Listening To The Landscape: Echo House

Echo House sits on a two-acre property on Toronto’s Bridle Path, a neighborhood known for having some of the most progressive architecture in the city. The area has counted famed venture capitalist Robert Herjavec and the late Prince amongst its residents, and earlier this year, Drake purchased a house in the neighborhood for a rumored $6.7 million. His neighbor? Canadian icon Gordon Lightfoot.

Echo House is a true architectural gem of the neighborhood. Purchased by a cosmopolitan family of four in search of a space that would suit their lifestyle—a home where they could easily cook together and host large family gatherings—they also wanted the design of the house to reflect their Asian Canadian background.

Paul Raff, founding principal of Paul Raff Studio, was hired to transform Echo House into a functional sanctuary for the family. Known for his ability to marry a structure’s architecture with its natural surroundings, Raff reimagined the bones of Echo House and turned it into a tranquil home, heavily influenced by the landscape and eastern philosophy.

As with all of Raff’s work, it was important to make the most of natural light in the space. The search for shelter and comfort, he says, often involves a distancing from nature; here, however, he endeavored to connect the house with the landscape, celebrating the garden, the sky, and the light and sounds of nature in Echo House’s design.

THE EXTERIOR

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Echo House is located on a busy public street. “We were trying to find a way to sit well in the landscape and have a visual strength, but also a kind of delicacy,” says Raff. This was achieved by the use of stone, which Raff describes as “strong and serene”, offset by the delicately crafted wooden screens. Uniquely conceived for this project, these screens lend a visual richness to the façade as well privacy from the bustle.

THE LIVING ROOM

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It was important to the family that the living room transition to suit their day-to-day needs, offering a space for them to relax together but also host large gatherings. “It has the flexibility of a loft,” says Raff. “It’s very lofty and airy and quiet.”

The innovation of this layout, he says, was in the placement of the corridor. Often hallways travel through the centre of a house, but here Raff placed the corridor at its edge, allowing for uninterrupted views of the garden as the family transitions between rooms.

THE LIBRARY/OFFICE

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While much of the house is neutral in tone, reflective of nature and in keeping with the design’s eastern influence, hints of colour have been tastefully chosen in the artwork and the odd accent piece. Here, a bright orange chair echoes the changing leaves of autumn.

As for the layout, Raff liked the idea of a floating table. “There are old ideas about desks in the corner of a room, or a study which can be a stodgy, cigar-smoking environment,” he says. “This was about opening it up.”

THE CHILDREN’S BEDROOMS

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Each of the two children’s bedrooms has separate areas for sitting, studying, dressing, and sleeping. They are actually located on the second floor, but the children have easy access to the outdoors through the inviting rooftop terrace.

THE MASTER BEDROOM

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“The master bedroom is all about serenity,” says Raff. He made sure that the bed faced the large windows, offering views of the surrounding landscape. It also floats in the middle of the room rather than against a wall, giving the room a large and airy feel.

THE KITCHEN

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One of the family’s biggest requirements of their space was accommodating large family gatherings, where many people could cook simultaneously. “We had to put two stovetops in the kitchen,” says Raff. “The kitchen can handle some pretty hardcore cooking with a huge family party — like it’s a Brazilian fiesta, but with a Chinese touch.”

THE DINING ROOM

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This was another space designed to accommodate large gatherings. The floor plan allows for a sizeable harvest table, with lots of space for foot traffic and serving.

THE POOL

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“The pool opens up to the garden with abundant light and strong views,” says Raff. When the water is still, it serves as a beautiful mirror of the surrounding trees.

It was important to Raff and the family that the house be as ecologically and environmentally responsible as possible, which was achieved in a few ways that aren’t necessarily obvious to the naked eye. “We don’t have solar panels or wind turbines on the roof,” says Raff. Rather, they were careful to select energy efficient materials, such as the very high quality windows that surround the pool.

THE CHILDREN’S ENSUITE WASHROOM

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The showstopper of this bathroom is undoubtedly the tile mosaic of the glass-enclosed shower. Its green glass tiles catch the light, says Raff, and mimic the shelter and shade of a forest.

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Echo House is designed to grow with the family as it changes, as the children grow and have children of their own. Raff believes in building to last, in creating spaces and using materials that can do their jobs well — ones that won’t end up in a landfill site twenty years later. Echo House is a part of that vision. “It just tries to be responsible [through] good, thoughtful design,” he says.