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Christie St

{Progress}

The interior first floor renovation for a family of three on Christie St in Toronto.

Marc, Elizabeth and their daughter Emma live in a semi-detached home in central west Toronto. It had a tiny kitchen at the rear of their home cut off from the rest of the main floors by several partition walls. They wanted to open the spaces up, get more light in everywhere, and comfortably be in the kitchen together without bumping elbows.

 Front entry

Front entry

 Stairway and dining room, before.

Stairway and dining room, before.

 Kitchen, before.

Kitchen, before.

demolition
 Living room and dining room, during construction.

Living room and dining room, during construction.

 Kitchen, during construction.

Kitchen, during construction.

....and now the reveal. These spaces look amazing in the hands of a talented photographer--no doubt--but the main floor was completely transformed. It's white and bright and functional. The family spend a lot of time in the kitchen together now. I squeezed every square inch possible in the front entry and was able to design in a bench and storage. The new frosted door bring the light up as well.

 Front entrance, completed. Photograph by  Melanie Gordon Photography .

Front entrance, completed. Photograph by Melanie Gordon Photography.

 Kitchen, after. Photograph by  Melanie Gordon Photography .

Kitchen, after. Photograph by Melanie Gordon Photography.

kitchen
 New glass stair guard and railing. Photograph by  Melanie Gordon Photography .

New glass stair guard and railing. Photograph by Melanie Gordon Photography.

BUDGET: 110K

Completed: October 2017

Constructor: RTC Construction

Design: Drôle House

Photographs copyright ©Drôle House 2018. All rights reserved. 

Boardwalk rebuild

{Progress}

I was invited to re-design the beachfront of a cottage property in Catalone, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia that I had previously designed in 2000. The beach has been used and continues to be used by a dozen or more families every summer. The challenges for the 2017 project were to create a shareable common space between the two properties joined at the beach, to provide a 360 degree view life guard station, to reuse parts of the existing removable dock structure and large boulders, establish an area for kayaks, provide safe and easy access for kids to the water, flexible seating arrangements, create a seawall for erosion control including a bridge over a freshwater stream. That's kind of a long list, right? 

 It doesn't look too bad here, but this is windswept remnant of the former dock and sitting area. Existing gazebo up the hill in the background.

It doesn't look too bad here, but this is windswept remnant of the former dock and sitting area. Existing gazebo up the hill in the background.

The result was a concept with three part:

1. A large shaded deck to share between properties

2. The screened gazebo/lifeguard station on the point

3. An elevated winding boardwalk to connect the two

 Preliminary design, including relocating the gazebo, the boardwalk/bridge, semi-submerged boulders, deck and stepped seating down to the water line..

Preliminary design, including relocating the gazebo, the boardwalk/bridge, semi-submerged boulders, deck and stepped seating down to the water line..

 Gazebo on it's new point- boardwalk in progress.

Gazebo on it's new point- boardwalk in progress.

 A view to the new seawall with partial boardwalk framing.

A view to the new seawall with partial boardwalk framing.

 View to the boardwalk below that jogs around the gazebo.

View to the boardwalk below that jogs around the gazebo.

 A view to the steps that lead to the beachouse.

A view to the steps that lead to the beachouse.

 A larger view from the beachouse deck to the new gazebo location and boardwalk beyond.

A larger view from the beachouse deck to the new gazebo location and boardwalk beyond.

 Framing spans across the (currently dry) stream.

Framing spans across the (currently dry) stream.

The boulders and rocks used as foundation for the structure shore up parts of the beach against erosion. The light framing for the boardwalk span over sensitive slopes and vegetations, and care was taken to maintain trees and shrubs whose roots help protect the bank, as well as to keep prized blueberry patches easily accessible to tiny passersby!

 The 12'x24' common deck structure with herringbone cedar decking pattern- in progress.

The 12'x24' common deck structure with herringbone cedar decking pattern- in progress.

 The aluminum dock structure attached to the new boardwalk and gazebo.

The aluminum dock structure attached to the new boardwalk and gazebo.

 A few of the 20+ cousins and relatives perched on the boulder + stone steps adjacent to the dock.

A few of the 20+ cousins and relatives perched on the boulder + stone steps adjacent to the dock.

One of my favourite outcomes of the project was that children LOVE to run back and forth along the boardwalk, just as I had hoped.  The semi-submerged boulders became welcome rest spots during swimming, and were nicknamed "mermaid rocks". This new beachfront will be enjoyed by many families for years to come.

beach_in_use
 A view westward on Catalone lake from the completed upper boardwalk. Cedar railing with wire guards.

