Living in the Light and Play of Nature
Living in an architecturally designed house is an experience of the soul. An inspired architect is the mediator between earth and sun, man and world. Such was the architect of our home – Watchill House – Ron Thom (Order of Canada). This very private and architecturally designed estate in King City is singular and I am moved to share my experience of its nature with those who might desire to know more about the influence of artistic design on our everyday sense of wellbeing.
In this world of bigger – better – best, it is a delight to find sanctuary in a home that is at once simple and elegant. The open concept allows for informality and intimacy, while the terraced design offers changing vignettes of forest, hill, and sky which are a daily reverence to nature. Set on nearly three acres, use of granite and cedar within and without lend to the organic expression that has been called ‘west coast’ or ‘Californian’. To be sure, most of Ron Thom’s residential designs are found on the west coast. The few in Ontario are treasured for good reason and rarely change hands. Ron Thom is best known in this part of the world for the design of The Prince Hotel, Massey College (U of T) and Trent University.
Like a good suit, well cut of fine fabric, the house lends itself to any occasion or family dynamic. Time lapse photography would show many changes since the early seventies when the neighbourhood children tobogganed down the undulating bare hill between the towering pines toward the hidden pond where ducks and geese breed. In the original design, a koi fish pond ran under the front hall windowed walkway to visually and psychologically separate the outside world from the peace and seclusion of home.
The grand piano now rests where a sunken conversation pit snuggled beneath the trees in the corner of the living room. Trends have painted the interior brick and stained the exterior a light grey instead of silvered cedar. Who can say when change is an improvement or merely a personal preference? Still the bones are good, the lines regal and the home’s place in the embrace of the land is formidable. For the purist, signature Ron Thom elements like raw brick interior, quarry tile floors, and beech cabinets may be recaptured. For the visionary, or environmentally conscious, the house can move into the future with equal aplomb. Perhaps a garden roof, wind or solar energy. The house design and its situation on the large private acreage support many options.
No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other. Frank Lloyd Wright
When I read this quote I can understand why Thom was nicknamed ‘Frank Lloyd Thom’. He has articulated the living areas down the slope with the continued reference to nature. Each room has its own vantage and statement and with nine doorways, access to sun and breeze is always a step away. Thom has captured the sun or moon in the many skylights in their vector across the sky to create an interior play of light, shape, and dancing shadow.
Interestingly, it was when I saw the proofs of the attached professional photos that I understood, intellectually, what my heart had known, instinctively, the first moment I set foot in the house. We had never considered ourselves modernists, or ones who purposely sought out architectural design. Instead we had lived in a century stone house, a rambling patchwork farmhouse, a log and granite home, as well as newly constructed urban condos.
This house has informed me on the deepest level that our surroundings do indeed lift us above worldly cares. We found this house when we went searching for a home in this community to raise our two sons. King City is the kind of town where the smiling faces in the kindergarten class picture are the same as in the high school grad photo. King’s Cross, itself, is an interesting mix of untouched seventies side splits and more recent modern or classical rebuilds on a scale consistent with the landscape. It is where families come and stay in some cases for decades. It is not a place of ostentation, but of pride of place. We were always drawn here over the years. Many come to walk or cycle or take a Sunday drive on the way to one of the local orchards In those months we had seen so many houses – grand and unremarkable – that we finally made a list of ‘wants’. We had a combined checklist for the four of us. For me it was nature and light and a place for art; my sons, a pool, music room, and billiard room, and for my husband, a safe haven for extended family gatherings and gracious entertaining around the piano.
I will never forget the first day we came to the big black oak doors which offered no hint of the exuberance of design that lay beyond. It was breathtaking. Not only did we find everything we then desired, but as the family grew, the rooms were redefined in purpose and the house continues to easily accommodate our changes. Unpretentious from the streetscape, the front door opens to an all glass corridor that immediately draws the eye out and over a serene view of towering pines and deciduous trees reaching into the distance. It is an experience relaxed and euphoric at the same time.
In seven years I have never tired of the morning view when the first pink rays of dawn pick out the distant tips of pine and fir, or the scarlet vines mingling in the deep green cedars in fall. When the foliage of summer is a memory and snow softens the landscape, twinkling lights through the trees remind us that we live in a community, though we feel in a bubble of quiet privacy. The boys have ‘camped’ on the floor in front of the window to watch the fury of a summer lightning storm. The closing of the pool is always left to the very last minute as its shimmering aquamarine light is the jewel in the courtyard. How many times I have swum, late in the season, warm in the water with the cool mist rising from the valley. Today, as I write, in early October, the Canada Geese are conducting training drill with the goslings to follow the immanent migration.
This home has spoiled me for travel to exotic hotels or spas. I live in the most beautiful house I have ever been in. I have been in grander places, but none so lovely. Why would it enter our minds to leave this beautiful and private estate? Because the two young boys who discovered the endless crawl spaces under the house on their first night here are on a trajectory to follow their dreams as young entrepreneurs and musicians. For me and my sweetie, distant lands beckon and a life of simplicity and mobility. It’s a time to fly lighter and further on the wings of creative pursuits. I have no doubt that the spirit of this house infusing every day with its artistic energy is the wind beneath those wings.
The ones who enter this home and are lifted as we were by its grace, will feel the same desire to become stewards to ensure its ongoing and respectful evolution. It is a work of art and desirable less for its pedigree than for its promise of inspired sanctuary.