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Art Moderne landmark in Hamilton gets updated for modern life

In the early 1900s, it was the automobile. The luxury ocean liner took the teens, twenties and thirties. The forties and fifties were ruled by the propeller plane and the jet, and, in the 1960s, it was the rocket ship.

Until the 1970s, when these were traded for the bicycle, we embraced newness, technology and speed; there’s a reason that little red wagon was called “Radio Flyer.”

Architects were not immune. In 1939, Coca-Cola built a spectacular Los Angeles Art Moderne plant with so many portholes, speed-stripes, curved walls and nautical railings it seemed like a place sailors should work rather than soda-pop executives. The same year, on the other side of the continent in Hamilton, a little house built for Jack Hambly on Longwood Road celebrated the seven seas also, but on a smaller scale.

(A. Marthouret / Revelateur Studio)

Sadly, this one-storey Westdale landmark, with its single porthole window, lone speed-stripe and one curved wall, had been left empty in the wet spring and humid summer of 2013. And that’s exactly when Lane Dunlop and Tina Fetner came aboard for a look-see.

“It was bad, it was cracked,” says Ms. Fetner of the home’s creamy exterior walls, “and when it rained, the water would get behind the stucco and it would be splotchy.” Not surprisingly, mould was everywhere.

For this boat, water was the enemy.

Luckily, the couple is friends with one of the Hammer’s primo architects, David Premi – their kids had attended the same school and they’d helped Mr. Premi when his house burned down five years ago – and they knew he had the talent, but also the romantic bent to tackle the project. “David’s not just your ordinary architect,” Ms. Fetner says. “The work he’s doing is special and different; it’s really changing the face of Hamilton.”

(A. Marthouret / Revelateur Studio)

Although all involved knew more square footage would be necessary, changing the original face of 170 Longwood wasn’t an option; after all, an iconic home such as this belongs to everyone. However, any new addition could, and should, be of its own time.

“Can you imagine when this was first built?” Mr. Premi, director at the Hamilton architectural firm DPAI, observes. “I bet a lot of the neighbours didn’t say: ‘Oh that’s a nice house.’

“In its day it was pushing the envelope,” he continues, pointing to the Tudor house across the street. “To me, history is a living thing; it changes all the time, so why not continue that tradition?”

(A. Marthouret / Revelateur Studio)

Besides, today’s heritage practitioners consider the best addition to be the one that’s obvious. It should create a “distance that is difference rather than dissonance,” write Johann Jessen and Jochem Schneider in Building in Existing Fabric. “A spatial tension arises between the different temporal and iconic layers, which is identified and treated as a design theme.”

However, only three romantics – well, let’s make it four, since architect Philip Toms of Toms and McNally Design acted as construction manager and assisted with design detailing – would find the extra money to have a giant piece of double-glazed, curved glass engineered for the second-floor addition; a curve that expertly mirrors the home’s original and zoomy curve.

(A. Marthouret / Revelateur Studio)

Past the stepped-skyscraper motif surrounding the original front door (an awkward metal “cap” and awning over the door have been removed to reveal the ogee curve again), the visitor steps into a small foyer. To port is the porthole window – which had previously been trapped in a coat closet – and to starboard is the small living room with an original marble fireplace. The swirly rose-and-thistle plasterwork on the living room ceiling has been painstakingly preserved, and two of the three original bedrooms remain. The third has been sacrificed for a mudroom off the backyard and a little living room nook containing a sideboard.

(A. Marthouret / Revelateur Studio)

Windows throughout are replacements that mimic the originals.

Straight ahead is the expanded kitchen. It’s punctuated by turquoise appliances by Elmira Stoveworks that the couple brought from their former house in Hamilton’s Kirkendall neighbourhood: “This is the second kitchen that we redid, and both of them started with the stove,” Mr. Dunlop says.

(A. Marthouret / Revelateur Studio)

Past the kitchen, a small addition (the S.S. Minnow?) contains a dining table on a period-appropriate, onyx-like, black slate floor with sparkly quartz veins. The floor-to-ceiling windows here are necessary to frame the gnarly old tree – a mash-up of at least seven trunks – that dominates the backyard.

New waterproofing underground and a new coat of freeze-thaw-proof stucco on the exterior walls means this old boat is ready for another 75-year journey.

(A. Marthouret / Revelateur Studio)

Mr. Dunlop cautions that a trip to the second floor should be done with care, since “there’s a point on the stairs” where visitors stop and jaws become unhinged. It’s true: While to passersby, the addition seems demure (that’s intentional), when standing in the new family room or master bedroom, there’s a feeling of vastness, of light and light-headedness. It’s as if one is standing on the bridge and in command of the asphalt ocean below.

(A. Marthouret / Revelateur Studio)

Of course, Ms. Fetner and Mr. Dunlop aren’t the type to lord over their neighbours; in fact, they feel more connected to them now more than ever. “The whole neighbourhood had to go through this reno with us,” Ms. Fetner says. “It was loud and there were big machines here a lot of the time, and they were such good eggs about it … so we feel very connected.”

The sensitive placement and expert craftsmanship of this addition – roof fools the eye into thinking it’s only two-inches thick – should connect this house with multiple awards, too. It’s a textbook example of how to marry historic architecture with the demands of modern life.

Bravo Zulu! (that’s navy-speak for “Well Done”!)

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