A view westward on Catalone lake from the completed upper boardwalk. Cedar railing with wire guards.

*A special thanks to Rose Taljaard for many of the photographs.

~Deborah

Postcard 12

{Postcard 12}: "How can I get the most out of a large closet?" - Submitted by Divyang

{Postcard 12}: "How can I get the most out of a large closet?" - Submitted by Divyang

Divyang and Kushbu's toddler son has an underused closet in his room, and they want it to put it to better use. They wonder if there are any hidden opportunities in this tall, squarish enclosed space. 

Divyang's design challenge includes:

  • a 35"Wx40"Dx100"H enclosed closet with no organized shelving currently
  • the need to store LOTS of beloved toddler books, clothes and diaper boxes
  • an adaptive layout that their son could grow into without having to rebuild it completely 

The suggested closet layout has three parts that turns it into a mini-library and play space. The first part is a 18" deep shelving unit with two levels, one for books within reach for a toddler, the higher level for folded clothes and diapers. The second is a narrower 8" shelving unit with integrated ladder affixed to the wall and ceiling. The third is a netted crow's nest that makes use of the upper 30" of head space, which also includes a new opening (netted for safety) above the existing closet door. 

A strip of LED lighting can be installed beneath the lowest bookshelf to brighten the pillow-covered toddler sized reading nook on the floor. That bookshelf is within reach, but the upper clothes +diaper one above is just beyond toddler grasp. Similarly, the first rung on the ladder is off the floor by two feet, which means only kids aged 3 and up will be able to hoist themselves up there to reach the crow's nest. The upper crow's nest/hideout then is suitable for kids aged 3-8.

As their toddler grows into a tween, the modification to the layout would be to:

  • remove the ladder and 8" shelf unit
  • lower the 18" unit to dresser height and add drawers
  • cap the upper opening with a panel in the same style of the existing door
  • convert netted crow's nest into traditional upper shelf for long term storage

The hanging rod stays at the same 5'6" height in both versions. Just a few screws to remove, holes to patch and voilà!

Could your closet be this fun?

~Deborah

Name *
Name

{Progress} - Haliburton Container House

Design and drawing work take up the bulk of my working hours. Most people (me included!), charmed by colourful fast-paced design shows expect to see only the tidy befores-and-afters, and nothing in between. In the first of this {progress} series, I will show you a few of Drôle House's current projects, from sketches, to working drawings, to renderings and to the finished construction site photos. Here's a peek at an unusual off-grid cottage I've been working on for months that is slated for construction this spring.

 Early two storey version of the conceptual design.

Early two storey version of the conceptual design.

 Sketch of the overall roof massing and form of the six shipping containers.

Sketch of the overall roof massing and form of the six shipping containers.

 A preliminary rendering of the front entrance, playing with textures and materials for siding and roofing.

A preliminary rendering of the front entrance, playing with textures and materials for siding and roofing.

The house (or cottage, rather) is made up of six recycled shipping containers, insulated and clad mainly on the exterior. It's set in the woods in Haliburton County (a few hours north of Toronto), on an undeveloped property (no power, no road, no sewer). It's planned to contain one barrier-free master suite, and four other small bedrooms, and it fits within an 1820 sqft footprint on one floor. It's super insulated on the exterior, has a photovoltaic (PV) array, propane backup tanks, it's own well and septic bed.

 Permit plan -- also called 'working drawings".

Permit plan -- also called 'working drawings".

 Elevations, showing the building faces orthographically (flat 90 degree interpretation) used for precise measuring and permit drawings.

Elevations, showing the building faces orthographically (flat 90 degree interpretation) used for precise measuring and permit drawings.

The clients were excited about building with containers and being off grid. The benefits of containers include - simple screw-pile foundations that require no excavation and therefore less disruption to a wooded site, have an almost instant shelter when beginning construction once lifted into place, and are so sturdy they can be stacked nine high! We didn't need that height for this project, but being a rural site, it will be convenient to keep the crew sheltered and tools safe from the start.

 A final rendering before construction begins.

A final rendering before construction begins.

What have you heard about container houses? Would you live in one?

