Yes, that title sounds like a tease. (Eames era Knoll modern Mies van Der Rohe.) But this seems to be the real thing, thanks to MODERNest, a new development company from Toronto architect Kyra Clarkson and planner Christopher Glaisek. Their first project is a new-build house in Leslieville with well-executed modernist architecture, quality materials, and a reasonable price tag.
The house, up for sale right now at $699,000, looks very good to my eyes. (No surprise; Clarkson has an impressive resume, with work at the prestigious offices of Tod Williams Billie Tsien and Shim Sutcliffe.) There are well-configured public spaces with lots of light, and windows framed in Douglas fir; a glass-enclosed stair, above, adds some minimalist flash. Upstairs, a large skylight brings light into the middle of the house. And the back of the second floor cantilevers out over the back patio, offering some elegant wood-panelled shelter for a barbecue.
Photos by Steven Evans.
All this helps to make the most of the space. It’s 1260 square feet, with a finished basement that adds another 500 or so. The plans are tightly designed, and the room sizes are reasonable. (The floor plans are on their web site here.) Keeping it to these tight dimensions is how Clarkson and Glaisek have helped keep the price tag down. And that’s the real puzzle that they have seemingly solved. Building a modernist house is not cheap. Try and do it in Toronto today with an architect, and hit a $700,000 price point; it’s very difficult. So if they are offering a well-made version, fully completed and landscaped, they will see lots of demand.
This is very exciting, for two reasons. First of all it should – I hope – put more good, contemporary infill houses into Toronto’s older neighbourhoods. The city’s small-time developers have so little taste and imagination that new single-family houses in Toronto tend to be junk: stuccoed boxes with vinyl windows and faux-whatever ornament that are inefficient and poorly planned.
Second: I often wish that Toronto’s architects were a more entrepreneurial group. The city needs more innovative solutions to its housing needs – redevelopment of smaller sites, different types of units and different forms of buildings. Good architects have answers. But to get them built they will need to become their own clients and drive their own projects. It’s happened elsewhere; in New York, SHOPArc have redefined architects as prefab-building, condo-developing, urban-designing wheeler-dealers. And they’re making a mark on their city. Here’s hoping Clarkson and Glaisek, in their own way, do the same here.