a new construction project by po ku luxury custom home builder in the Belgravia style in Forest Hill Toronto

Belgravia Mansion

From A Burnt Out Shell

On St. Clair Avenue West was the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. In 1994 the house next to it burnt down. It was under renovation but was inactive for a long period of time. One night it caught fire. When we bought the property, the burnt out shell of the house was still on the lot and had been there for over a year. The only salvageable thing left was the cement tile roofing which we donated to charity. We proceeded to demolish the shell, remove all the debris from site and excavate for a new foundation.

Part of the main floor was constructed of precast concrete coreslabs twenty foot long. A crane was used for hoisting the precast units. A policeman was hired to direct traffic because the hoist truck took up half of the width of the street.

The Belgravia Style

The house was intentionally designed to look “old”. It had the appearance that it was built in the 1910s. Forest Hill was prestigious because of its grand old houses, not the new pretenders. The style of our house was borrowed from that of a London Belgravia mansion. It had an orderly front elevation punctuated symmetrically by tall double-hung windows with thin muntins protected by fine wrought-iron window guards. The prominent stringcourses divided the façade horizontally. The stone lintels over the windows were intersected by a keystone in the middle. The entrance portico was flanked by a pair of Tuscan columns with entasis. Ours were the first new stone columns to use entasis twenty years ago. The portico was topped by a Juliet balcony with stone balustrade. The paneled oak front door was fitted with a beautiful Georgian fanlight above. The overall style was Georgian with classical overtone. It was orderly, controlled and low key – the kind of style that would not go out of fashion in a neighborhood like Forest Hill.

The Interiors

The interiors similarly appeared “old-fashioned”. The floor in the main hall was white marble. The library was dark English oak. The living room was screened from the hallway by a colonnade of Tuscan columns. The full wall fireplace mantel in the living room was dark English oak paneled with Georgian shell motif inserts. The breakfast nook in the back of the house was a rotunda with windows all around. Going up the stair to the second floor, when you looked up, you were greeted by a fifteen foot square Georgian fanlight skylight grille made from a combination of wrought-iron, plasterwork and wood. The whole assembly was lit handsomely by hidden lights in the light-troughs.

Value of Classical Architecture

Many clients resented the notion of having their houses looked old.  Hence builders couldn’t wait to dream up new ideas for their inventions.  But at the same time their clients wanted to look upscale and respectable.  One could not re-invent Classical Architecture which was already cataloged in detail by Roman times.  Like a dead language, we could only learn and follow.  We were imitating a Belgravia style.  We were imitating the imitated.  But at least the house in Belgravia was worth over fifty million British Pounds.

See another house we built for the same client : Red Brick Tudor .

view of the great window in the living room of the Scottish arts and crafts Tudor newly constructed home by Po Ku toronto's luxury custom home builder

Scottish Arts & Crafts

Scottish Chic

Glencairn Avenue was a typical middle-class Toronto suburban street with a mixed architectural style. Red brick was frequently used on the outside of the houses. Roof lines were low and asphalt shingles were the roofing material of choice. We wanted to design a house that would fit in but with more refined detailing than the houses on the street. We wanted to make the interiors shine.

The client was of Scottish descent.  The street had a few nicely detailed Scottish Arts and Crafts houses that were built in the 1940s. They tended to be overshadowed by their larger and blander neighbors. The Tudor Gothic details were evident in these houses. For some reason, the Canadian brand of Scottish Arts and Crafts was notable for the lower than average front doors. We could only attribute the phenomenon to the desire of energy saving.

The Notable Front Entrance

The front entrance to us was hugely important. Our design did not look overly imposing from the street. The proportions of the front elevation were carefully studied and devised. But when you walked up to it, it became quite impressive. The door was ten foot tall and made of heavy oak with leaded glass inserts. The stone arch surround was a shallow Tudor arch with oak leave ornamentation. The overall effect was Scottish College Tudor.

