Moderne Improvements: The Hambly House, Hamilton, Ontario
PROJECT The Hambly House, Hamilton, Ontario
ARCHITECTS DPAI Architecture Inc. with Toms + McNally Design
TEXT Magdalena Milosz
PHOTOS Revelateur Studio
Nestled amongst the 1920s homes of Westdale, a leafy neighbourhood in Hamilton, Ontario, is an outlier with a storied past. Hambly House, whose sweeping white form rounds a street corner not far from the Cootes Paradise wetland, seems to sail past the half-timbering, faux-stone cladding, and steeply pitched roofs of its neighbours. The streamline moderne gem, a rare example of the style in Ontario, was built in 1939 by local architect Edward Glass and named for its first owner, Jack Hambly. It recently received a thoughtful second-storey and rear addition by Hamilton firms DPAI and Toms + McNally Design.
Owners Tina Fetner and Lane Dunlop purchased the home in the summer of 2013. It had previously undergone some restoration efforts (it was listed in Hamilton’s Cultural Heritage Register in 2011), but had since deteriorated due to lack of maintenance after the previous owner moved overseas. The renovation therefore included significant repair work, such as replacing the original stucco cladding with synthetic EIFS, a material that DPAI architect David Premi, MRAIC, says was actually appropriate in this context.
Inside, most interior walls were demolished, a move enabled by pinwheeling steel beams off a central column. “We stripped it right down to the bones,” says Premi; the strategy brought the house up to speed for contemporary living. “People get nostalgic about old houses and the little rooms,” he continues, but the owners wanted to “open it all up,” flooding the space with light. Heat loss is counteracted by the new exterior insulation and double-glazed windows, which replicate the originals with their horizontal muntins and brilliant blue exterior finish. The house is zoned with two furnaces, one for the basement and ground floor, the other for the second floor, saving on overall energy use.
The living room retains much of its character, with rose-and-thistle plasterwork on the ceiling, original trim, and art deco built-ins on either side of the fireplace. Two of the three bedrooms on the ground floor remain, while the third was converted into a mudroom.
“The kitchen is the focal point of the main floor, and it all works great,” says owner Lane Dunlop. The centrally located space includes locally fabricated millwork, a large island, and retro-inspired, turquoise appliances by Elmira Stove Works. It faces both the living room and the dining room—the latter situated in the glass-encased rear addition, overlooking a colossal Manitoba maple that forms a canopy above the backyard.
The expansiveness of the ground floor is magnified upstairs, with a curved glass façade that gives a panoramic prospect of the surrounding neighbourhood—a view which residents of nearby Tudor Revival homes only see through smaller windows. The family room and the master bedroom share this sweeping vista, with motorized curtains that can be activated for privacy. Looking out towards the backyard, the ensuite bath has something of the feeling of a treehouse.
From the street, the second-storey addition appears to be having an amiable conversation with the existing structure, rather than attempting to say the same thing, or diverging too sharply in point of view. “We tried to stick with the original spirit of the house,” says Dunlop, and in this sense the project is very much a success. The rear elevation is a balanced composition of stucco, glazing and concrete panels. At the front, the glass curtain wall steps back above the white-finished curve to provide an ample roof terrace. The key characteristics of the original art moderne style—the rounded corner, horizontal lines, a prominent door surround, and a porthole window formerly enclosed in a closet—have all been enhanced through the restoration. The national-park-rustic style of the basement, made to resemble a log cabin, is an incongruous quirk that the owners decided to keep as well. The original house is a rare, and early, example of both styles in Ontario.
Westdale was a curiously conservative context for Hambly House at the time it was built. One of Canada’s first planned communities, it originally excluded all but white Protestants—blacks, Asians, Eastern Europeans and Jews were not permitted to buy houses there. Over time, the restrictions were lifted, but it serves us well to remember these types of difficult histories embedded within our built environments. This project provides a perfect opportunity to continue the conversation.
Shortly after construction concluded at the end of 2015, Fetner and Dunlop held a community open house. Locals came in droves, having witnessed the progress of the transformation over more than two years. The project has received ongoing attention from curious passersby and international media alike, and was honoured with a 2015 Award of Excellence in Architecture from the City of Hamilton. It seems fitting that a forward-looking house in a neighbourhood that once resisted diversity has had its doors thrown open to all. As a private residence that has galvanized the local community, and as a heritage building fitted to its inhabitants’ contemporary needs, Hambly House is a model for highly successful architectural interventions that help propel the past into a more open and sustainable future.
Magdalena Milosz is a writer and intern architect based in Kitchener, Ontario.
CLIENTS Lane Dunlop and Tina Fetner | ARCHITECT TEAM DPAI—Petra Matar, Molly Merriman, David Premi. Toms + McNally—Philip Toms. | STRUCTURAL VRM Engineering | LANDSCAPE Ian McGregor Pools and Landscaping | CONTRACTOR James Van Amerongen | AREA 1,250 ft2 (addition) and 1,200 ft2 (renovation) | BUDGET Withheld | COMPLETION Fall 2015