A HOUSE WE LOVE: A modernist gem in Hintonburg

A HOUSE WE LOVE: A modernist gem in Hintonburg

A lot that was just 23 feet seven inches wide demanded a very innovative house design. Photography by Peter Fritz.

Luminous Modernism: A couple designs and builds a streamlined house on a very slim lot in Hintonburg

This house is one of five innovative modern designs featured in the 2012 Interiors edition. See more photographs and read the full story in the print edition.

Lee-Ann Zanelli still laughs when she recalls her first drive-by past the lot that would eventually become the site for their modernist gem of a house. Her husband, Rick Shean, had called her at work to tell her he had found the perfect lot in Hintonburg.

“We drove over, and Rick points out what was basically a driveway,” says Lee-Ann. “I just looked at him and said, ‘Are you kidding me? There’s no way!’” The parcel of land, severed from the lot belonging to the neighbouring house, was a mere 23 feet seven inches wide.

Not a lot of space to squeeze a house into — especially when you figure in space between the neighbours on either side.

The design, by architect Rick Shean, is guided by the slim lot. It essentially involves "two boxes joined by a hallway," says Shean, who envisioned this courtyard as a lovely outdoor space that also allows sunlight to flood into the south-facing windows in the hallway. Photography by Peter Fritz.

The couple bought the property, and Rick began planning their infill in earnest. The slim lot guided a design that, essentially, involves “two boxes joined by a hallway,” Rick says with a laugh. It’s a humble way to describe the deceptively simple design that takes full advantage of the parameters of the lot and manages to access sunlight from three sides.

The house faces west, so Rick incorporated large windows at both the front and back of each of the “boxes” to allow evening and morning sunlight to flood in.

The courtyard area sits the middle portion of the house — that’s the “skinny section” — where a hallway, just seven feet wide, joins the front section to the back. Not only is the courtyard a great family space but the placement of it ensures that the south wall of the house is quite a distance from the neighbouring house, another design feature that allows southern light to flow in.

This back section of the house is the widest (16 feet four inches) and boasts an open-concept kitchen and an open area for sitting and dining. Because their main living area is set back from the street, the family can enjoy great views of the neighbourhood without feeling as thought though they're on show. Photography by Peter Fritz.

“If you’re here all day, you get to see the light move through the house,” says Rick. On the ground floor, the front section (just 10 feet nine inches wide) houses a cozy family room, while the wider back section boasts an open-concept kitchen, dining room, and living room. Upstairs, there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Beyond the way the light moves through the space, the beauty of this design is in its interconnectivity — both within the house and from inside to outside. Rick points out that if he is standing in the living room at the back of the house, he can see Lee-Ann sitting in the courtyard, their son, Enzo, playing in the family room at the front, and neighbours passing by on the sidewalk. The whole house feels like this — wherever you may be, the sightlines are such that you’re connected to those around you.

The interconnectivity of the house on display. From the front hall, the owner can see up the stairs to the second floor as well as through to the kitchen and living room. Light floods in through the courtyard. Photography by Peter Fritz.

Rick and Lee-Ann say they always knew that if they built a house together, it would incorporate a courtyard. They consider it to be part of their living space, interconnected with the house that surrounds it.

The palette for both the interiors and the exterior has a natural sensibility. “People strive to make something interesting by having it stand out,” says Rick, “but I would much rather have beauty. Done well, that natural aesthetic is sublime.”

While the first floor is open-concept, the second floot is the private space, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Photography by Peter Fritz.