Set on a vast acreage replete with century-old trees, this unique residence is a love letter to multigenerational living and a testament to how good design can ward off sprawl, waste and an institutional feel. The deluxe property is more akin to a luxurious boutique hotel with just eight guests than to a suburban home.
Project Name: Markham Multi-Generational House
Studio Name: Solares Architecture
Location: Markham, Canada
Photography: Nanne Springer
Project size: 8000 ft2
Site size: 2336 m2
Completion date: 2020
Building levels: 2
Four households wanted to come together and support one another through the various demands of old age, professional pressure, and child rearing. They were: two sets of aging grandparents (one frequently abroad), one set of professional parents with a young daughter, and one elderly uncle.
This group of extended family dreamed of a luxurious modern home that would offer private spaces for each branch of the family, shared spaces they could all enjoy, and resources (a spa-like indoor pool and sauna) they might not otherwise splash out for. Above all, the building takes aging-in-place to its zenith. Smooth transitions, an elevator, wheelchair accessibility throughout, and a tucked-away nurse’s suite ensure that almost any level of care can be provided at home comfortably and with dignity and style.
This three-storey building is shaped like a T, with the front entrance located where the two bars of the T meet. When you enter through the front door, you find a stylish entrance space with a powder room as well as an office where one of the parents welcomes clients. This area sets the tone of modern sophistication that continues through every room.
Continue past the office (along the top bar of the T) and you get a glimpse of the other wing of the house (the rise of the T) down a half flight of steps on your left. One of the techniques used to bring a sense of intimacy and discovery to an 8,000 square foot building was to set the two bars of the T half a storey off from one another in a side-split reminiscent of 1960s design. This allows both easy flow and preservation of separation.
Continuing along the top bar of T, you come to the open concept kitchen, dining and living area, all of which overlook the back gardens. Cooking is very important for one of the grandmothers, the father and the uncle, so the kitchen is large with plenty of pantry space. The design choices are chic and upscale, with marble counters and statement light fixtures, yet there is delightful modernist whimsy as with the tangerine-coloured stove.
Retracing your steps back along the top bar of the T and coming to the entrance to the perpendicular wing, you can either go down a half-flight to the private residence of one set of grandparents or up a half-flight to the private suite of the uncle. The uncle’s suite has a tea room, where he observes a formal tea ceremony every day and where he has mindful visits with his niece and young grand-niece. Beyond this is a large bedroom overlooking the verdant acreage, a walk-in closet, and a private bathroom. Immediately below this floor, one set of grandparents have a residence with a large kitchen-living-dining room and a large bedroom, both of which open onto the sunken private terrace, and a private en-suite bathroom and closet.
Standing in the residence of these grandparents, if you descend the half-flight of stairs, you reach the basement of the other bar of the T-shaped house. Feeling like the basement of a luxury boutique hotel, this area is home to a spa-like sauna and swimming pool (perfect for low-impact exercise), a home movie theatre, and laundry and mechanical spaces. There is also a large bedroom and full bathroom should a live-in nurse be needed.
From here, you can take the elevator all the way up to the top floor, where the parents and young daughter each have a generously-size bedroom and bathroom (with a balcony off the Master bedroom overlooking the lush acreage), and the second set of grandparents have a luxurious suite. A spare bedroom on this floor provides separation between the rooms of the older and younger generations and stands at the ready should guests wish to visit.
Lastly, if you walk a half-flight up into the other bar of the T (directly above the uncle’s tea room), a dreamy play loft is perched at the very top of the house, like a crow’s nest overlooking the garden below.
The family was keen to hire Toronto-based architects with a proven record of sustainable, high efficiency, passive house design in Ontario. Solares was delighted to be chosen for this ambitious project.
Passive Solar Home Design
New builds are exciting for us because of the opportunity for passive house design. As residential architects specializing in “green homes”, we never miss an opportunity to harness the free power of the sun as a key part of sustainable building. South-facing orientation and carefully calculated roof overhangs (key components of passive house design) mean we can bring solar heat in throughout the late fall, winter and early spring, and provide cool shade all summer long.
Eco-Friendly Design that Showcases an Extraordinary Suburban Site
Every client deserves to have their building work harmoniously with its site, whether that’s a lakefront vista, an urban laneway, or a plot in the suburbs. With its mature trees and areas of wild grasses and shrubbery, the clients’ large plot of land in Markham had a feeling of verdant enchantment. We made this a key feature for sightlines and walk-out terraces, designing the T-shaped split-level building such that all the key common spaces and three of the five main bedrooms have views of the lush grasses, thicket and trees. We also ensured maximal protection of vegetation during construction—a key “eco-friendly” building principle.
Aging-in-Place with Comfort, Dignity, and Style
An “aging-in-place” design is one that allows people with increasingly frailty (including those using a wheelchair) to stay in their home for as long as possible. We delivered all required elements (e.g., level transitions, elevator, wheelchair-width hallways and doorways, nurse’s suite) without compromising on style. With its energy efficient design, the house is also extremely comfortable year-round. As such, this is a doubly sustainable house—one with low energy requirements and one that offers the grandparents a sustainable path through old age.
Vapour-Open, Air-Closed, With a Very Tight Seal. Many buildings are sheathed with plywood or OSB (oriented strand board, which is similar to particle board) and covered with Tyvek. But at Solares, we choose to use ZipWall sheathing. This product provides a barrier that is vapour-open but air-closed, meaning that it allows moisture to leave the wall cavity (preventing mold over the long-term) but does not allow air to leak in. Testing revealed excellent air tightness for this building, which is impressive given the large exterior wall area.
Quality Insulation, Inside and Out. Most houses are insulated on the inside. At Solares, given our passion for energy efficient design, we insulate on the outside as well. Not only does this increase the overall R-value but outboard insulation prevents thermal bridging (i.e., when outdoor temperatures are conducted along the wood joists into the house). Considering a Neglected Space. Our pursuit of superior insulation means that, in addition to using spray foam insulation at joist ends (which is not uncommon), we also insulate the underside of the roof (which is). This makes the attic part of the conditioned space.