Landing Pad: Stinson House, Toronto, Ontario
TEXT Stuart McLean
PHOTOS Robert Burley
You enter through what feels like a side door, for when you come in, you land in the kitchen. This gives an immediate sense of comfort to your arrival; an informal and friendly feeling.
A friend visiting the house for the first time said that seeing it was “the most invigorating and utterly comfortable experience I have had in years.”
When I first moved in I wondered if it would change me—if all the glass and all the openness, the double doors and soaring ceilings would alter the way I lived. Could design overcome habits? Could a space change behaviour?
All that glass, that draws you out and connects you to the outside, drew me in.
At that point in my life I used to take my dinner in restaurants as often as five nights a week. I was a regular at a little café an easy walk away. I enjoyed the nightly routine—the walk to and fro, and the welcome I received when I got there. A day or two after I had settled in Jeff’s house I headed off for dinner, as was my habit. I only got a block or two before I pulled up short. I was overcome with a feeling that I didn’t want to go—I didn’t want to leave the house. I turned around, went to the market, bought groceries and cooked my own supper. The house had called me back.
I discovered that working in the kitchen, looking over the dining room to the fireplace and out onto the terrace, is a joyful thing. There is a comfort to it. It feels right. When you are cooking in Jeff’s kitchen, or when I am anyway, I feel like I am where I am supposed to be. The galley kitchen lends a grace to movement, a grace that I don’t often have. It makes me feel graceful. The view from the kitchen of both the house and terrace makes me feel at home.
Sometimes I feel like I am living on a ship. Or more accurately beneath an overturned schooner. The vaulted plywood upper ceiling brings to mind the interior hull of a moulded plywood sailboat. Or perhaps the fuselage of a downed aircraft, or the belly of a submarine.
Alone, at night, you feel like you have taken shelter in a safe and secret place—the way one, caught by a summer storm, might crawl under an upturned dory on some windy beach. You are safe.
This is all the more so in stormy weather. For the house is a weather amplifier. When rain hits the steel roof it always sounds more dramatic than it is. And that makes the inside
all the more comforting.
I love that it is on a dirt lane. A dirt lane in the heart of the city. It gives it the feel of a cottage. Of being in the country.
Yet for all its cottagey comfort it is a theatrical place. Sometimes as I walk around I feel like I am on a stage. Standing on the upstairs walkway, looking down over the main floor, I could be overlooking a market from the second floor of a small Italian hotel. I feel like I should call out.
Above everything, it gives a sense of comfort—a sense of being at home. That has been my overwhelming feeling from the moment I saw it. A sense of belonging.
It may well be modern and adventuresome—all catwalks, single-lane stairways, passageways, guy-wires, block risers to the very upper story—but it is above all humanist.
It is, first and foremost, a home.
Stuart McLean is a writer, broadcaster, and host of the CBC Radio program The Vinyl Café. He lives at 5 Leonard Place in Toronto, a laneway house that was designed by Jeffery Stinson as his own home.
The book Jeffery Stinson Architect, edited by David Sisam, FRAIC, can be purchased at www.lulu.com/shop/david-sisam/jeffery-stinson-architect-building-drawing-teaching-writing/paperback/product-22438599.html