• Richard Davignon

A Modern Twist on Old World Character

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

The New York Times – T Magazine recently featured a home in Stockholm, Sweden designed by the Scandinavian architecture firm Claesson Koivisto Rune. Located in a fin de siècle (turn of the 19th century) building, the interior is very modern, with big open spaces and minimal furnishings but at the same time very warm: a kitchen cabinet is clad in brass, and in a nod to the past, chair rail molding is used in the public spaces and ornate trim around the doorways.

(Photos courtesy of T Magazine and photogrpher Henry Bourne)

This “old character made new” approach to design resonated with us. It reminded us of other similar perspectives on design such as the Philippe Starck’s “Ghost Chair”, which took the motif and silhouette of a Louis IV chair but then considered the modern requirements and materials of a chair for today and designed it out of plastic. Starck looked at what was done before, then made something new and tied it back to the tradition – and it works very well.

In this blog, we will explore how this design attitude was applied to a series of modern, yet playfully traditional, urban homes in Calgary. While in Calgary we don’t have fin de siècle architecture, we do have architectural precedents to reinterpret and make anew – in this case, minimalist interpretations of the traditional Edwardian style vertical long homes that were once so prevalent in Calgary’s inner-city. As a residential inception for the Hannon Richards brand of inner-city boutique homes, we designed a pair of infill homes and a duplex with “old character made new” as the parti – or architectural perspective. Located in established, inner city neighborhoods, these homes takes the vertical composition and building materials of the surrounding historic housing and create fresh abstractions of the traditional typography. Although modern in their aesthetics, it is the modern take on the past that differentiates them. The goal was to be mindful of the traditional fabric in which the buildings existed, while also being architecturally progressive. The materials, the framing, the finishing carpentry is all conceptualized from a reinterpretation perspective – how they used heavy trim and curved moldings; especially with the doorways – how the fireplace is not isolated on the wall – how the kitchen cabinets run from the floor up to the 10-foot ceilings or how the ensuite is divided into individual spaces for each element, like in the past. The stairs also become a piece of furniture as opposed to just having an escalating function in the home – in most cases the “stair” are split from one another in different configurations and using different materials.

(Photos courtesy of DMA & Ric Kokotovich)

The New York Times article featuring the fin de siècle home in Sweden posits that the architectural features designed into a space – countertop, fireplace, stair, or doorway – are as important as the furniture you put into a space. And can be as playful as the Ghost Chair.

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