md mag features Pool House in 60th Anniversary Issue
Back to the avant-garde: A renovation in Toronto
English translation text by Rolf Mauer
Architects should be on guard when a client wants to have a small pavilion from the 1960s refurbished and expects an all-in-one-solution for every purpose to come out of it. It can only go wrong if many wishes have to realised on scarcely 90 square metres. Or maybe not?
Even when it was new, the small one-storey pavilion from the 1960s ranked as avant-garde, and if it had been left untouched over all the decades it would fit our times well without cutbacks, apart from traces of usage, of course. Alas, all of the previous owners felt inclined to leave their individual marks on the building. So it was about time to uncover the old qualities and restore it to its original state, at least approximately. The client wished for a multi-functional and universal space, which didn’t facilitate planning for the team. “The building’s true potential was buried under the various constructional changes. I wanted to redefine its modernity and at the same time create a place that inspires enthusiasm and is full of lightness”, describes architect John Tong the task he was saddled with.
A universal space
Tong’s experience in developing luxury suites and spaces for versatile use in hotel projects, like the 'W Hotel' in New Jersey and the 'Drake Hotel' in Toronto, gave the planner inspirations for spatial ideas and furniture designs. The interior space was planned so flexibly that it can be used together with the adjacent swimming pool as a pool house with shower and sanitary rooms, but is also temporarily available as a full-fledged guest house. Inside, the pavilion is divided by a big free-standing black monolith, thus creating a public and a private area. On the public side, this impressive piece of furniture accommodates the TV set and entertainment equipment, while on the back elementary sanitary facilities were integrated. The table, designed by Tong and placed in the centre of the public area in a space-filling way, features geometrically placed steel feet and was cut out of a tree trunk that had allegedly been pulled out of the Panama Canal. The low coffee table can be slightly raised by means of a mechanism so that it can be used for bigger events as a dining table or alternatively as a worktable. A light-coloured wall in an orange shade traverses the whole building in parallel with the afore-mentioned table and, by its colour, connects the public living room with the private sanitary and bedroom area. It simultaneously serves as a gallery wall for the client’s art collection. Where already in the 1960s the sanitary installations
had been placed, Tong has now installed a modern interpretation of a shower and WC as a room-dividing piece of furniture. The lavatory offers a full view outside through a glass pane, thus visually enlarging the small room. Sometimes desirable absolute privacy is afforded by a motor-driven opaque blackout blind.
Playing with quotations
This private area conceals a so-called “Queen Murphy” bed. At first blush the word “Queen“ may sound confusing in connection with a male name. It does not
denote nobility, but is simply a term for the size. A “Queen Murphy“ bed is just a big bed that folds away in a wall cabinet after use. Hidden in the same cabinet, a
minibar, a microwave and a coffee machine complement the pavilion’s apartment qualities. The interior space with its narrow window formats typical of the 1960s, located directly beneath the ceiling, doesn’t deny the half century that has passed since the house was built. The architect plays with quotations from that time and stresses their advantages by complementing them sensitively and self-confidently by modern installations and contemporary technology. The space is open and looks airy. Each one of the numerous details, the illumination, for instance, raises the question whether it is an original item or a new one. Summing it up, John Tong says: “In my opinion modern architecture expresses itself in its own way at any point in time, and time and again it will embody optimism and a belief in the future. This building leaves the user much room for reflections and creativity of his or her own.”
With his Canadian design company, John Tong covers a broad spectrum from interior design for private homes to major projects or product development.
Studio: +tongtong Inc
Location: 42 Gladstone Avenue, Toronto, On, M6J 3K6
Founding year: 2012
Work areas: private buildings, retail trade, commercial buildings, fair and concept installations, furniture design
What is your design philosophy?
We intend our design to touch the user’s soul. It must inspire him, stimulate his imagination, give him pleasure and joy. Our design is to change and positively influence the builder-owner's life.
How do you find your inspirations?
By enjoying life to the full and then taking the time to look for a place where we can reflect.
What project was the most important one for the evolution of the office – and why?
Each project with which we have an opportunity to learn a new way to design is an important step in our development – the first shop, the first hotel, the first installation in a gallery, the first car dealer, the first hairdresser's, the first table, the first chair, the first lamp. Each project shows us new ways in exploring and discovering architecture and design. To us the way is more important than the goal.