~Deborah

Home Consultation - what you can expect

home consultation measuring

Drôle House offers home consultations in the Greater Toronto Area. Renovations are overwhelming even if you know exactly what you want. What if you don't know where to start? A home consultation with Deborah Mesher (me) involves a visit with you and your family in your home so that you can walk me through the spaces that annoy ---ahem-- challenge you. You can ask questions, I then measure and take photographs, then return a week later with a 3D model analysing what works and what doesn't, along with preliminary sketches for renovation options to consider.

Is an addition necessary? Maybe not! Can you use the space you have in a different way that satisfies all of your family's needs? Probably!  

 A sample model of an existing kitchen with poor circulation and broken layout.

A sample model of an existing kitchen with poor circulation and broken layout.

A home consultation is a low cost way to explore options when considering a major renovation to your home. You'll find out what needs a permit and what doesn't, what work has an impact on your zoning, and what steps are between you and a home that is more functional and fun! It's pre-design work --or as I like to call it-- "the math" of what you could do. You'll come away with a clear direction forward, digital layout sketches for your space(s) and a step by step a plan of action to get you going.

Had a great experience with Drôle House - our basement has been re-imagined with an excellent new creative solution that will give us a new cozy library/kids space and a separate guest room / sewing room. Best of all, this requires only changing one existing wall; we’ll be taking advantage of under-utilized space that we never thought could be used for much more than storage.
— Andrea C.
We were looking for creative ways of using our tiny outdoor space - something that was flexible and multifunctional for a growing family that wants to eat, entertain, garden, and play outdoors. Our experience with Drole House was great! Deborah quickly set up an appointment in which she listed to our list of ‘wants’. In only a couple weeks, she had a great plan all mocked up with multiple elevations. For those of us who aren’t great at visualizing floorpans, it was great to see the plan from different perspectives. She walked us through her ideas - all of which aligned with what we’re hoping to achieve for the space. Now I can’t wait to bring it to life!
— Kristina C.

A consultation is $299 +tax, and isn't limited to houses! Your condo, rental apartment, office or shop could benefit from a visit from a space-ninja. Should you want to proceed with a project and need further design and permit drawing help, the home consultation fee will be credited forward. Win-win. Book yours below.

~Deborah

 

 

Playwork

playwork

I took my first trip to California this February for Pop Up Adventure Play's first annual Campference at Eureka Villa. It was conference about playwork theory and practice, attended by nearly a hundred people from all over the world. Seventy attendees, me included, camped on the site. It was a camp-ference...get it? Spoiler: it was freezing cold, there was a twenty year storm, the roads flooded, we abandoned the camp site, I had a run in with a mountain lion----and those were the least interesting nuggets of my three days in Val Verde! 

 Me at the bottom right hand corner. Photo credit:  Chris Martin

Me at the bottom right hand corner. Photo credit: Chris Martin

What exactly is playwork, you ask? It has a fairly broad definition. The playwork principles according to campference speaker Professor Fraser Brown were:

1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and wellbeing of individuals and communities.

2. Play is a process that's freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated.

The play he describes can't be found on a soccer team, or playing monopoly. Play comes from within, it's not owned, directed or controlled by adults. The role of the "play worker"; the role that pops up in several intersecting fields of study; is to create the conditions or environment that facilitate freely chosen play.

As a designer of built things, I felt like a fish out of water surrounded by outdoor educators, social workers and play activists. I certainly get to play when creating and designing built spaces, but how can I create spaces that facilitate play for others? This is what I had hoped to find out.

Here are some takeaways:

1. Affordance: describes what opportunity(ies) any given object, person or space can lend. For example, a chair has many affordances, you can sit on it, lay it down and it's a pilot's cockpit, use it as a goal posts for soccer etc. The more affordances an object or space has, the more opportunities for play it has. 

2. Risk and hazard: risk and hazard are not the same thing. Risk is individually judged and is dependent on the person doing the risking (i.e. can I jump across this puddle without getting wet), a hazard is an unforseen danger like a glass shard concealed in the park sand pit. Risk is cultural. Millions of people risk death each time they get behind the wheel of their car, but it's an accepted one. Parents confuse risk and hazard constantly. "That's dangerous!" is a warning applied equally to climbing a play structure or holding a chainsaw. The benefits of letting kids risk at their own pace are immense.

3. Playwork happens everywhere. In schools, in parks, in homes, at bus stops, you name it. Museums and zoos are getting on board, and providing real physical and emotional space for children. Playwork is not confined to outdoor adventure playgrounds in temperate climates. Take this bus stop prototype designed and built by Philadelphia's Public Workshop for example:

 Photo credit: Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop

Photo credit: Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop

4.  The three F's: Ideally, play should be fun, flexible and free (child-led/autonomous) according to Fraser Brown. Playwork is about finding a way to say YES. Facilitating a collaborative design process with families is at the root of Drôle House's mission to bring more function and fun to homes. 