The Brickwork

To the right of front entrance, the segments of the front elevation were divided into panels. The borders of the panels were carefully decorated with trims, dentils, pilasters and stone ornaments. The brickwork was varied – in herringbone pattern, in custom double ogee shape and/or contained within half-timber frames.

The Interiors

The interiors were Scottish Tudor also as demonstrated by the incorporation of the Arts and Crafts fireplace mantel, the great bracketed beams, the Gothic leaded mirrors and the Tudor plaster ceiling pattern. The living room had a full bank of Tudor Gothic leaded windows. On a sunny day, the casting of the shadows from the lead dividers complete the retro-nostalgic atmosphere.

See our other Scottish client’s house : Tudor Manor

in Toronto's Lytton park neighborhood, this long Georgian style house with a library added on to the back was built by Toronto's Po Ku Design Build, luxury custom home builder

Georgian Country House

Back of A Backyard

It was the bottom of the recession.  Cortleigh was a quiet wooded street with some unremarkable old stone houses and a short walk to synagogues on Bathurst Street. There was no construction going on except ours and we got jeered every Saturday by walkers on their way to assembly.  I found the land which was the back part of a larger property sunken into a ravine.  It was considered difficult to build on.  But wanting to set an example and to build a luxury home efficiently, I proceeded to build the first dignified Georgian house on the street.  The backyard was the ravine.

The lot was wide but shallow, hence the ultimate shape of the floor plate, sixty foot wide and twenty foot deep.  The exterior of house itself was nothing special.  The “Georgian” taste was inferred rather than overt : the regularly spaced tall double-hung windows, the quoins, the pediment over the front entrance and the old-fashioned wrought-iron window guards, gave enough of a hint to the classical English style.

Two Phases

The house was built in two phases. The original house was a long rectangular box. Six years later, an addition was built in the rear of the house making it an L shape.

The original house had the living room, foyer, dining room and kitchen all lined up in a straight line. The two story addition provided a library adjacent to the living room and a new master bedroom with a balcony looking out into the backyard with a full view of the ravine.

The library was outfitted with Honduras mahogany coffered ceiling, paneled walls, built-in bookcases, fireplace mantel and mahogany flooring. The entrance into the library was a pair of tall mahogany paneled doors. The bookcases were fitted with a sliding mahogany ladder on brass rail and casters.  The full wall of windows overlooked the ravine backyard.

The new master bedroom was crowned by a barrel-vaulted ceiling, the precursor to the great domed ceiling in a later project. The bedroom had a limestone fireplace mantle with a wood burning fireplace.  The floor was natural Canadian maple.  A new walk-in closet that was part of the master bedroom suite was fitted with leather tiles on the floor.

The client soon moved to New York City where his career flourished. Two years after my client sold the house, American architect Robert Stern built a large stone mansion a few houses down at great cost.  Twelve years later, we were to build the same client another house when he came back to Canada.  The client always regretted that he could not live in this house longer because he really loved it.  The mahogany library was designed for him to read and relax in.  The view in the back was lovely and he had made many friends in the neighborhood that had remained close to this day.  At the time he owned two large dogs which he used walk all over the ravine, parkland and neighborhood streets.

a dark red brick Georgian house new build by Po Ku Design Build of Toronto in Forest Hill

Forest Hill House

A Pair Of Forest Hill Homes

This is again a pair of freestanding houses we built side by side. The floor plans and structures of the two houses were almost identical but the use of materials gave them each a distinctive flavor. The dark red brick with white stone quoins gave one house its Georgian style while the white rubble stone front and the Art Deco door grilles gave the other one a French Provence look. The front entrance porticos were paneled with gilded lettering on the entablature. Each of the houses had its own detached garage.

The French house was the precursor to the Art Deco Apartment in the Four Seasons. The client commissioned us to build the house for her because she was a bit tired of her old house without many modern conveniences. At the time she was living in a large nondescript house built in the 1930s in the upscale Forest Hill neighborhood that had never been renovated. The house was eventually sold and torn down to make way for a new and bigger non-descript house.

