A new build with a strong sense of family history represents the best of both worlds for its owners.

Avenue Magazine - September 2019

PROFILE By Käthe Lemon


The home of Bonny and Ken Black is a brand-new build that exudes the sense of welcome that you get from older heritage homes. In fact, this mid-century-inspired home does have deeper roots than other brand-new homes: it was built on the site of a previous bungalow that had been in the family since the actual mid-century.

But while the Blacks’ home borrows some elements from what came before, it is an entirely new creation. Thoughtful design from the outset has resulted in a home created to be useful today, as well as into the future as its residents age. It is a large home but also very functional with no wasted space — all of the rooms (with the exception of the guest bedrooms) are used on a daily basis.

At every turn, the design and execution of this home displays meticulous attention to detail and thoughtful references to family history. Some of the details might not be immediately noticeable until pointed out by the delighted homeowners, such as the way the baseboards have been inset to be flush with the drywall, necessitating an entire change of building procedure and laser-level precision.

Careful calibration of materials selected in the foyer has ensured that the geometry of the floor tiles, glass stairwell and the grain of the walnut panelling are in perfect alignment, adding up to a sense of balanced calm in the two-storey gallery space. “There are a lot of strong, sharp lines in the architecture, but there is also a lot of softness in materials and shapes incorporated,” says interior designer Monica Stevens, who worked on the home from its conception.

The property, one of several lots sold by the Canadian Pacific Railway, was purchased by members of Ken’s family in the 1950s, and retaining some elements from his late aunt’s original bungalow was important to both Ken and Bonny. Graduate architect Robert Ollerenshaw, principal of Section 23 Developments, is a family friend of Ken’s since childhood, and he had visited the original home when Ken’s aunt was still living there. The build team managed to harvest much of the Rundle stone from the original fireplace and repurpose it for the Blacks’ outdoor fireplace. The former foyer chandeliers were also reused, and the original door chimes, although no longer functional, hang alongside other pieces of Ken’s aunt’s artwork on the main floor.

The central stairwell features clerestory windows — one of the signatures of Ollerenshaw’s architectural designs. The clerestory provides natural light and also creates a sense of even more height in the centre of the home. The stairwell acts as a natural divider in the home, with the public areas of the kitchen, dining room and living room on one side and the private spaces, including the offices and powder room, on the other. “This is really two houses connected by the clerestory,” Ken says.

One thing that may not be fully appreciated at first glance is the incredible feat of architecture and engineering of the open staircase.

Ollerenshaw’s vision for the architectural design was very open and airy, and having a solid central staircase in the home completely went against that idea. “To get it to be open was very challenging,” says Ollerenshaw, with typical understatement. Instead of being attached to the wall at any point, the walnut stair treads sit on top of a metal frame substructure that is cantilevered over the stairwell. This allows the stairs to seemingly float in space. At the same time, the engineering of the structure ensures that the stairs feel completely stable, without even a hint of give when you step on them. “It took about 10 people to carry in each support,” Ken recalls.

After a severe car accident, Bonny had been told she might never walk again. While she has since recovered her mobility, designing the home to accommodate aging in place — without sacrificing the sense of style — was forefront in her mind. As such, the front door is fully accessible by ramps disguised by thoughtful design, the doorsills throughout the home are low profile and an elevator allows access from the basement-level parking up to the second floor. The first floor was also built to be easily reworked for one-level living, should the Blacks ever need it, and the bathrooms have the proper wood backing for adding grab bars.

“It makes you feel good to know that the design is not just about beautiful aesthetics, but that it’s functional,” says Stevens.

For the Blacks, employing thoughtful design for now, and for their future, has created a home of comfort and ease. As Bonny so succinctly put it: “We love this house."


The commitment to detail and quality in the home of Ken and Bonny Black goes much deeper than the surface results. This is in great deal due to the true teamwork of graduate architect Robert Ollerenshaw, interior designer Monica Stevens and contractor Dan McAllister of Heritage Custom Builders. The three have worked together on many projects over a 15-year period, and their friendly cooperation and deep respect for each other’s work is demonstrated by the results they are able to get. “It’s a really good team,” says Ollerenshaw. “We ended up working so well together, we just go together from one project to another.”

It is clear in speaking with all three that they understand what expertise each has to offer, and through this they are able to get the best work out of each other. McAllister points out that the Blacks were also integral to the process. “The clients that Rob brings to the table are always involved,” he says. “You don’t reach this kind of a product if the client isn’t as involved as Ken, and especially Bonny, were. And they were great to work with.”

Even now, five years after the home was completed, all of the design-and-build team members are still involved, to a certain degree.

“We didn’t build a home looking for friends,” Ken says, “but that’s what we got.” 

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