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The Globe and Mail

East Toronto: Modern architecture in a modest milieu

East York home puts buzz on the street

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Reza Aliabadi and Lailee Soleimani, members of the architectural team that designed this 1,600-square-foot residence in the transitioning Toronto neighbourhood of East York, call it Totem House. The name refers to the element around which the interior space is organized: a massive, double-height square column irregularly incised with numerous niches, each holding a small object of art.

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The designers have made the building face the street with a stern look. Above the car port rises a bold escarpment of black brick, penetrated by a single slim window. The only indications that there is a house behind this solid wall are a couple of tall, narrow openings in volumes that are set back, off to one side.

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Could the architects have made it more polite to the humble residential fabric round about? Of course they could have – but only by compromising the building’s frank determination to be what it is: a wholly fresh, contemporary statement.

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The owners are passionate about travelling far abroad, and they like to collect little sculptures crafted in the places they visit. But instead of displaying their treasures as most people do – on bookshelves or mantles, or in glass-fronted cabinets – they decided to make the collection the focus of a whole house.

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All of Totem House’s interior sight-lines lead to the pillar. The architects have further emphasized this vertical axis by running the flight of broad floating steps around it and up to the skylight that illuminates the art and the staircase together. Each step up or down brings another artifact to eye-level.

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It’s worth noting that the creation of this fine, small model did not require a vast cash outlay (at least when compared to the price of other housing in downtown Toronto these days.) The total cost of the project, including purchase of the land, demolition of the existing bungalow the architects’ fees and the new construction, was just $775,000, the owners said.

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For the clients of Mr. Aliabadi and Ms. Soleimani, bathing was clearly an important activity, and the architects designed the bathroom facilities to be accordingly imposing. The free-standing tub is provided with views into treetops in two directions

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The spacious shower, walled in clear glass on three sides, stands just off the comparatively small bedroom area.

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