The client was a lover of French art and design. She collected Art Deco pieces and French Impressionist paintings. We set out to design a house that was compact but was laid out precisely to house her furniture and painting collection.

The exquisitely detailed front entrance lead into a gem of a lobby. The floor was highly polished salmon colored marble with inlaid borders. The ceiling was divided into panels and trimmed in custom made Art Deco plaster moldings. Through the wide openings, to the left was the living room and to the right was the dining room. The hardwood floors there were trimmed with boldly patterned inlaid borders.

The stair in the narrow hallway was a graceful serpentine shape with French Art Deco balustrade. The curved stair fitted the space like a glove. The treads were bleached Canadian white maple.

The white marble fireplace mantel in the living room was also designed in Art Deco style with full height fluted pilasters and a concave backdrop above the fireplace opening.

The 1920s Art Deco ceiling light fixtures with ribbed glass shades were refitted to suit the outlets provided by us in the rooms.

What Stood Out

Lattice work on front door grilled

Fire grille by Edgar Brandt a perfect match to the white marble veins

French bronze object above fireplace

Pair of Art Deco club chairs

Scroll work on iron balustrade

Small urn on top of newel posts

Lalique & Daum Art Deco glass

Art Deco dining table and chairs

Ruhlmann sideboard and cabinet

A Bygone Era

The French Art Deco style of the Roaring ’20s was immortalized by the work of its craftsmen who competed with each other to create the most beautiful and astounding pieces that wowed the world.  Jean Puiforcat’s silver articles, Robert Mallet-Stevens’ modern architectural designs, Edgar Brandt’s bronze pieces, Pierre Chareau’s Macassar ebony work, Eileen Gray’s breathtaking designs, Raoul Dufy’s graphic design, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann’s furniture and interior design and Le Corbusier’s sculptural buildings – all represented the epitome of that epoch.

a tudor arts and craft gothic house in south hill of toronto by po ku luxury custom home builder

English Country Cottage

The Beginning

Glen Edyth Drive was a peculiar street in the sense that it was not considered upscale at one time.  And we really could not fathom why it was overlooked because it was such a beautiful street nestled inside the Nordheimer Ravine. The property that we were looking at was a small bunker-like structure built into the side of the ravine and could not be seen from the street. One had to get out of the car and peer down the cliff to see the roof top of the bunker.  It was a small hideaway for an engineer who had a studio/study built inside the bunker and not much else. From there on, Glen Edyth Drive, a cul-de-sac going uphill and ending in a turnaround was a steep slope up. In 1997, the street was underdeveloped because while it was close to the affluent South Hill neighborhood, it was near the industrial area along Davenport Rd. to the south.  It was truly an amazing street. Midway up the hill was a lovely rough stone house with a rotunda in the front owned by the Roman Catholic church.  Further up the street was a collection of suburban houses with very little character.

It was a risky venture because the lot with the little brick bunker was put up for sale at a huge price. The lot was very wide but shallow and it had the potential of being subdivided into four lots.  We eventually bought the property and managed to find another builder to buy the two lower lots from us. The two higher lots were, in our opinion, the more valuable in the long run because of the nearness of the ravine that would make living in the houses virtually like living in the woods. The cost of construction would be higher than that of the two lower lots and the houses’ floor plates would be smaller but we could build taller. The cost of construction was high also because the houses were built down into the ravine and tons of concrete had to be poured to raise the main floor up to the street level.  The view in the back was ravishing.  A Canadian celebrity rock star lived in one of the houses for a few years and turned the concrete bridge bunker into a recording studio.  Glen Edyth today is home to business moguls and company CEOs.

