Situated in Toronto’s Forest Hill, an area characterized by its conservative decorum, the Cascade House by Paul Raff Studio disarms. At the apex of a curved street, it presents itself as a sculpture of stacked boxes composed from shards of glass and muted black slate. Commissioned by a family that was relocating from Arizona, the house was designed in response to the clients’ love of modern art and their desire for natural light.
There are some elements in this home that you’re sure to fall in love with.
The two-and-a-half story house is configured in an “L” shape around an outdoor swimming pool, oriented precisely on axis with the compass. Maximizing on solar potential, this orientation takes advantage of the low winter sun through large expanses of south-facing glazing. The living room, dining room and a powder room can be closed off from the kitchen and family room at the rear of the house, allowing for the parents to entertain while their children play. The children’s rooms and a home office are on the second floor, topped by a master suite in a pavilion on the roof which is set back from the street to ensure privacy while opening up to the treetops.
The most dramatic design strategy is a 13-foot tall screen of 475 vertically stacked sheets of heavy, jagged-cut glass canted slightly away from the sidewalk, shimmering in emerald green against a backdrop of dark slate tiles. The screen was conceived to maximize sunlight in the living room while also providing privacy from the street. Reminiscent of the cascade of a waterfall, it draws connections to the adjacent pool, imparts texture and movement into the room and imbues it with the quality of an art installation.
A compliment to the translucent wall is a freestanding monolithic wall of dark slate that acts as a central spine. Framing the feature staircase, it rises from the lower level of the house to the top floor, creating a unified visual connection throughout the house. Random apertures provide niches for child play and display, and also dapple the transference of light. The pattern of slate is designed with varying rough and polished surfaces to further play upon the intricacies of natural light. The slate wall has an environmental as well as an aesthetic function; as a thermal wall, it absorbs the sun’s energy during the day, and slowly disperses heat overnight.
Glass and slate are employed as thematic materials to create sculptural walls and to play with sunshine. “We always start from first principles of human scale and flow, and in search of opportunities to engage light and landscape,” explains architect Paul Raff. “Once we began to work with glass and slate, the house became characterized by a powerful material presence that is activated as these materials come alive in response to natural light.”