This article appeared in the Globe and Mail Real Estate section on Friday, November 25, 2005…

Terrell Wong’s ‘hub’ room rescues a badly planned 1980’s suite

It might seem pretentious to talk about public and private realms for a 1,500-square-foot apartment. But nascent architect Terrell Wong’s inventive recreation of a poorly designed Forest Hill penthouse succeeds in creating those two separate spheres in just that much space.

With the help of a bold geometric device — a small, circular central room that provides a psychic shift — Ms. Wong transformed a poky warren of narrow halls and small rooms into a bright, assertive, bifurcated space that feels as grand as the apartment’s sweeping ravine views.

Ms. Wong, an architecture graduate who is just 200 working hours away from her full licence, is the first to admit that her clients were unusually adventurous in what they let her do to the unit, which they bought last year, atop 18 South Village Gate, a medium-rise condominium building constructed in the 1980s.

“You’re probably the only clients who will ever let me do a round room with curved doors,” Ms. Wong tells penthouse owner Tracy Pryce as they stand beneath the halo of recessed lights that creates a reflective mood in the tiny round space.

“My husband calls it the cone of silence,” Ms. Pryce says with a giggle. “There’s an echo.”

It took many attempts to find a supplier who could build the three curving, cherrywood pocket doors, but Ms. Wong managed to.

Then she and Ms. Pryce worked together to design a floor for the two-metre-diameter room — an inlaid diamond pattern of blue Austrian glass tile, black Brazilian slate and cream French limestone.

The room, meant only to display works of art, links the master bedroom and the master bathroom and two dressing rooms, and stands at the end of a short, wide hallway that leads to the main living space. The hallway is flanked by a small laundry room, a guest room with a Murphy bed and a powder room.

When working with such a modest space, it’s essential not to waste an inch to “dead” zones, Ms. Wong explains.

When she first saw the apartment, it had a long, narrow central hallway ending in a T-junction to two more hallways.

The bathroom was huge but virtually empty — a vast field of wasted space.

And the living area was poorly designed from the point of view of maximizing space and light: A wall stood between the galley kitchen and an over-large dining room, depriving the kitchen of any of the light from that room’s floor-to-ceiling windows.

One living room wall was rendered unusable by the ill-advised placement of a fireplace.

And although the unit had nine-foot ceilings, they were hidden by a drop ceiling covered in a furry stucco and a three-foot-deep bulkhead that turned out to be empty when Ms. Wong had it pulled apart.

Knocking down the kitchen wall to let the light flood in was a no-brainer. This enabled Ms. Wong to steal a bit of space from the dining room to enlarge the kitchen. She then added a waist-high black-granite counter with bar stools and built-in storage cupboards.

The fireplace had to be sacrificed. Changes in the building code since the time of construction meant it could not be moved without boring through several feet of concrete to widen the vents. So Ms. Pryce gave it up.

“Wood fires aren’t very practical in condos anyway,” she says. “You have to haul wood up in the elevator.”

With the fireplace gone, the furniture could be reconfigured and wall space became available to display some large pieces of art collected by Ms. Pryce’s husband, Michael.

The old hallways were demolished by contractor [Mark Nolan of Cildara Contracting] and replaced with a shorter, wider hall culminating in the round room.

There is further evidence of Ms. Pryce’s adventurous spirit in the choice of colour for the bedroom. “It was called Louisiana Hot Sauce,” she says of the brilliant red hue that provides a sense of grounded warmth in a room flooded by light from two walls of windows.

In the kitchen, it’s her husband’s personality that colours a decor that Ms. Wong calls “sophisticated soda shop” because of the prominence given to his milkshake-making gizmos. The cream colour of the Quaker cabinets reinforces the theme.

But aside from the round room, it’s the bathroom that makes the boldest impression.

Built one step up to avoid having to move pipes, the floor is a visual cascade of aquamarine glass tiles and radiating bands of white limestone. An archway separates the bath and shower areas, hiding a ceiling pipe and providing a visual break in the field of space. A sensuous oil painting of red poppies hangs above the vast enclosed tub area, and the sink is a modern, rectangular trough with room for two.

“We feel like a couple of horses when we brush our teeth together in the morning,” Ms. Pryce says.

In addition to the structural changes, Ms. Wong employed a variety of lighting techniques to enhance the space and vary the moods.

Every area has its main task lighting, but also accent lighting with dimmer switches. And wherever she could find a nook the architect put in a light box.

“I like layers of light for different moods,” she says.

CORRECTION

The condo redesigned with a “hub” room by Terrell Wong is at 18 Lower Village Gate. An incorrect address was given in last week’s edition.

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