Globe and Mail interview with Paul Johnston.
The growing interest in modern architecture can be seen on practically every street in most Toronto neighbourhoods. The form seems to work equally well on narrow lots next to skinny Victorian houses, on wide lots beside rambling clapboard beach homes, or as striking counterpoint to stolid Edwardian bricks in North Toronto.
Such interiors are awash in natural light and feature uncluttered inte- rior details. With their ability to offer sweeping views through a home from front to back, these homes are draw- ing urbanites to contemporary archi- tecture in droves, says Paul Johnston, real estate agent for Sorbara’s new Crafthouse development in York Mills. “Amongst design-savvy buyers, there’s been a growing interest in and appetite for intelligently designed and well-built modern homes,” he says. “Many people are buying and restor- ing the mid-century homes in nearby Don Mills, so this enclave of houses is very appealing.”
The modern form is also attractive for its simple open-ﬂoor plans and uncluttered material palettes that are easier to maintain. However, that doesn’t mean the homes lack detail. “Instead of superfluous spaces, especially more formal ones, the triumph of good contemporary hous- ing is the efﬁciency and quality of space rather than quantity of space,” explains Mr. Johnston.
At Crafthouse, both formal and in- formal areas are integral but separate parts of the whole home. The same goes for indoors and out. Patios at the rear of the house can be seen from the front entry through large windows and glass doors. The formal living room at the front of the houses, while set apart, is visually connected to the rest of the living space, thereby encouraging its use. The two-sided ﬁreplace between the family area at the back and the living room at the front does not touch walls, leaving a gap on the outside wall, while the “over-expressed hall” on the other side ensures an openness between the areas, says Mr. Johnston.
“Gone are the usual embellish- ments one ﬁnds in traditional hous- ing – crown mouldings, for example and even the air ducts have been tucked between joists so there’s no need for bulkheads. All of these considerations contribute to a clean, uncluttered interior vista.”
Today’s family functions differently than it did in the past, says the proj- ect’s architect Peter Vishnovsky. The goal was to ensure family interaction while retaining some private space to withdraw and do other activities separately.
The cornerstone of modern design, Mr. Johnston explains, “is the rela- tionship between kitchen, dining and family room so they ﬂow together. But there is still need for private space a living room for adults to entertain, a ﬂexible second ﬂoor plan with den for children to do homework.”
The recent interest in contemporary architecture has resulted in some very good designs, Mr. Johnston adds, but it’s also led to “poor imitations, with builders rushing out to meet the demand. When it’s not in someone’s DNA to build like that and they don’t understand either the materials, the proportions or the design, the results are not great.
“The Sorbara group has made a commitment to not just design homes of a very high calibre, but also to build them with skill and craftsmanship.”
Crafthouse is using timeless mate- rials – such as limestone, brick and metal – in order to ensure longevity of both the building and the style.
It takes time, money, skill and com- mitment to design and build these homes well, Mr. Johnston says. It starts with good design – an un- derstanding of proportion, scale and durable materials in a modern vernacular – and goes down the line to hiring the very best contractors.
Hence the name, Crafthouse: The homes are built by craftspeople.
What’s unique about the project is the number of homes, with 11 in one enclave, each built the same way, but with slight differences in elevation, façade and materials. Mr. Johnston says it’s extremely rare to ﬁnd such a development with several custom- built modern homes together. Mostly, they are one-offs built as inﬁll in more traditional neighbourhoods.
For Sorbara, neighbourhood con- text is important. Over the past de- cade, the company has been devel- oping condo projects of a modern, contemporary design, such as 400 Wellington, Broadview Lofts and the Brewery Lofts. But this is the ﬁrst low- rise development in a contemporary modern theme.
Because Crafthouse has been developed near Don Mills, the his- tory of contemporary work in that neighbourhood informed Sorbara. Mr. Johnston says, “Crafthouse D, for example, was designed with a sloped roof that mimics some of the asymmetrical roofs of the 1950s’ and 1960s’ Don Mills bungalows. On either side of the new cul-de-sac that cuts through the enclave, the houses have deﬁnite references to that style.” Anything well-built is in demand, so no surprise that half the project is sold. Prices start at $3-million for homes ranging from 4,400 to 5,600 square feet on 50- to 65-foot lots.
Crafthouse brings contemporary architecture to intimate enclave.