A Laneway Oasis: Cabbagetown Coach House

Like fine wines and artisanal cheeses, excellent design is a thing that ages well. Cabbagetown Coach House, winner of both Canadian Interiors and Arido awards, caught our attention for that reason. While the project may have been completed a decade ago, this stunning renovation by CORE Architects is so timeless that it could have been imagined today. Or tomorrow, for that matter.

What was once a biege-on-biege space with little character was given new life by CORE with the use of some clever hidden features and custom focal pieces. Bi-fold doors, a wine fridge, and an ‘appliance garage’ transformed this 2,500 square foot home into a streamlined space that is every bit as functional as it is beautiful.

We recently spoke with Deni Poletti, a Principal at CORE, about the project.

How did you work with the client to create a common vision for the home? 

For this particular project, the client did not provide us with any preconceived ideas of what they were looking for. Short of advising us of how they enjoyed entertaining, we were left to our own imagination. Interestingly, the architectural styles they were looking for were arts and crafts, modern, prairie, or international.

What were their specific needs/requirements?  

They were looking for a clever solution to a long, narrow laneway house with only a skylight and a front window to bring light into the central space; all other sides were party walls. Socially, they entertained a lot so they wanted a large kitchen that could be integrated with an open space for entertaining, while at the same time, when they were not entertaining, could also feel more intimate.

Was this a new build or a complete renovation? 

The project was a renovation to an existing unit.

What did it look like before? 

When we entered the space, it was already vacated, but it had a skylight which let a lot of light into the interior of the space.  It had an underutilized internal light well, exposed open-web steel joists and metal deck, and exposed round ducts for air distribution.  Walls were clad in drywall with one exposed brick wall.  The floors were engineered wood floors on a concrete slab on grade. Circulation to the second floor was via an awkwardly placed, open-riser metal stairway. The exterior was clad in beige stucco with post-modern detailing in white accents.

Before

Before

Before

From where or what did you draw inspiration for the design?  

We looked at the long, narrow plan with limited exposures as a unique opportunity to inform the design.

What made you decide to go with the bi-fold doors off the living room?

The bi-fold doors were chosen because we wanted to seamlessly integrate the outdoor courtyard with the living room.  We wanted the doors to fold away and disappear. To reinforce that continuous spatial connection, we extended the same floor finish through to the exterior courtyard without any step from the interior space to the exterior.  Achieving this detail in a Canadian climate was difficult but worthwhile.

There are quite a lot of natural materials featured throughout. What woods are used?  

Macassar ebony and walnut.

The asymmetrical fire place is a beautiful focal point. It appears as though you may have moved the fireplace across the room and sealed off the old one…what led to this decision?  

The new wood-burning fireplace was generally located where the existing gas fireplace was situated in the house. We wanted the fireplace to remain as a focal point to the space.  By introducing the asymmetrical design, you could experience it from the living room, dining room, and while circulating up and down the stairs to the second floor.

This space makes use of light in interesting ways. What was the purpose of the floor lighting in the living room?  

We really loved the history behind the exposed wall. It had beautiful tones to it and great texture that was in contrast to the new finishes.  We chose to provide floor lighting to emphasize and provide focus to the wall.  The up lights located close to the wall surface help accentuate the texture.

What inspired the dramatic island in the kitchen? Why the choice of a stainless steel countertop?  

We wanted to use the kitchen island to tie the upper “casual” space with the lower entertainment level. The island really has two applications, whose uses are divided where the steps occur. On the upper level, you have the utilitarian aspect of the island and then beyond the steps, we have the bar component. Those two areas are tied together by wrapping the stainless steel.

There is a cleverly hidden wine cellar here; how much of this was a custom build? 

There is a small component to the kitchen which is a wine cellar, but that consists of a wine fridge with millwork doors, not unlike a refrigerator.  We do, however, have a custom built “office in a box,”  the design of which came about because the client wanted an office but did not want to dedicate a room for this purpose.  This office element could effectively open and close so that when they had guests, the office was concealed in what appeared to be a beautiful millwork element.

What materials were used in the washroom to create this spa-like oasis?  

The spa-like aspect of the washroom can be partially attributed to providing adequate space for the program.  The choice of rich woods with highly contrasting materials ensured that we would replicate the feel of a spa that you would find in many hotels. Lighting was also important; abundant natural light gives a sense of openness to the room.

Why did you choose to carry the wood onto the walls of the master bedroom?  

The walls of the bedroom are not wood. We incorporated a leather-clad wall behind the headboard to provide a focal element to the room and deliver a sense of richness and quality, while also providing acoustic temperament to the space.

Finally, how did you go about selecting the furniture and decor for the home?  

Selection of the furniture was done collectively with the clients.  The objective was to purchase furniture that worked harmoniously with the minimalist aspect of the interiors. Our objective was to procure furniture that provided warmth and colour to the space, was of equal quality to the finishes, and was functional.

All photos courtesy of CORE Architects