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