An empty-nester couple made the decision to downsize, knowing they wanted a low-maintenance, age-in-place home, as well as an architectural showpiece. Their adult son – a builder – encouraged them to push beyond their traditional aesthetic and create a custom, contemporary home, which he could help them build.

Architects Lebel & Bouliane quickly established a trusting rapport by paying close attention to the couple’s specific lifestyle. The studio used its distinct design approach to create an easily maintained ‘forever’ residence that subtly responds to the nuances of the couple’s needs, both now and in the future. Architect Luc Bouliane was raised on the rocky shores of Lake Superior in the steel town of Sault Ste. Marie where there exists the ‘geode’, a stone with a rough shell that conceals a glinting centre. This became an apt metaphor for Relma House as strategies were derived to maximise natural light penetration. Because, although the home faces a quiet, midtown Toronto street – abutting the leafy Cedarvale Ravine – the narrow lot sits due north, in the shadow of a low-rise apartment building.

Like the geode, the exterior of the project is weighty, with a hard, black brick and limestone façade. It cracks open at the roof with a series of skylights that wash the interior walls with natural light. To help flood the spaces with illumination, the stairs are shifted off the reflective, polished limestone walls; creating a three-storey, uninterrupted atrium with the kitchen and living room on the ground floor, a mezzanine office space that hovers above on the second floor and the bedrooms on the third.

Views focus on the ravine and the intensive green roofs on the backyard garage. In addition to creating a lasting aesthetic, Lebel & Bouliane discretely and purposely built into the architectural features that will enable the home to last for the owners. One such is an elevator near the kitchen to mitigate navigating three flights of stairs, and the driveway and back patio are heated to prevent ice build-up or the need for snow shovelling. The basement includes a health spa, gym and a future suite for live-in support if required.

To help offset construction costs and to add density to the formerly single-family lot, a similar, semi-detached residence adjoins and shares the same critical architectural language; a hard exterior and crystalline forms. It remains flexible enough in the interior to allow any family to move in and adapt spaces to their needs, and most importantly, it shares the access to natural light.



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