Fraser House

Toronto, Ontario

Designed by Ron Thom in the late 1960s, Fraser House ranks among Canada’s finest examples of mid-century modern residential architecture. Prior to our engagement by the client, the home was a ‘60s cultural artifact complete with cork floors, pine-green curtains and bathroom fixtures in various pastel shades.

While the bones of Thom’s free-form design were brilliant in conception and execution, the landscaping was absent, the exterior worn, and the interiors dated.

Altius was faced with the challenge of restoring the home and reconfiguring the project while complementing Thom’s design intentions. This included upgrading all of the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems while protecting the original brickwork and clear cedar panelling.

Starting from the street, new board-formed concrete retaining walls stabilize the driveway slopes, and exposed-aggregate pavers replace the existing asphalt surface. At the entrance to the walkway, weathered steel slabs climb up to the garden, while a cast-in-place concrete and mahogany bench mimics the concrete patterns of the interior fireplace mantels. The walkway to the front door, also originally asphalt, was replaced with Indiana limestone inlaid with cedar.

A hidden garden patio was created in front of the house in a space previously occupied by a flat lawn. Two pools drain into a third, creating a large reflecting pond and acoustical fountain. Custom brass accents, board-formed concrete, limestone and mahogany create a genial and tactile outdoor space for entertaining and dining. The table and benches were designed to complement the Thomas Lamb steamer chairs.

The exterior of the home was “upgraded” to what the team believed would have been the original design intention. This was largely limited to the roof, rafter and eaves which were all designed and reconstructed–especially the covered walkway that links the carport to the house. Asphalt shingles and plywood soffits were replaced with cedar shakes and shiplap cedar to match the interior.

Custom built-in pieces were designed and integrated into the home to house the owners’ extensive library and art collection, while mid-century furniture pieces were selected to complete their eclectic tastes.

The home originally had five compact bedrooms, many more than these “empty-nester” clients needed. Our team converted the structure to a generous one-bedroom with a guest room for occasional visitors.

The interiors were stripped of unnecessary curtains, trim and doors to reveal Thom’s clean geometry. The floors were completely replaced, the interior cedar refinished to its bright natural appearance, and all of the internal millwork upgraded with new designs that emphasized the Arts & Crafts training Thom’s office brought to the original scheme.

Vancouver architect Paul Merrick, who worked with Thom on the original house, paid the greatest compliment when visiting in 2018. He said how pleased he was that Altius had “finished the house”.

Working closely with Toronto’s Urban Forestry Department, we worked with the owners to embark on the first private ravine restoration in the City of Toronto. This was a ten-year plan involving the complete removal of all invasive species and the reintroduction of hundreds of new plants, representing dozens of native trees species, shrubs and flowers. More than two decades later, the thriving biodiversity of this small patch of Toronto ravine remains exemplary–a result that Altius and the owners are very proud of achieving.