As Mid Century Modern enthusiasts, we all want to preserve the original modernist homes in our areas. But what happens when you try to stick too closely to the original design and building materials? You might lose some modern day efficiency and practicality. That’s what happened to this 1939 Art Moderne house in Hamilton, Ontario. Luckily, the homeowners and a local architect team were determined to reverse the restoration gone wrong.
Art Moderne Home Beginnings
Hambly House was built in 1939 by architect Edward Glass, who was a local to Hamilton, Ontario, and best known for his “Boathouse” design. Hambly House has a similar nautical-inspired design. “Hambly House is an Art Moderne house, which is a branch of Art Deco,” says architect David Premi of DPAI Architecture, the architect on the project. “There aren’t that many of these houses around, but there happens to be a concentration of them here in Hamilton, Ontario.”
Art Moderne design is characterized by nautical inspiration, including smooth curved lines that resemble a ship, along with round, porthole-like windows and minimalist lines. “It’s an obscure style,” David says.
Restoration Gone Wrong
But when trying to restore the home to its original glory, the previous homeowners went one step too far. “They were very purist about the restoration,” David says. “They made replica windows and single glazed them because wanted to be true to the house.” They also used the original 1939 method of adding stucco.
While their intentions were good, it was their outdated building method that created problems. “It failed miserably,” David says. “By the time we got there 5 years later, it was bad. The walls were full of mold. The stucco was cracking and leaking, and the windows were leaking. Had it been left to degrade any further, it might have had to be demolished.” Building codes and materials have been upgraded since 1939, and with good reason. Especially in an area like Ontario, which keenly feels winter, the home needed to be reworked so it was comfortable and insulated.
Luckily for this Art Moderne house, the new homeowners who bought the house, Lane and Tina, were concerned with both preservation and bringing the home into the 21st century. “It was really Lane and Tina with their vision in working with us, that saved this house,” David says.
DPAI Architecture teamed up with Toms + McNally Design to do the project management and get the house livable again. They replaced all the windows, the insulation and stucco. “We gutted the house right down to the studs,” David says. While modernizing the design, they still paid tribute to the original Art Moderne house. “The profiles of the windows are similar to the originals, but now they’re double glazed and properly sealed,” he says.
They did add some square footage to the home as well. The original house was tiny at only about 800 square feet (which included 3 bedrooms). That wasn’t enough space for a modern family. They added a second story to the originally-single-story home, as well as a 200-square-foot addition to the back of the house for the dining room. “That was very controversial,” David says. “There were many people who thought we destroyed the house.”
Yet the results are just what a modern restoration should be: a tribute to the original structure while making it livable and comfortable for the 21st century. “It’s better to interpret the original house, to create something that’s contemporary but with a language that speaks to the existing building as well,” David says. “It becomes a living piece of the heritage.”
Art Moderne House Interiors
Homeowners Lane and Tina based their interiors after the modernist designs of Art Moderne and Mid Century style. In the kitchen, they chose Elmira Stove Works appliances to bring a pop of color into the space. “I love the statement made by the Robin’s Egg Blue appliances and wall panel bouncing out of the crisp clean white background,” says Tony Dowling, vice president, sales and marketing for Elmira Stove Works. “They’ve done a wonderful job with this house, and we’re proud that our appliances are a part of it.” The appliances include a Robin’s Egg Blue Northstar fridge, gas range, vent hood and splashback, dishwasher and microwave. “We got to design a great kitchen featuring the appliances,” says homeowner Lane.
Other modernist designs and decor permeate the rest of the rooms. In the new addition upstairs stands a living room and bathroom. An automatic curtain comes from both sides of the room to provide privacy when it’s needed. “The curtain creates an air pocket, which further helps with insulation,” David says. “It’s quite comfortable in there.”
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