Family Dynamic

Economical space planning is the key to sustainability in a house Toronto architects Dean Goodman and Janna Levitt built for their changing needs.

As new houses grow more bloated by the year, it’s easy for architects to imagine smaller and more sustainable alternatives, but it can be tricky to sell clients on the idea that less really is more. So when Dean Goodman and Janna Levitt designed a new home for themselves in downtown Toronto, they decided to make it a prototype for green urban-infill housing, building just what their family would need for the next generation and not a square foot more.

“We did it on our terms,” says Levitt, who with her husband is a principal of Levitt Goodman Architects. “Too often plans are driven by marketing. We said, ‘We’ll have a green roof, and we won’t have three bedrooms upstairs. We’re prepared to stay here until we die.’” The 2,450-square-foot house, which employs sustainable features such as radiant heating and natural ventilation, is designed to suit them every step of the way. Behind a no-nonsense facade of pine siding and concrete block is a fairly conventional layout for a family of four: a modest bedroom and den upstairs, a spacious corridor of public rooms on the main level, and bedrooms for the couple’s teenage sons in the high basement.

They also planned for the building’s future: when the kids leave home, Levitt and Goodman will carve their rooms into a basement apartment by closing up a doorway and digging out a stair that’s hidden under the front garden. “We’re really interested in the idea of flexibility—in a family you need that,” Levitt says over a plate of fresh chocolate-chip cookies. “You’re one or two people, so you rent some of the house out; then maybe you have kids, and then they move out. It’s just thinking about real needs.”

With that ethic in mind, the architects didn’t squander real estate on grand private spaces: instead they organized the interior to afford luxurious views and light. The den smoothly converts into a guest bedroom with the close of a curtain; and the ten-by-ten-foot master bedroom, set back from the street to make room for the lush green roof, has a panoramic view of the streetscape. “That view is one of my favorite things about the house,” Goodman says.

Likewise, on the main floor, glazed walls in the front and back brighten up the house’s 55-foot-long stretch of public spaces, from the living area (dominated by a tall lithograph by Louise Bourgeois) facing the street to the dining room overlooking the back garden. The dining area is also the hearth of the home, pulled together by a reclaimed Douglas-fir counter that serves as a kids’ desk, kitchen table, and food-prep surface. To make the house hospitable for Goodman’s mother, the architects even stashed a tiny powder room into a two-and-a-half-foot-wide area on the ground floor.

All this modesty and economical space planning comes naturally to Levitt and Goodman after two decades of practice focused on the public sector and residential design. But for Levitt it’s really a matter of common sense. “You don’t need to build a lot of space,” she says. “You just need to build good space.”

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