A Tall House

The second phase of our Glen Edyth Project was built in the Gothic Arts and Craft style that resembled an English Country Cottage.  The lower part of the front elevation was rough hewn limestone blocks and upper part was stucco with wood trimming.  The house had five levels.  There was a basement and a sub-basement.  The basement was below grade in front and had a walk-out patio in the back.  The sub-basement was totally below grade.  The foyer was six steps up from the finished grade.  The front entrance was a lovely carved-stone Gothic pointed-arch surrounding a leaded glass door.  From the foyer, half a flight of stair up was the living room and family room.  The kitchen was four steps above the family room.  The dining room was on the same level as the kitchen.  Another level up was the master bedroom and another four steps up was the guest bedroom.  All bedrooms had ensuite bathrooms. The back of the house was the ravine.  Full height window walls covered the back of the house on all levels, except the sub-basement.  The view was spectacular.  From the foyer, half a flight of stair down were two more bedrooms with walkouts to the back patio.  The sub-basement contained a den and a storage room.  It sounded like a whole lot of stairs but the experience was quite pleasant.  There was a large skylight at the top of the stairwell.  The stairs and foyer were designed in the 1940s film-noir retro style.  From the top of the stair the view all the way down was awesome.

 

a georgian style long house in south hill toronto, a new build project by po ku design build

Georgian Long House

The House In the Ravine

The Glen Edyth Project was done in two phases.  This was the first phase.  For the history of this project and the second phase, please read English Country Cottage.

The first of our Glen Edyth project had to be built first because if it was not, the second project beside it would have blocked the access of any construction vehicles and everything would have to be brought down from the street by manual labor – that would have been extremely costly. Note that there was no access from the back – it was the Nordheimer Ravine. The house was set back from the street and the lot dropped steeply down from the street – almost a sheer drop of twenty feet at one point. The overall site being long and narrow, gave us access to the back of this house from the lower lot which was closer in height to the street level. Furthermore, construction activities were absolutely forbidden inside the ravine – not even staging or ladder could be set up there. The back of this lot was the ravine. Scaffolds and staging were suspended from the roof instead.

The Bridge & The Patio

This first house was built about twenty-five feet from the street.  A bridge had to be constructed to link the house to the street.  The bridge incorporated a concrete foundation (we called it the bunker) underneath – a tribute to the old bunker found on the site before we tore it down.  The entire new house was built deep into the ravine.  There were two basements. The upper basement and the sub-basement. The sub-basement level was twenty-five feet below street level.  The back of the house was all windows. It felt like one was living inside a forest.

The main level consisted of a living room, study with ensuite bathroom and garage.  The upper level comprised four bedrooms.  The main level was the living room, library and bathroom. The living room had a full wall of floor to ceiling windows looking out into the forest.  The lower level housed the kitchen, family room and dining room with windows on two sides. While there were patio doors that lead out onto the patio in the back of the family room, the grade dropped off sharply outside of the dining room giving it a suspended feeling – the room was at mid-level of the tree trunks outside.  The sub-basement level was a large den and mechanical space. The two houses we built on Glen Edyth were of two different styles. We did this intentionally because we wanted to maintain the characteristics of the neighborhood. House 1 was a long and narrow Georgian and House 2 was a Tudor Arts and Crafts.  The Family Room walked out onto the back patio ensconced by tall trees.  The patio projected into the ravine. In the summer it was a joy sitting out there so quiet and serene except for the sound of birds and insects.  The house was once occupied by a celebrity rock star who turned the bridge tunnel into a recording studio.

front view of the stone Tudor house built by Po Ku Design Build in Hoggs Hollow

Stone Tudor Mansion

Hurricane Hazel 1954

Since 2010, the City of Toronto has implemented many effective schemes in resolving the chronic flooding problem of the Hoggs Hollow neighborhood.  In 1954, Toronto suffered one of its worst flooding caused by hurricane Hazel. Our soil engineer, Vic Wood lived through that disastrous period. He remembered vividly that the part of the Don River that flowed through Hoggs Hollow swelled so high that it flooded all of the houses in the neighborhood. Hoggs Hollow had a history of flooding until about five years ago when the water diversion projects started to take effect and the water level of the river became visibly controlled.

A few builders in that area, without knowing the high water table and flooding issues, went ahead and excavated to whatever depth they desired and found nothing but problems afterwards. Water had to be pumped out of their basements almost continually.

Our lot backed onto the Don River.

