Making modern design a good neighbor in Kitchener

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When Christopher Simmonds took on a contemporary building project in a traditional neighborhood of Kitchener, Ontario, he got more than he bargained for with local landlords.

“They thought building a modern house was going to be an affront to the neighborhood,” said the Ottawa architect and principal of Simmonds Architecture.

So, in the spirit of being a good neighbor, Simmonds modified his initial design to get the green light from the city and the community for the residence dubbed Kitchener Infill.

His first modification was to give the house a pitched roof, rather than a flat version with a roof terrace. Next, he chose Owen Sound ledge rock and thermally modified ash, materials that helped the house blend in with the local community. “The materials do a really good job of creating this ambiguity of the age of the house,” Simmonds said.

The three-story house was also designed with privacy in mind – its main entrance is located at the end of a covered side walkway.

With 2,770 square feet of living space, the first floor of Kitchener Infill includes the dining and living room, kitchen, pantry, and bar. The second floor has a bedroom, bathroom, hot tub and bar. And the main retreat, with bathroom, is on the top floor.

Building materials also include white oak and walnut cabinetry. Sustainable features include triple glazed windows, high insulation and radiant heating. Completed in 2019, Kitchener Infill took two years to design and build

Walnut and charcoal tones are used on all three floors of the home to create a cohesive aesthetic.

Architect Christopher Simmonds answers some questions about Kitchener Infill:

Were you surprised by the challenge of building this type of house in an old neighborhood?

The main challenge was convincing the neighborhood that it should be allowed. It’s a very traditional neighborhood and the houses all date from the 1920s to the 50s. We did two rounds of (approvals for) variances on this project.

The client imagined a flat-roofed house with a roof terrace and I said, “No. It’s a very traditional neighborhood and everything has sloping roofs.

What I wanted to build was a two and a half story house with a pitched roof. I want to set this up with intensely landscaped living spaces at ground level.

How do the neighbors like now?

I think they’ve mellowed. I think some neighbors still don’t like it.

The spacious master bedroom under the peaked roof uses soft lighting, built-in walnut units and a gas fireplace to create a sense of calm.

What is the cantilever roof used for?

The canopy of the roof leads you from the walkway, along the side of the house, to the door which orchestrates your arrival at the house. It also creates a separation between the upper elements clad in wood and the lower stone base. It would be a very tall and lean house without the insertion of this level.

There is a wall of windows near the stairs. How do you still achieve confidentiality?

The ground floor has a six-foot high fence on the outside, blocking the view of people watching from the sidewalk. There are also exterior louvers outside; when you are inside these seem horizontal but you cannot see down. This is our main element of confidentiality.

The fabulous thing about the window wall is that it brings in so much light. Climbing those stairs is quite an experience.

An open hallway lined with walnut and charcoal woodwork connects the third-floor master bedroom to its en-suite bathroom and walk-in closet.

What design accommodations have been made for the extra-large windows?

The track you place these windows on must be completely level – it cannot deviate at all. You need very strong concrete foundations underneath. The sliding door had to have a lift to put it in place.

Did you use fritted glass (decorative print) on this project?

We did not use it here. There are foliage and fences – the house is not sitting in the middle of a field.

"We did amazing landscaping for the house," says architect Christopher Simmonds of the 40-by-120-foot lot that also has a garage.
Georgie Binks is a Toronto-based writer and freelance contributor to The Star. Contact her at [email protected]
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