Forest Hill House

Readers, we’ll admit it: we love a beautiful staircase. This utilitarian element of a home or public space is prime opportunity for design ingenuity; it’s where an architect gets to play. It’s where a statement of personal or cultural aesthetics can be made. It can be a focal point, transforming a functional artery of the home — banal thoroughfare — into pure, sculptural art.

Our local readers will be familiar with Frank Gehry’s iconic staircase at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Its unfurling ribbon silhouette has become a must-see for art-and-design savvy visitors to Canada’s most populous city. We’re excited to share another local project that recently caught our eye, this one with a staircase that curls through the home like surrealist piano keys.

Local firm Reigo & Bauer was chosen for this renovation of an existing home in Forest Hill, one of the city’s most affluent neighbourhoods. The project would comprise a complete overhaul of the home, creating a unity among interior spaces that were both dated and disparate. Together with long-time collaborators Amantea Architects, which took the lead on the built-in millwork, Reigo & Bauer gave the home a modern design language with tasteful nods to traditional craftsmanship. The result, the firm shared, is an interior “that feels modern, dynamic, and very livable.”

The insertion of that stunning staircase was key in opening up the sightlines of the home. The existing staircase was closed and rectangular, and this sweeping transformation is just begging to be descended in sweeping formalwear. (Or lazily ascended at the end of the eve for a nightcap!) The stairs now tie all three stories of the 7,000 square foot home together with a singular feature. From the main foyer — now much more open — to the top floor, this grand thoroughfare now boasts a comfortable amount of clearance.

The organization of the home was changed in the interest of further functionality. Reigo & Baeur repositioned a powder room at the rear of the main floor by removing a dividing wall, which carved the way for a massive expanse of windows and lush views of the backyard. (Amantea Architects also put their expertise into the exterior landscaping and pool pavilion, as well as a patio.) The family room is sunken, which makes the space feel cozy and intimate. A new wet bar and low bench separate this lower level from the kitchen, accessible by a short but visually dynamic set of stairs that runs along two walls. (Seriously, Reigo & Baeur has a knack for stairs!)

Key to the overall product was a deliberate and restrained use of colour among a sea of white. On the main staircase, this translates into a solid white body with dark stair treads which, from above, look not unlike a piano unfurling in a dreamscape. (There’s a stunning baby grand in the dining area — coincidence?) Charcoal hues are used throughout the home as accent walls, on the long fireplace, or as borders in choice doorways. (Escher, anyone?) Sliding glass doors on the main floor are framed in black steel. The hardwood here is pewter in tone, juxtaposed by pale touches like the driftwood-coloured storage cabinetry and bianco marble of the kitchen floors, island, and foyer. This interplay of neutrals paves the way for bright pops of colour in the wall coverings, rugs, artwork, and furnishings; think garnet, dark blue, and a vibrant pink.

Other changes to the existing structure included the addition of a two-car garage (a change which came at the sacrifice of a formal dining room) and an open living/dining space in place of a separate living room and study. The master bath and walk-in closets were reconfigured, while one shared bathroom on the second floor was annexed into two private bathrooms.

Want more Toronto architectural gems? Check out this stunning hotel transformation.