Knowing How Deep to Dig

Vic Wood actually had a record on hand showing how high the water table could be on our lot. He warned us though that it was not hard data and should be used with a substantial safety factor. We collected fifteen core-drill samples to a depth of twelve feet and found water at eleven feet. We excavated to a depth of nine feet ten inches and stopped there. Except in one corner where the soil was damp, the rest of the excavation was bone dry. And this was done in the month of March when the water table should be high during the spring thaw.

Devising A Drainage System

Our structural engineer Lawrence Tse, Vic Wood and myself got together and designed a foundation that could survive flooding as bad as the one caused by hurricane Hazel. The small area with the damp soil was walled off and not included in the basement area. A matrix of weeping tiles was laid inside the foundation walls under the concrete floor and drained into two large sump pits on different sides of the house. The standard footing weeping tile was installed on the outside around the footings. Twelve inches of two inch clear crushed stone was placed underneath the concrete floor slab to hold the water if any. Plastic pipe sleeves three inches in diameter were inserted vertically into the crushed stone. The sleeves were braced to prevent being knocked down during the pour. Then a six inch thick concrete slab was poured. When the concrete was cured, the top of the pipes were grinded off flush with the floor slab. The perforation of the floor might seem ridiculous when you wanted to prevent water from coming in. The concept was rather counter-intuitive. The actual explanation was more scientific. Despite the claim of some builders and waterproofers, no basement could be made waterproof indefinitely – not in the sense of water-tightness of a submarine. A house had too many joints and components that were not welded together. A house settled and shrank. Joints would eventually open up. Waterproofing material that could stretch would age, harden and become less flexible. Eventually, it would crack. So our idea of waterproofing was actually water redirection.

Relieving The Pressure

During a flood or swelling of the water table, a seamless concrete floor in the basement became the wall of a pressure vessel against the tremendous hydrostatic pressure built up underneath. The water would find any cracks and holes to get into the house. Instead, we perforated the floor to relieve the water pressure so it would have time to enter the weeping tiles and eventually drain into the sump pits.

Surviving Actual Floods

Three years after my client moved in, a flash rainstorm raised the water level of the Don River so high that it breached its banks. The water came up to the backyard!  The backyard was normally about ten feet above the river level. Most of the basements on the street got flooded. Our house escaped the misfortune. In its fifteen years of existence, the basement remained dry.

Because our basement floor was more than a foot above the normal water table, the sump pumps would come on only during heavy rain. The rest of the time they were silent.

What We Ruled Out

Walk Out Basement – when flood water overshot the top of the lawn in the backyard, nothing could stop the water from entering the basement when there was a pair of doors eight feet below the lawn.

Underground Parking – during a rainstorm, all the sump pumps were working overtime. You would not want extra load of water rushing down the driveway slope into the basement parking garage. In any case, relying on mechanical means to get rid of water was only the last resort.

What We Wished We Could Have

Consideration from the city to raise the roof another twelve inches so the entire house could be raised by the same amount. This would have left two feet between the basement floor and the normal water table. But the city would never had permitted building in a flood plain any differently than building on a usual street. In fact buildings in a flood plain should ideally be raised on stilts. But zoning regulations made no attempt to differentiate.

Permission to cut down trees that were detrimental to the proper performance of drainage pipes and weeping tiles. Due to the water rich soil, trees in the area developed very extensive root system. Roots would enter the drainage pipes and weeping tiles and clog them up. Some of the pipes were buried deep underground making repairs extremely costly.

The building code should allow homeowners to do away with eavestroughs. Hoggs Hollow was in a river valley covered with trees. Eavestroughs and downspouts were constantly filled with leaves. When they were blocked, water ended up inside the house. What the building code should really require homeowners to do was to grade their properties properly (see section Construction Management) and install drainage channels along the property lines.

We witnessed many disputes amongst neighbors about site drainage. Neighbors tend to blame each other when their basements get flooded.  Read about sideyard issues and the need for neighborly cooperation.

