On a narrow street of Victorian, working-class cottages in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood, Bishop Street Residence is the renovation of a post-industrial building from a graphic design firm to a bachelor’s residence by Taylor_Smyth architects. The design negotiates the tightness and public nature of its urban site, while playing out desirable scenarios of a contemporary, urban retreat.
Only inches from the sidewalk, the two-storey façade mysteriously presents itself bound by vertical and horizontal ribbons of black zinc, hovering over a base of grey concrete block, fissured by slot windows of anodized aluminum. The exterior evokes the owner’s desire for privacy while also imparting a provocative face to the otherwise decorous neighborhood. A recess, warmed by the view of an ipe wood gate, provides access to both the interior and the outdoor courtyard, the house’s inner sanctum.
Transitioning from exterior to interior, the solidity of the building dissolves to a 15,000 square foot, crystalline “light-box,” with glass employed as a signature material throughout, allowing light to filter through ceilings, floors, walls and doors. The essence of indulgent comfort, the interior is designed to feature the owner’s extensive collection of 20th century furniture and lighting, contemporary art and automobiles.
While the house appears from the exterior to be a simple box, it surprises with its unconventional domestic layout. Almost a double-height cube in proportion, the living room is graced by a glass garage door and huge second floor windows that invite light to wash over both the ground and second floors.
Open directly to the exterior courtyard, the ground floor merges with an outdoor living room and a compact swimming pool. A low, horizontal window strategically transforms the garage into a showcase displaying the owner’s cars.
Architecture freely transitions into art, such as the clear glass floor that hovers under a sky-lit slot, channeling a stream of light straight down to the ground floor, and offering possibilities for spectacle from below; and the thin bands of glass that offer a teasing relationship between
the guest bathroom and the stairwell; or the delightfully functional one-off pieces, such as the glass enclosed niche in the dining room that “floats” bottles of wine in clear acrylic storage units. The second-floor master suite is “a box within a box,” with seamless glass walls and doors that can be enclosed by electronically controlled curtains for shading or privacy.The uniqueness of the interior evokes its owner’s love of design and his entrepreneurial spirit. According to architect Michael Taylor, “The house might seem to some as a wealthy man’s plaything, but it serves as a valuable model for new home design. It demonstrates how a house’s interior can be divided into spaces far more imaginative and useful than they have generally been and it demonstrates how a house can be an adventure.” And while the house has plenty of cool moves, it also feels like a home.