screen like those used in corporate offices – people are visible while cooking, but not the mess they make.

The bathroom was enlarged by ‘bumping’ a new tub into the adjacent bedroom. The other fixtures were reorganized on the opposite wall, united by a spalted maple cabinet and a stainless steel vanity top with a circular sink welded in seamlessly. The bathroom fixtures are black and the floor and wall tiles are charcoal grey, but a glass shower door, a hinged mirror, the stainless steel counter and some acrylic sculptures provide a play of light-reflecting surfaces. A dropped ceiling makes the space more intimate, and accommodates both direct and indirect lighting and venting.

The interior finishes were selected for ease of maintenance. New Russian white oak floors, for example, were installed throughout the ground floor so that everything can be cleaned in one go. In a small house the furniture naturally plays a big role, and it was carefully and deliberately acquired piece by piece.

Influenced by his brother’s interest in Italian design of the 1960s, 1970s and the1980s, Hayes gradually acquired a small collection by some the era’s best designers, from Vico Magistretti to Gae Aulenti, Kazuhide Takahama and Tobia Scarpa. There are glass, plastic and ceramic objects by Alessio Tasca, Anna Castelli, Charles Pfister and others. Most of the furniture was purchased on ebay in America and Europe, with some things coming from as far afield as Australia. The paintings, drawings and sculpture are mostly by young Canadian artists.

In some ways the theatre. located on the lower level, is the centre of the home. It seats five very comfortably and has an impressive 110- inch screen. The rear-projection unit and all the other gear, including most of the speakers, are contained in a hidden room. The theatre’s materials – suspended ceiling, vintage vinyl fabric wallpaper and foam fatigue mat flooring – are all very simple and artificial, in contrast to the stone and wood upstairs.

The furniture is designed by the Italian architect Vico Magistretti and it is highly adjustable so that the whole experience of watching movies can be fine-tuned.

“I was lucky to find a house that suited me perfectly, but it took a lot of work to restore and refine it,” says Hayes. It has been an education in design, guided by his brother’s advice. “When I started, I didn’t even know what a credenza was,” he says, “and now I have two of them.”

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