­­

 

A South Hill Clarendon House built in the Tudor style with white stone and red brick built by Po Ku, luxury custom builder of Toronto

Red Brick Tudor

There were three properties on this severed lot (see Parisian City House) : this Red Brick Tudor House, the Parisian City House and the renovated house in which the movie Black Christmas was filmed. The Red Brick Tudor was the smallest of the three houses, but nevertheless the details were just as elaborate. The house was accessible by a private drive created by us in the back since the attached garage was at the back of the house. The front yard was gated and the side yard was shielded from view by a tall stone wall. The three houses were distinctly different in material and style. This diversity was representational of the architectural taste of the neighborhood.

How It Started

It was a decrepit lot with an old house that was in disrepair that we bought in a neighborhood that was a mixture of high end residential homes, mid-century apartments and rooming houses. It was not considered the best part of Forest Hill. In fact realtors called it South Hill to distinguish it from the uber-luxurious Forest Hill. Our vision was to turn our group of three homes into an upscale and attractive enclave that people would admire. We had succeeded. In fact our development changed the outlook on the street. More upscale architects and builders started to do work there. In fifteen years the street was transformed into one of the most beautiful residential streets in the city.  It would have taken that long for any street to transform organically.  The fast-track way would be for spec builders to go in and do their run-of-the-mill cookie cutter home building that would not have benefited the neighborhood.  In fact people with good taste (and money) would avoid these neighborhoods like the plague.

Exclusivity

To access the private drive we had created, you must enter a private cul-de-sac serving an enclave of ten houses. When you turned into our private drive, the Movie Set House was on your right and the Red Brick Tudor was on your left. The Parisian City House was straight ahead at the end of the drive. The sense of privacy and proprietorship was strong when you were on the private drive. You felt that you were far remote from the bustling city streets.

The Details

The dark red brick contrasted with the white limestone to give the house a smart and crisp look. The dimensional cut stone blocks were so precisely milled and carved that the edges were sharp and crisp. The front entrance was imposing and dominated by the layered Romanesque archway supported by paneled pilasters and topped by a projecting stone bay window with a corbeled base. Windows were deeply set in between stone ribs and casing.

The Distinctive Interior

The great room inside was twenty foot high at the peak and fitted with a stone Tudor fireplace mantel incorporating the family crest in the carving. The sun came through the large windows flooding the room with daylight.  Through the great room was the library which looked out into the walled-off garden.  It was fully paneled in pine with intricate mouldings and trims of classical style.

new construction of white stone Parisian city house by po ku design build, custom home builder par excellence

Parisian City House

This was a new build on a narrow city lot created by us. The white stone Baroque exterior was matched by a Louis XVI interior. Millwork, casegoods and freestanding furniture were custom designed and made by Po Ku Design Build. The hand-carved Baroque stone fireplace mantels were created by Rob Little.

How It Started

In the Find The Perfect Site section, we have stressed upon the fact that good architecture brings about more good architecture. This is how an upscale neighborhood is created, not by building bigger and glitzier houses, but by building better architecture.  In 1991, a developer bought the old Eaton house on Clarendon Avenue which was, by any standard, a beautiful Georgian edifice and managed to subdivide it into three apartments and sold them all at considerable profit. The developer had the foresight not to alter the exteriors of the old house. In 1994 we bought a decrepit old house next to the Eaton house and severed the land into three parcels.  One with the old house on it and the other two for new construction.  The existing house was the famous haunted house in the Canadian blockbuster movie Black Christmas. In the movie, the maniac lived in the attic. The real house had an attic but was too low to stand up straight in. At the time there were a few spec-built houses and townhouses on the street.  The rest were older and undistinguished homes. Also there were quite a few rooming houses in the neighborhood. We were the first one to create an enclave of three extraordinarily luxurious custom homes on the street – two new houses and one renovated old house.  Today the street is the most sought-after place to live in Toronto.

