An 1880’s Annex Dwelling Gets A Modern Makeover By Dubbeldam Architecture + Design


Located in one of Toronto's more eclectic neighbourhoods The South Annex, the 'Through House's' exterior fits with streetscape's dominant Edwardian and Victorian architectural styles. Built between 1880 and early 1900s, brick semi-detached dwellings like the Through House were the first-wave of homes to enter the neighbourhood. The second-wave of South Annex homes introduced a rich variety of architectural styles with English Cottage, Georgian and Tudor style architecture, dating from 1910 to 1930.

From streetview, the Through House is a beautiful historically intact example of late 19th century architecture with its mansard roof and detailed dormers. But owner, doctor Yash Patel and architect Heather Dubbeldam of DUBBELDAM Architecture + Design had an entirely fresh vision for the interior. The front yard's modern garden is the only exterior hint to what is inside!

Because they were unable to expand the footprind of the house, the design focuses on 'perceptually' expanding the space by opening it to the exterior and connecting it visually. The 1 450 square foot interior was carved into an open concept plan that retained the square footage and did encroach on the backyard space. The importance of the backyard space motivated Dubbeldam to open up the interior and introduce a strong visual connection between the interior and backyard. The main floor and the back yard are designed to be an extension of one another; a continuous flow to travel through. With this concept at the forefront of the design, the Through House was built.



Strong linear elements draw the eye through the space, enlarging the narrow rooms and connecting the yard and the interior.

Porcelain tiles are inlayed in both the kitchen and the outdoor patio to create a continuity between spaces which is also strengthened by the floor to ceiling glass panes. 




Dubbeldam's nearly total control of the design enabled the design team to custom design a built-in table made from solid Sapele wood.

The countertop and backsplash are both made of gray St. Marks limestone.

The harmonious blend of wood, porcelain, limestone, and the 'Big Bang' acrylic light fixture creates a soothing and tactile environment - the perfect retreat for an urban professional. 



Sculptural fibre makes a statement as the living room's hearth. Artist Kathryn Walter of FELT Studio designed the industrial felt hearth for the Through House. Modeled after the stone hearths of 1950s and 1960s modernism, the hearth brings tactility and warmth to the space and supplements the need for individual artworks or decorative pieces for the walls. The appeal for modernism carries through in the Eames chairs while still retaining warmth with the variety of materials and curving lines of the furniture. 



Miesian influence enters the design through the use of tiling and minimal framework dividing interior and exterior. Porcelain tile continues through the living space and onto the back patio to continue the linearity, which is subtly interrupted by a thin steel and glass framework. The minimal design is an expression of Mies van der Rohe's "skin and bones" architecture.

Despite the transparency between inside and outside, the Through House is incredibly energy efficient. Elements of passive climate control like the sun shading trellis contribute to the green design. Along with a radiant heating system and operable skylights to allow heat to upwardly escape in the summer, Dubbeldam demonstrates the potential for historical housing to be sustainable and energy efficient. 

The approaches taken to daylighting and natural ventilation in the design of the Through House are indicative of the architect's commitment to high energy performance architecture earning the home the 2013 Canadian Green Building Award. 

We love the Through House's commitment to preserve the face of 19th century architecture while not shying away from including a range of period styles like 1950s and 60s modernism, and contemporary artists' work. The Through House is material proof that each design period offers unique elements worthy of continuation and most importantly, collaboration! 

For more of DUBBELDAM Architecture + Design's projects click here.

All Images Courtesy of Photography Bob Gundu.

What is your feel on felt design, like artist Kathryn Walker's felt hearth? Check out Globe and Mail's article A Feel for Felt for more examples of home felt design.


Researched and written by Sara Nicole England, undergraduate at OCAD University in Criticism and Curatorial Practice.

Posted In: Ontario

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