The Chaplin Estates, one of the most affluent neighborhoods of central Toronto, looks much as you would expect; large, traditional brick-built detached houses with green lawns, mature trees casting shadows over the homes, and cars parked on the driveways. But if you take a closer look you’ll spot a remarkable edifice nestled amongst the normal brickwork and greenery – the Kaleidoscope House.
What is the Kaleidoscope House?
The first thing that strikes you is the contrast between the house and those that surround it. Instead of warm tones of red brick, stone cladding, the dark slate of the roof tiles, or cream-colored columns of its neighbors, this house appears to be a gray box. The zinc panels offer such a contrast that it is something of a surprise when you come across it. There is an almost unsettling lack of symmetry that gives an impression of movement – which is surely intentional on behalf of the architect, Paul Raff. A kaleidoscope offers a continually changing view, it relies on movement. And although there is symmetry, through the use of mirrors, you have to look for it. As you view the front of this house, you can pick out the strong lines and areas of symmetry within the different areas.
Speaking of mirrors, to see the most remarkable feature of this house you need to head inside…
The Mirrored Staircase
When designing this house, the architect put the staircase at its heart. It dog-legs its way vertically through the building, tying the separate parts together seamlessly. High ceilings were incorporated, along with the fully-glazed rear and the open-plan layout, to take advantage of the fact that the back of the house is south-facing. A subtle slope to the ceiling also helps to open up the building, allowing more light in. And that is what it is all about; light.
But that is not all. The most impressive feature in the entire design is what gives the house its unique name. To maximize the amount of natural light flowing through the building, Paul Raff placed mirror panels on the balustrade. The zigzags and folds, like a complex origami sculpture, offer a range of views and visual experiences that excite and amuse the senses. One resident actually described it as like ‘living in a kaleidoscope’, and this is precisely the effect that the architect wished to achieve.
The staircase itself is open, with wooden steps, The walls are painted white to capitalize on the amount of light flowing through the space. The laminated wood flooring ties it all in to give an incredible feeling of balance. The idea may have come from mirrored furniture like this by Homes Direct 365 but that does not take away the beauty and creativity that Paul Raff himself thought up. It is a multi-function house, with the open-plan areas defined by built-in planters that bring a sense of the outdoors, connecting the home with the gardens to the front and rear, which in turn softens the effect of the interior.
Not only is this stunning home a lesson in how contemporary architecture can be beautiful and practical, as well as offering a sense of fun and playfulness, but there is also an aspect to the kaleidoscope house that should inspire all architects going forward. Paul Raff Studios are committed to sustainable building. The Kaleidoscope House is a smart home, with an integrated system that allows functions to be controlled using a smartphone. Motorized blinds, speakers, lighting, and even home security can be controlled at the touch of a button. On top of this, the house is sealed and insulated to an extremely high specification. The in-built heating, cooling, and ventilation system is super-efficient, which is surely the way forward for all future housing projects if we are serious about tackling the environmental challenges we face. To finish this picture of a future-proof house, the garage is fitted with a charging point for an electric vehicle.
While the design – both interior and exterior – may not appeal to all, there are aspects that we can all learn from and appreciate. The ingenious use of mirror panels on the staircase, along with the manipulation of light, is what makes this house special. It plays with the senses, preventing the building from being taken for granted. The Kaleidoscope House is a masterpiece of design, and it proudly lives up to its name.