Site Layout

We created a private drive for access for all three lots. This Parisian City House was situated at the end of the created street. The house had a gated front yard and very deep backyard which was surrounded by trees so dense that one could not see the neighboring houses. It also had an inner courtyard hidden deeply in the middle of the building with a secret garden. This was the setting we had created right in the middle of the densely populated mid-town Toronto.

What Stood Out

The white stone glittered in bright daylight. The most prominent feature was the giant stone stringcourse that ran all around the building. It was designed with a slope on the flat top to shed water (see Construction Management section). The white stone quoins, the tall French windows, the ironwork, the Baroque arches and the giant fluted stone pilasters in the courtyard were memorable features of the house.

The Inside

Above the Baroque entrance was an exquisitely handcrafted French wrought iron grille. When the doors open, you were greeted by the gracefully curved white staircase with a free-flowing wrought iron balustrade. The floor was cream-colored limestone. All surfaces were painted a light cream color. Pillars separated the living room from the foyer. At the end of living room was a feature wall with a full height Baroque carved-stone fireplace mantel in the center. Walking down a long hallway, you would find the courtyard garden on your left and the Louis XVI library on your right. The cream and gold library was fitted with finely carved woodwork on three walls. The end wall had a full height fireplace mantel in the center. The bookcases were to the right. Integrated in the full height glass doors of the bookcases were slender pillars with an urn on top. Wall panels were golden Indian Satinwood with lacquered trim and molding surround. At the end of the hallway were too rooms. To the left was the dining room looking into the courtyard. Breakfast al fresco in the courtyard in the summer was a beloved event in the morning. To the right of the hallway was the kitchen family room. There was an entrance from the garage and a second stair going up to the second floor and down to the lower level. The kitchen family room was designed in a simple French country style. Kitchen cabinets were old-fashioned, cream colored and handcrafted. The center of attraction was the Honduras mahogany island counter with a shaped pillar at each of the four corners. The island was designed as a freestanding piece of fine furniture. The blue and white checkered tile pattern reinforced the French country feel. The back of the kitchen family room was a full-length window wall with large French doors that open out into the lush and very private backyard.

 

white stone french baroque house with swimming pool in back by po ku design build, custom home builder par excellence

French Baroque

We have known this client for over twenty years. We’ve watched his children grow up and enter university. His is a big family by today’s standards. This house contains a total of 12,000 sq.ft. of floor space on three levels. On the main and second floor the total floor area is 8500 sq.ft. The street where we have built the house has blossomed from a sleepy non-descript suburban street to one of the most sought-after streets in the city. The house was built to stand out. We meant to make the house a catalyst to attract better architects and builders to the street. And we have succeeded.

The Beginning

The lot was wide. The excavation was ten foot deep. The basement was totally below grade (read related section : Construction Management). There were just two steps at the front entrance. The Design Build process worked harmoniously. From the day design started to move-in, the project took a full two and a half years. Near the beginning, the client gave us a picture of a 19th century villa outside of Paris and asked if something like that could be built for him. The building had a flat top, cream-colored stone on the exterior and tall French doors and windows.

We set out to design the floor plans, the building front and back, the site plans and tie down the important design features. We also spoke to Tradewood Windows of St. Catherines who recommended making the eleven foot high French doors with very narrow frames out of solid mahogany wood. Only a strong and stable wood like mahogany could be shaped into the slim profiles and still be sturdy enough to withstand all the forces.

The Shop Drawings

Almost a hundred drawings were prepared for the Indiana Buff Limestone cladding of the house. Some pieces were 18” thick. And most of them were intricately detailed. Batches of these drawings were sent to the stone fabricator in Owen Sound who in turn sent back shop drawings daily for us to review and edit. This back and forth processing of shop drawing verification took about three months to complete.

In the meantime, on site, the foundation was being formed and poured. All the walls were double reinforced with two layers of steel reinforcement grid made up of 15M rebars. The exterior of the poured concrete foundation was then waterproofed.

Photographic Records

The concrete floors of the garage and laundry room were glycol heated. Tubes and wires were installed in the concrete forms before concrete was poured. This was repeated in the basement where the concrete floor slab was heated by hot water. Photographs were taken of the pre-installed tubes and wires for record keeping.  In case we had to drill holes in the floor slabs, we would know what to avoid.

