Blythe Road Residence, Mississauga, Ontario

A soaring wood atrium adds drama to a hacienda-style home in Mississauga, Ontario.

Glulam horseshoe arches frame an addition that extends through this suburban home’s former courtyard. Photo by Nanne Springer

In a Scottish accent sanded down by nearly three decades of living in Toronto, architect Will Hudson promises we will see “some funny fish” in the neighbourhood we are approaching for a site visit. The older homes in this Mississauga suburb are large and serve up a cheery potluck of ranch styles on generous lots. The newer residences are gargantuan and incline toward Versailles variations, with just enough Bond-villain lairs tossed in to keep things interesting.

A few years ago, a mutual acquaintance recommended Hudson Architecture to the owners of a 1940s hacienda-style house in this neighbourhood. They wanted an addition that would connect them, year-round, to the beautiful mature trees on their front lawn and across the street, where a hydro corridor running parallel to the roadway fortuitously precludes the materialization of a McMansion. Another architect had proposed stacking some new boxes on top of their existing home. Underwhelmed, the owners sought an alternative. Hudson had one, but wondered whether it was too “out there” to share.

The house’s main façade was chock-a-block with arches: a row of arches pierced the courtyard-delineating wall that spanned from the garage on the left to what was then the master bedroom on the right, and a triplet of arched windows added another smidgen of ¡ole! to the master bedroom’s front wall. The idea that seized Hudson—to the point, he admits, of being unable to formulate any other compelling options—was to sweep away all the little arches and sub in one soaring, central arched volume. Nervously, he presented the concept. The clients said yes on the spot.

Working with heavy timber fabricator Timber Systems and YCL Structural Designs, Hudson designed an atrium addition supported by glulam horseshoe arches, each fabricated from paired members that were craned in, seated on base plates, and joined at the crown through concealed flitch plates. The cedar-lined front arch cants outward, forming a canopy that provides some shade on the southeast exposure. The construction also included more conventional renovations to the largely retained original house.

Getting the drywall and lighting just right on the arched ceiling was challenging, but the result is a remarkably serene space for living and dining, with church-like proportions and spectacular views of trees and sky. In the living area, located just inside the front entry, the tall coated-steel doors balance the transparency of the glazing. The sense of openness in even the most exposed part of the atrium is ‘pavilion’, not ‘fishbowl’. Over long family dinners at the central dining table, the owners enjoy how natural light streams in through the front of the house at the start of the meal and then glows through the opposite end of the atrium as the sun sets.

Hudson particularly liked the existing house’s original clay tile roof, which was restored in the renovation. He chose the atrium’s powder-coated steel tiles to complement it. “In fact, I liked a lot about the house,” he says with a trace of a smile. “All it needed was an airship parked in the courtyard.” Surrounded by 21st-century palaces, the new atrium is indeed a lighter-than-air intervention.

Pamela Young is a Toronto-based writer and communications manager.