As They Lay Dying

The joy and sorrow of palliative care
A Faith Today senior writer shares her own experience caring for a dying loved one, and how Canada can do better with palliative care

By Alex Newman

We should have been hiking the Fraser River with her crew of adopted dogs, drinking wine, trading girl talk. Instead I slept with a baby monitor, woke to the sounds of her retching and celebrated when she could keep down two ounces of Boost.

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I am Not Joan Didion but would Like to Be

A plaid metal 1940s picnic basket, worn and dented at the edges, filled with lunch stuff, which we didn’t eat at lunch but at dinner. We ate lunch out because it was cheaper than dinner in a restaurant. Dinner we ate in the motel, sneaking in our food hamper and the toaster, kettle, pans and hot plate, my father heating up tomato soup, giving us sandwich stuff to make, in the morning making instant coffee and a boiled egg for my mother, porridge for us kids. Always the day old bread — by then a week old – which came from Rooneems, a Dutch bakery in Toronto’s west end, where every couple of weeks my father would back up the station wagon to the rear door, fill a few 50-pound flour sack (50cents per bag) with stale loaves, Danishes and quork cheesecake. Others loaded up too, but mostly pig farmers looking for cheap swill. (more…)

the end of the road

Who hasn’t lingered in a cemetery when traveling, trying to piece together the complex web of relationships – or circumstances – witnessed there. A family plot with several wives’ dead in childbirth, small gravestones at their side, or the clustering of stones with dates that tell a tragic tale of epidemics. And in how many movies have we seen family members assembled by an open grave, tossing in roses and sand? (more…)

Room at the Table

The Levines needed more space and wanted to honour the 1930s design and heritage of their North York house. Their retro refurb accomplished that — and more

With their heads bent, Samuel, 5, and his little sister Sylvia, 3, are absorbed with their paper and crayons at the dining table. Their parents, Michelle and Jeffrey Levine, make tea in the adjoining kitchen as they chat with the two artists and their eldest daughter Robyn, 8.

It’s a busy household with three young kids and two demanding careers.

And every Friday night, they are joined by additional family for Shabbat dinners that regularly include a dozen people. It never feels crowded — and that’s why they renovated.

The Levines had already refurbished the upstairs of their 1-1/2-storey, North York home after they purchased in 2007 — their architect had suggested doing that level before the main floor. They had no children at the time, but knew they’d need another bedroom and a larger bathroom. So they took 300 square feet from unused attic space and expanded their top floor.

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Only in Canada?

Way out in the wilderness of Ontario, a curiously shaped house bends along a tricky ridge.

Dwell, Jan 29, 2018
by Alex Newman

It was always about the dogs. Toronto veterinarian Mark Dilworth and lawyer David Bronskill hadn’t even considered building a cottage until they saw how excited their rescue dogs, Stanley, AJ, and Piglet, were when they visited Mark’s sister’s place on Haliburton Lake in secluded Central Ontario.

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 1 of 16 - Clad in SPF lumber, zinc, and glass, David Bronskill and Mark Dilworth’s vacation home on Oblong Lake fans out to capture wide views of the forest. "Nothing is straight in the plan," says architect Roland Rom Colthoff of RAW Design, who conceived the 2,500-square-foot escape. From left to right, there are three structures: a three-bedroom guest wing, a voluminous communal area, and a semi-detached master suite. Two of the wings share an unusual fin-shape design because of their varied ceiling heights. 
Clad in SPF lumber, zinc, and glass, David Bronskill and Mark Dilworth’s vacation home on Oblong Lake fans out to capture wide views of the forest. “Nothing is straight in the plan,” says architect Roland Rom Colthoff of RAW Design, who conceived the 2,500-square-foot escape. From left to right, there are three structures: a three-bedroom guest wing, a voluminous communal area, and a semi-detached master suite. Two of the wings share an unusual fin-shape design because of their varied ceiling heights. Photo: Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

Soon they found themselves scouring real estate listings in the area, but the standard 100-foot-wide lots were too close to their neighbors. As Mark puts it, “The dogs aren’t very well behaved.” When his mother told them there were huge lots for sale on adjoining Oblong Lake, he and David drove over right away to see one. With 1,400 feet of shoreline and 61 acres of bush, the site provided plenty of space for both the dogs and owners to romp around. That was in 2009. “I’m not sure we were ready for it,” says David, “but we took it with a five-year plan in mind, camping the first year and taking our time to build.”

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 2 of 16 - The main corridor bends 100 degrees from end to end and leads to three guest rooms, each with a different color door. "Roland took a Lawren Harris painting and matched the colors perfectly," says David.  
The main corridor bends 100 degrees from end to end and leads to three guest rooms, each with a different color door. “Roland took a Lawren Harris painting and matched the colors perfectly,” says David. Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

They also took their time to find an architect. David’s law practice in urban development puts him in contact with some of Toronto’s best, but most of the candidates they interviewed didn’t get what they were after—until they met Roland Rom Colthoff of RAW Design.

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 3 of 16 - Set on a steel frame and reached by a bridge, the master suite extends up to 13 feet above the sloping grade.
Set on a steel frame and reached by a bridge, the master suite extends up to 13 feet above the sloping grade. Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

The couple’s requests weren’t ordinary, recalls Colthoff: Instead of a certain number of bedrooms or baths, they asked for “minimal tree removal, a master bedroom like a forest ranger tower, and a place where their dogs could run wild.”

On his first site visit in 2012, the architect walked the property, swam in the lake, and stood on a small hilltop where the last owner had cleared a space for vehicles to turn around. As he looked down over the valley, with its two bays and acres of poplar and ash trees, the landscape unfolded before him like a panorama.

