Situated on a narrow lot in a leafy neighborhood, Counterpoint House is a lofty, light-filled home for a family of four. After immigrating to Toronto from Europe, the family searched extensively, but could not find a house they wanted to live in. They then engaged the architect Paul Raff, and discussed their wish list: open, interconnected living spaces with a strong sense of connection to the garden, trees, and sky. The clients wanted a home that would seamlessly enhance a family’s experience of working, studying, playing music, cooking and dining together.

Their desire for a home designed for family life resulted in the compact and tailored form of Counterpoint House. Its function and flow facilitate the many family-oriented endeavours the clients sought. At the same time, the unusual split level stepping of its upper floors and bold window openings create a feeling of expansive spaciousness. Natural light is one of the main drivers of the design. The upper levels of the house are set back from the street face of the building allowing a large south-facing clerestory window to flood the middle of the house with sunlight.

The south face of the house also features a sculptural grace note and architectural device: a solar reflector screen on the front façade made up of 220 “light shelves.” The aluminum light shelves are horizontal slats which have a high coefficient of reflectivity. Their highly polished top surfaces bounce sunlight deep into the space. It imbues the interior with a glow and a dynamic pattern of shadows and reflections that shift across the space over the course of the hours and seasons. In the two children’s bedrooms on the top floor, the screen provides privacy from the street. From the exterior, it becomes a refractive silky fabric veil to the second floor façade.

“South light in a northern climate is wonderful for helping heat the house in winter, but can create too high a glare to be comfortable,” says architect Paul Raff. “The solar reflector screen solves that, while creating a dynamic play of delicate shadows, which to me is the visual equivalent of harp music.” With south facing basement windows, and a view of the front garden, the lower level offers a light-filled comfortable get-away for the many family members who often visit from abroad. They have their own kitchenette, two bedrooms and washroom to call their home away from home.

Passive solar and passive ventilation design principles combine with a high-performance building envelope (composed of SIPS: structurally insulated panel system). This results in a small footprint, low impact building. Wherever possible, the architect and owner deployed local and non-toxic building materials. Wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling glazing on the ground floor frame a view into the shade garden on the north side of the house. A clerestory window on the upper level illuminates the staircase and master bedroom with soft northern light.

The daylight strategy helps produce a house that is comfortable, beautiful, energy efficient, and which the owners describe as “uplifting.” After moving in, the owners cancelled their first vacation travel plans because they simply wanted to be in their new home. Designed to accommodate a future installation of an elevator, the owners plan to live there well into their dotage. Their wish list was more than fulfilled. With its unique form, natural light and view, Counterpoint House creates a bold, fresh architectural expression. The house respects the scale and character of the century old neighborhood while still presenting a strong, modern statement with perfect, handsome proportions.

Paul Raff Studio

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