A backyard addition designed for musical performances
The people: Howard Spring, a professor of ethnomusicology and Shelley Kirsch, an interior designer
The place: A detached four-bedroom house in Bracondale Hill
Shelley and Howard bought their 1,500-square-foot home in 1994. Not long after moving in, they created a basement play zone for their sons so Shelley could work from home with minimal distractions. (Lewis, now 33, is a filmmaker and producer, while Robert, 28, works as a high school teacher.)
While the kids were growing up, the house was always filled with melodies. Howard plays the guitar and is an expert in jazz and African music. The boys took to percussion and turned the basement into a jam space. “They all played in bands, and some weekends there were three rehearsals a day,” Shelley says. She got a kick out of serving snacks and supper while listening to her kids and their friends.
By 2014, the boys had moved out, and Shelley and Howard did a sizable renovation in the kitchen, adding streamlined cabinetry, large windows that frame the leafy backyard and a door to the deck. But a few years later, they decided they needed more space to throw dinner parties. “We host a giant Rosh Hashanah meal every year,” Shelley says. “Having 30 guests in that space meant we were almost on the street, cheek by jowl.” And so in 2019 the couple hired Eurodale Design and Build’s Brendan Charters to construct a one-storey addition in the back, which would bring much-needed breathing room.
Shelley and Howard wanted the addition to be open to the existing kitchen and dining area. They planned to host large dinner parties and bring the music out of the basement with mini concerts featuring local performers—in nice weather, everyone could spill out into the backyard.
Charters started the 11-month project just before the onset of the pandemic, and, after a few delays, completed the job in October of 2020. The sunken 320-square-foot addition includes movable Italian furniture on wheels that slides out of the way with minimal effort. The only thing missing now is the live music. “There haven’t been any concerts yet because of the lockdowns. There’s been lots of rehearsals,” Shelley says. “We’re aiming to host the first official performance in May.”
The cabinetry and millwork in the kitchen, dining area and addition includes a mix of walnut, ebonized ash and white lacquer. Their dining table was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the chairs are by Mario Bellini:
The sunken addition has 10-foot ceilings made of tongue-and-groove walnut:
A walnut bench, filled with books and art, acts as a safety barrier between the two spaces:
Shelley commissioned the three-figure, bass wood sculpture—on the ledge by the clerestory window—from Siggi Bühler. “He’s the most talented wood carver in Canada,” she says. “Although the pure colour of the wood is very beautiful, I wanted a more ossified cast. So Siggi created a soft grey pigment wash and the effect translated as stone”:
Shelley is a committed art enthusiast and researcher. The painting is by Vancouver Island-based artist Jonathan Forrest:
The oblong sculpture to its right—“Bird” by Ron Boaks—is an homage to saxophone player Charlie Parker. “I saw it at the home of the artist and loved the mix of materials and the elongated shape,” Shelley says:
The Ortal fireplace displays a realistic, non-repetitive holographic flame:
Floor-to-ceiling Pella patio doors, coupled with the round, five-foot-diameter Velux skylight, provide ample light:
The modular Xelle sectional by the Italian company Cristian can be disassembled to switch up the seating plan. The swivelled lounge chairs are by Flexform:
The coffee table and side tables are by Cassina, also Italian. Shelley named the figures on the table, “The Conversation.” They are by Quebecois sculptor Paul Duval:
The flock of glass birds on the Venetian plaster wall is by the artist collective Art Zone Glass. “I had been researching antique quilts on a Smithsonian site, and I came across this turn-of-the-century quilt that showed birds in flight,” says Shelley, who wanted to recreate the find into glass. “They were designed to have a refractive quality, with long shadows”:
The new main-floor powder room features a high-gloss finish. The colourful weaving is from Oaxaca, Mexico. “I found this artifact through a guild. It’s tribal—the colours are significant to various Indigenous tribes in Mexico,” Shelley says:
A previous version of this story misidentified the creator of one of the paintings.