If you are interested in learning more about playwork in your own life or work, here are some  links of groups and businesses I was introduced to at the campference who doing some inspiring things.

Pop Up Adventure Play: they offer a playworker development course, and facilitate loose play pop ups everywhere.

Recess Revolution: to learn how to bring free play back to school recess.

EarthPlay Canada: giving the right to play back to Canadian kids.

The Land: a documentary film made by Erin Davis. It is a must see for adventure play enthusiasts.

Adventure: The Value of Risk in Children's Play written by Joan Almon.

 Loose parts for free play. Check out my post on loose parts play  here .

Loose parts for free play. Check out my post on loose parts play here.

How do you support play in your life or work?

~Deborah

The Extra Room...Comic Book!

An idea was sparked last year by a conversation between very tried parents who were struggling to find room for toys, their many kids, and themselves amongst the chaos of their small urban homes. Even if they were lucky enough to own their home, they certainly couldn't afford to buy bigger to accommodate their changing needs, or even add on to. What options are there?

The main issue is that our needs have evolved, but the way houses are laid out and used have stayed the same. We now want home offices, in-law or guest rooms, and should we be so lucky to dream it, devoted spaces for homework, practicing, or even health and wellness. More complicated still is that many families are opting to stay in condos, forgoing cars for walkable neighbourhoods, preferring city amenities to the yards of suburbs.

The city of Toronto is taking notice with "Growing Up" a study that is looking into establishing design standards for new homes and condominiums to allow more flexible and transitional use of spaces for all families. I think it’s fabulous and way overdue!

The Extra Room is a quick, tongue-and-cheek manual about how to make use of the space you already have. No renovating, no big construction, but something you can do TODAY to gain more flexible space. It's attachment parent friendly, so try it out if it speaks to you! It the first of many Drôle House comic books and manuals to come. 

If you like it, please share! Tag a picture of your rearranged spaces with #classicswitch or let me know what you think by commenting below.

Name *
Name

Happy switching!

~Deborah

Postcard 11

{Postcard 11}: "Where should we put the kids?" - Submitted by Cindy.

postcard 11

{Postcard 11}: "Where should we put the kids?" - Submitted by Cindy.

Cindy and her family live in a three storey, four-and-a-half bedroom home. Yes, layout challenges do happen when there's ample space! When there is no clear function to any given room it's easy for a family to sprrrrrread. Few closets and limited storage otherwise means that there are clothes here, toys there, office a little bit everywhere. Looking at the whole house can help visualize whom to put where and for how long. 

Cindy's design challenge includes:

  • a home with multiple rooms but limited storage
  • the need for a separate and private home office for her business within the house
  • the need for a permanent guest room
  • adaptive room layouts for her boys to grow into

The suggested layout pictured above involves first grouping then moving the boys' spaces to the third floor. The front room can fit two single beds and can include a fun narrow little nook perfect for small-person storage, lounging (think pillows!) or a library. Children can easily be grouped together to share a room for years, especially when it's just for sleeping. They can stay together until teenage-hood and beyond if they also have a separate area that can evolve from playroom into a study. The den on the third floor suits this perfectly. It's open, bright, can fit storage, seating and desks with an open floor space for playing. Using the den for play means it's easier to keep an ear on them from another floor when they playing.

On the second floor, moving the closet of the master bedroom to the windowless partition wall side frees up the room enough to include a bonus window seat. Arranging the bed on an interior wall is also more comfortable in the extreme cold or hot months of the year. 

Creating a devoted (lockable door--gasp!) office on the second floor is the next step. Though it's a small room, it can accommodate two people at the wall-to-wall desk, has shelving above and even an corner for a lounge or reading chair. The permanent guest bedroom stays on the second floor at the back of the house, buffered for sound by the office space.

What whole-house layout would work for your family? 

~Deborah

Name *
Name

Postcard 10

{Postcard 10}: How can I make my kitchen entrance less problematic? - Submitted by Jenny

{Postcard 10}: How can I make my kitchen entrance less problematic? - Submitted by Jenny.

Jenny and her family enter their home through a door that opens directly into the kitchen, leaving only a small wall area for hooks with boot storage on the floor below. As she gears up for winter with her two young boys, Jenny is wondering if there is a fix for the entryway. In her sketch at the top, she points to the main problem: "walk right into kitchen".