Numerous pipes sleeves were embedded in the concrete to avoid having to drill holes in the finished concrete afterwards. These were passages for future plumbing pipes, gas lines, wires, tubes, drains, vents, exhausts and ducts.

The Groin Vaults

We had preliminary sketches done for a groin-vaulted ceiling along the front hall. The modules were made in a series of eight-foot cubes. The final design was transformed into a 3D model which showed exactly how the vaults could be framed.

The Big Dome

The master bedroom ceiling was an exact half dome. It was very large (32 feet across at the widest). The wall below followed the half circle and was also curved. The bed had to be designed (by Po Ku) as a free-standing piece with a snug-fitting curve in the back. The headboard faced a long console five feet away from the foot of the bed. The top of the console rose by remote control and a TV came up.

Below the master bedroom was the semi-circular kitchen. The cabinetry had to be custom designed to fit the curves. The gas burners and the fridge columns were arranged in arcs. The stainless steel exhaust flues from the range hood were four shiny columns rising up to the ceiling.

The Roof

The roof was flat but with a slight slope towards the roof drains. Roofing material was thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) which was a single-ply reflective roofing membrane made from polyprophylene and ethylene-propylene rubber polymerized together.  The mansard roofs surrounding the flat roof were tiled in natural slate.

The Interiors

The interiors of the house was designed in the latest classical minimalist fashion. Ornamentation and classical details were subtle and non-obtrusive. In the foreground were high-styled modern furniture and artwork.

The family room and the kitchen were one continuous elongated space. Other than the spare crown moulding and the tall French doors, the space was almost modern. The family room ended at a feature wall with a ribbon-fire fireplace and a built-in flat screen TV. The furniture was by Roche-Bobois. The kitchen was white with hi-tech stainless steel features.

The living and dining rooms were also one continuous elongated space traversed by the groin-vaulted hallway, although the accent was more classical. The hand-carved Baroque limestone fireplaces at either end of the long space were identical and on axis. The paneling and trims were consistent throughout the long space.

The Back

The backyard was meticulously landscaped and dominated by a large swimming pool with a pair of identical stone cabanas designed by Po Ku flanking the front end of the pool area.  One cabana housed a wet bar complete with commercial grade stainless steel cabinetry and fittings.  The other cabana was a change room with an outdoors showers.  Between the two cabanas was a hot tub with a fountain.

The Outcome

A rather long façade greets the visitors as they approach the building. Their eyes are drawn to the upper part of the front entrance. The triangular pediment with the elegant dentil surround crowns the top of the front portico. Upon closer inspection, the trim proportions of the true French doors become apparent. The dividing muntins and the vertical stiles of the doors are exceptionally slim and elegant. And the stonework is by no means plain. The more they look, the more details they can see. As they come up to the front doors, they can feel the two colossal stone corbels embracing them with a warm welcoming hug. Rather than being greeted by a pair of solemn and imposing doors, they can actually see through the lacy wrought ironwork inserted in the tall French doors. However, they cannot actually look into the house because there is an inner set of heavy oak doors blocking their view. As the host opens the outer doors, they are let inside the vestibule. Once they pass through the inner doors, the gorgeous groin-vaulted ceiling appears in front of them and it is breathtaking. From there they can see the backyard garden at the very end of the passage.

What Stand Out

  1. Tailored Cut-Stone Exterior
  2. Giant Stone Corbels At Front Entrance
  3. Tall Glass & Wrought Iron Front Doors
  4. Groin-Vaulted Ceiling Over Main Hallway
  5. 11′ High Mahogany French Doors With Slim Profiles
  6. Circular Kitchen
  7. Wrap-Around Curved Staircase
  8. No Bulkhead On Both Floors
  9. Silent Floors
  10. Giant Domed Ceiling In Master Bedroom
  11. 12′ High Garage Door for 14′ High Garage