Great Spaces: a pair of German expat Canadaphiles build the house they had been dreaming about for 30 years
Georg and Petra Unger first came to Canada for a series of cross-country road trips in the early ’80s, eager to see the country’s expansive landscapes and modern residential architecture. As students in Germany—Petra studied interior design, Georg trained as a cabinetmaker—they had read about the Bridge House, a stone and glass box soaring over Stoney Lake in rural Ontario, by the architect Jim Strasman. “It was in all the architectural magazines at that time, and we thought Canada must be such a cool, design-forward place,” Petra says.
The Ungers were smitten, and they moved to Toronto a few years later, settling near High Park. They bought a small, two-storey Georgian-style property and planned to turn it into their dream home. But their renovation plans stayed on hold for more than 20 years, much of that time spent searching for the perfect architect (the couple’s design backgrounds made them highly discerning clients). By 2000 they still hadn’t found the right person—until Georg worked on a project with architect Ian MacDonald. MacDonald and the Ungers shared a passion for minimalism and the Canadian landscape, and they hit it off immediately. The Ungers hired MacDonald and Jeremy Campbell, an architect in his firm, to gut and rebuild their place, opening it up to the leafy landscape. The architects integrated the existing yellow brick walls into a bright, contemporary design with floor-to-ceiling windows. They built a three-metre expansion into the sloping backyard and added a third floor, which has breathtaking views of the park—the kind of views the Ungers had been dreaming of for more than three decades.
To satisfy the city’s zoning stipulations, the Ungers planted a portion of the new garden with plants native to the ravine. Dogwood and hydrangea complement what they believe to be one of High Park’s tallest pines.
The Marcel Breuer Wassily chair was brought over from Germany.
The Rumford fireplace is small, but the oversized concrete hearth, polished Venetian plaster wall and narrow bronze mantelpiece give it
a large presence in the room.
The Ungers bought the rug in Santa Fe, one of their favourite U.S. cities because of its art scene and adobe architecture.
The couple owns five oil paintings by Elora artist Phil Irish. They bought this one at the Nathan Phillips Square outdoor art exhibit
15 years ago and never learned its name, so they just call it The Yellow Canoe.
The couple bought four Thonet chairs in Germany more than 30 years ago and decided to recycle them post-renovation. Kai Krueger, of Kai Leather, dyed the blond leather black, and Georg replaced the beech arms with Sapele mahogany.
The 12-foot custom table matches all the other mahogany in the house.
The Eileen Gray side table was also shipped by the Ungers from Germany.
Georg’s company, Kobi’s Cabinets, built more than 30 drawers and cupboards for the new kitchen using wood from Mozambique. His company
fashioned all of the wood in the house, except for the floors.
A three-storey screen of vertical wood slats runs along the staircase, fulfilling code requirements for a guardrail without obstructing the view of the backyard.
For extra seating, the Ungers pull up a black leather bench, also by Kai Leather.
The floors were left unstained because the Jatoba wood reacts to light, first getting darker, then gradually turning reddish on heavily sunlit areas (which is most of the house).
The Ungers chose a high-gloss finish for their wall-to-wall closets because it reflects sunlight in the mornings and mirrors the trees.
The custom headboard and bed frame are made with the same wood as the cabinetry downstairs.
Georg and Petra’s 19-year-old daughter, Miranda, built this chessboard side table for a high school art project.