Jenny's design challenge includes:

  • a main entrance into the kitchen within a few steps from grade (with no vestibule)
  • the need to store a family-of-four's worth of winter boots and shoes

Similar to the challenge in Postcard 9, entrances without vestibules are such a challenge in northern climates! Having a door enter directly into the kitchen isn't great for heat retention or circulation into the space, let alone the piles of outer wear that kids generate needing to be stored close by. This design challenge took a lot of head scratching, and unlike previous postcard ideas, really requires actual building to solve! If you must build, you may as well make it fun too.

The suggested solution to Jenny's problematic entryway is to build a new mudroom as a small addition to catch all the coats and boots, reduce the draft upon entering, and let the kitchen do it's thing. It's only about 64 sqft and includes a full closet with a window above, as well as a bench with coat hooks above and shoe storage below.

The bonus here is taking a very simple shed or gabled roof porch (ideally matching the style and materials of the existing house), and turning the upper exterior portion into a integrated and hidden playhouse. Oh yes! The playhouse is reached by a ladder concealed into the installation of board siding, has a little window looking out, and can even include a light so it light up as a lantern at night. Functional and fun.

Name *
Name

~Deborah

Playbox Fundraiser Reveal!

They're here! I'm pleased to reveal the finished playboxes curated for The Children's Storefront silent auction fundraiser. They are part art, part furniture, part play, and are intended for children aged 3-8. The makers include architects, a designer, a teacher and a scientist, and each of the five boxes is absolutely delightful! They can be stand alone toys, or can be affixed to the wall to become night tables or engaging works of art. They are available to bid on here until December 6th, 2016 and all proceeds go to the Children's Storefront and La Leche League Canada. If you want to see them in action, head to the Drôle House Facebook page.

 Musical playbox made by Kyle England, Architect.

Musical playbox made by Kyle England, Architect.

 Weaving playbox made by Nadine El-Gazzar, Architect. In her words: "t he spatial weaving playbox allows the crafter to weave strips of material through a network of strings in different planes. The strips of material can be re-positioned, twisted, crossed and intertwined. The quiet process of weaving allows the player mind space to refect on the craft, or whatever thoughts fill their mind."

Weaving playbox made by Nadine El-Gazzar, Architect. In her words: "the spatial weaving playbox allows the crafter to weave strips of material through a network of strings in different planes. The strips of material can be re-positioned, twisted, crossed and intertwined. The quiet process of weaving allows the player mind space to refect on the craft, or whatever thoughts fill their mind."

 Circuit House playbox made by Wendy Graham of  Science Riot Grrls.

Circuit House playbox made by Wendy Graham of Science Riot Grrls.

 Game Blocks playbox made by Ivan Ilic, designer and model maker Shop 116. In his words: " p  lay means an opportunity to explore, experience, and through a creative process further our understanding of the world. Game blocks are a collection of oversized wood dice that individually or in combination allow us to make our own fun games: games that may involve facial expressions, spelling, math, directions, animals, colours and some images what are just plain weird."

Game Blocks playbox made by Ivan Ilic, designer and model maker Shop 116. In his words: "play means an opportunity to explore, experience, and through a creative process further our understanding of the world. Game blocks are a collection of oversized wood dice that individually or in combination allow us to make our own fun games: games that may involve facial expressions, spelling, math, directions, animals, colours and some images what are just plain weird."

 Woodland natural playbox made by Eva Mendonça, teacher. In her words:  "my inspiration for the playbox was nature and the outdoors. Some of my best memories of childhood are running around outside or foraging in the forest. Growing up, most of my toys were found in nature or handmade from ordinary objects {buttons, clothes pins, milk bags!}. It's all about trusting the magic and letting simple objects come to life. Allowing imagination to shape the play experience with minimal influence of toys. It's about letting your souls run wild + free - to wander into the woodland and get lost."

Woodland natural playbox made by Eva Mendonça, teacher. In her words: "my inspiration for the playbox was nature and the outdoors. Some of my best memories of childhood are running around outside or foraging in the forest. Growing up, most of my toys were found in nature or handmade from ordinary objects {buttons, clothes pins, milk bags!}. It's all about trusting the magic and letting simple objects come to life. Allowing imagination to shape the play experience with minimal influence of toys. It's about letting your souls run wild + free - to wander into the woodland and get lost."

Happy bidding!

~Deborah