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 5 of 16 - In the great room, the curved ceiling reaches 16 feet. A Roche Bobois sofa faces a double-sided, indoor/outdoor fireplace made of board-formed concrete.  

In the great room, the curved ceiling reaches 16 feet. A Roche Bobois sofa faces a double-sided, indoor/outdoor fireplace made of board-formed concrete. Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

That vista prompted an unusual, curved design for the house. Although Colthoff typically avoids rounded buildings—too whimsical, too constructivist, he says—his initial sketches kept coming up curved, so he stopped fighting what the terrain was telling him to do.Colthoff, project architect Jon Jeronimus, and general contractor Derek Nicholson used two techniques to build the house: post-and-beam for the great room and master suite and stick-frame for the guest wing and entry area. Near the front door, there’s a special tub for the owners to wash their dogs in after hikes. The basin has a low opening and is made of durable concrete, courtesy of Mag’s Concrete Works. The wood paneling is walnut.

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 7 of 16 - The master suite is warmed by a Badger 3112 woodstove by Morsø.

The master suite is warmed by a Badger 3112 woodstove by Morsø. Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

Rounded buildings are generally more complicated to make. Colthoff estimates the curve added a month of construction. (The cottage, finished in 2015, came close to meeting the clients’ five-year plan.) Builder Derek Nicholson says part of the challenge was having to massage straight materials like lumber and plywood into curves, which required skilled carpenters from Toronto, a good three hours away.

The cottage is built in three sections united by a curved corridor: a guest wing, a communal volume, and a master suite, elevated above grade. Its E-shape creates outdoor areas between the wings, including a screened porch that opens onto a deck through a huge accordion-style door.

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 9 of 16 - Walnut ply millwork by Ashley Woodturning and polished concrete floors with radiant heating appear throughout the residence. 
Walnut ply millwork by Ashley Woodturning and polished concrete floors with radiant heating appear throughout the residence. Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

For the main volume, Colthoff took a cue from Frank Lloyd Wright and shrank the entryway to seven feet in order to heighten the sense of awe as visitors flow into the kitchen-dining-living room, where 12-to-16-foot-high windows frame views of the woods. Here, the tongue-and-groove ceiling deck soars along the curvature of large glulam beams, which arrived cambered from the factory.

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 10 of 16 - The windows were manufactured by Kolbe Windows & Doors. Louvers cover the clerestories, reducing glare and helping with passive climate control. 
The windows were manufactured by Kolbe Windows & Doors. Louvers cover the clerestories, reducing glare and helping with passive climate control. Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

Erecting the house while maintaining trees was a challenge, Colthoff admits. “We definitely wanted the building to be compressed by the forest, so you felt as though you were in the woods,” he says. The setting also dictated some of the mechanical choices. Mark and David considered installing an underground geothermal heat pump to power the HVAC system, but found they couldn’t dig deep and narrow because of all the Canadian Shield rock on-site, or shallow and wide because it would mean sacrificing trees. Instead, a propane tank fuels the boilers, but these are rarely turned on, thanks to passive climate control.

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 11 of 16 -

Although the couple didn’t grow up “cottaging,” they’re evangelical about it now. With their busy law and veterinary practices, they can manage only a few days off at a time. Plus, it’s hard to go anywhere else with all the dogs.

They’ve also added children to the family. Shortly after buying the property, they became the legal guardians of Saif, an Iraqi refugee who came to Canada through the Urgent Protection Program. Now in his twenties, Saif attends university and lives in student housing with two teenage brothers who joined him in 2016, Abdullah and Ali. While their day-to-day involvement with Saif has lessened, David and Mark sometimes take all three boys up to Oblong Lake to swim, relax, and hang out with their dogs. Stanley, AJ, and Piglet, the pack who inspired the cottage, have all passed away, but they’ve been replaced by four more rescues.

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 13 of 16 -
Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott  “The geometry is constantly changing on you as you go along the curve.” Roland Rom Colthoff, architect

Nearly a decade after the couple bought the property, there’s still work to be done. They just recently started the landscaping. “We didn’t fully appreciate the complexity until we saw the building progress on-site,” says David. “Now I sometimes stop to look at a particular curve or beam and marvel at what we accomplished.”

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 15 of 16 -

Photo by Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott

A Curved House in Ontario Bends 100 Degrees For Forest Views - Photo 16 of 16 -

Illustration: Lohnes + Wright

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Reeling in Rome

For The Anglican Planet, May 2005

By Alex Newman

When my husband suggested celebrating our upcoming milestone birthdays with a trip sans enfants, and to Rome, I had no idea we’d be accidental tourists at a religious world stage.

 

I’m still reeling.

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A home designed for the love of music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By ALEX NEWMAN Living, Homes
Sat., Dec. 23, 2017
12/25/2017 Toronto Star

The Steinway grand piano set against a ravine-view backdrop hints at what goes on in the Wells
family home.  It’s a musical family, for sure: mom Ginny is a violinist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, dad
Mark takes gigs when time permits; kids Matt, 19, and Ani, 23, are involved in various vocal and
instrumental groups.

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Go Pest-Free

By ALEX NEWMAN Living, Homes
Fri., Oct. 14, 2011
12/17/2017 Make your home a pest-free zone | Toronto Star

 

This may be the dawning of the Age of Design, move-up buyers are in their seventh house, and urban chic is aligned with sophisticated elegances, but I have an admission to make. My clean-lined interior had mice.

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Passive Solar House Wins award

Shape, Study, Share — the Solterre Passive Home

by Alex Newman, Spring 2015, for Better Builder Magazine


Solar architecture firm, Solterre, from Halifax Nova Scotia, won big at the 2014 Scotiabank EcoLiving Awards. They were intrigued by the award which gave out a cash prize of $50,000 not for a specific project but for evidence of leadership in energy efficient and sustainable housing practices.

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