Modern Metal History

The invention of the automobile changed almost every aspect of our lives, but one small alteration was the demise of the carriage house. Without horses and buggies, estates no longer needed separate structures to house them. Many were converted to garages, while others became residences—the original detached accessory dwelling units.

Zinc panels give a 140-yearold carriage house a smart new look

By Paul Deffenbaugh

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The 140-year-old carriage house on the James Avon Smith country estate, St. Clair, Ontario, Canada, had been used as a residence for decades, but Steven Fong, a Toronto-based architect, designed a remodeled structure that retained the essence of the original and brought it into the 21st century.

Creative Solutions to Zoning Challenges

The home is in the Summerhill neighborhood surrounded by lush growth and on a tight lot with limited accessibility. The renovation needed to adhere to the Heritage Conservation District’s guidelines as well as local zoning requirements. To maintain the existing setbacks, Fong kept a substantial portion of the existing home. “Approximately half of the final volume is part of the remodeled original structure,” he says. “The entire east end of the house, comprising the ground-level living room and second-level outdoor deck, is an addition. You could say it’s a half and half project, and that was part of a strategy of preserving the zoning envelope that was allowable by the city.”

Photos: Scott Norsworthy

In renovating older structures, that strategy of keeping a portion of the original structure’s footprint so you can maintain setbacks is common. For Fong, there was something more. “Let’s say it’s the reason,” he says, “but we also found it to be an interesting challenge, and we liked the idea of retaining it.”

The home is oriented roughly on an east-west axis with the long façades on the north and south sides. The north side is next to the lot line and zoning did not permit any windows at all on that side. The south side had a greater setback, so some glazing was allowed. The design challenge then was to create a one-bedroom house under those restrictions that still felt bright and open. “Conceptually the house is a tube,” says Fong. “And the idea of the open ends is that it allows light to penetrate deep into the length of the floor plan of the house.” To help get more light into the interior, there is a skylight poised above the kitchen, but most of the daylight funnels in from the narrow ends of the house.

Before photos by Steven Fong

The Defining Cladding

Every renovation has the opportunity for drama and the transformation of the 140-year-old carriage house to a contemporary residence was created by the metal cladding. Yet, it still retains elements of its history. “We thought it was both contemporary and, at the same time, referenced the historical buildings around it,” says Fong. “The flat-lock metal tile and the running bond pattern are intended to evoke wood shingles, which is a common cladding in the neighborhood. They come across like large shingles and we thought that that reference was an important part of the design.”

In many neighborhoods, even those not governed by strict zoning and historical review boards, metal cladding can be seen as an intrusive, modern imposition on the context of the area.
That wasn’t a problem Fong and his team faced. “There was no objection to the aesthetic of the house. I would describe the finish of the cladding as a natural finish opposed to something like a uniformed painted surface,” he explains. “One neighbor voiced appreciation for the quiet presence of this house, sited unobtrusively in the middle of the block. He noted how the light plays off the cladding, casting different tones at different times of the day; and that this mutability makes it compatible with the natural setting of trees and vegetation in the area.”

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The zinc material was distributed by Agway Metals Inc., Brampton, Ontario, and the fabrication of 5,000 square feet of paneling was done by Novak Cladding Ltd., Mississauga, Ontario, who also did the installation. RHEINZINK America Inc., Woburn, Mass., supplied the zinc coating, which is a dark gray basalte matte finish and blends with the vegetation of the neighborhood. Overtime, it will patinate to a blue-gray tone. “The idea of a material that acquires a patina and over time gives a notion of aging is an attraction,” says Fong. “This notion that materials that have an appearance that acquires a patina is very appealing to me.”

Shingle Size

Each panel is 16 inches by 36 inches. The walls of the house were extended beyond the volume so that the panels would lay out perfectly on a 3-foot grid. “I like simple numbers like 36 inches,” Fong says. “If you put the panel a third of the way down the previous panel, and this is a one-third running bond, each panel is offset 12 inches.”

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That kind of design is rooted in Fong’s architectural inspirations. “When I looked at great architects like Mies van der Rohe, I was astounded that they would use the simplest numbers, and I liked that,” he shares.

There was an added benefit to keeping the panel size relatively small beyond its fitting into the neighborhood. Site access for the project was limited. “The panels were easy to handle for the installers,” says Fong. “Everything that came into the site came down a little 3-foot walkway. There were no trucks pulling up to the site whatsoever.”

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