With the help of Anya Moryoussef Architect, a modern Renaissance man and his golden retriever get a roomy backyard study – with more space than meets the eye
When trained architect, film professional and golden retriever owner, P, wanted a secluded place to work in his Christie Pitts backyard, he tasked local firm Anya Moryoussef Architect with transforming his rusty garage into a light-filled, inspiring home office. But his brief didn’t end there. “He also wanted room to store files, bicycles, and display a collection of modern art, antiquarian books, and nautical models,” says Moryoussef. So basically, a studio for all seasons — and something completely different from the existing laneway garage.
Fittingly, Moryoussef and her client looked to Renaissance Italy for inspiration. They had both been taken, as architecture students, by the studiolo at the Ducal Palace in Gubbio. This private study, the architect recounts, “is a series of rooms inside rooms — some actual, some trompe-l’œil.” And so, she sought to infuse the same illusionism and depth into the west end studio, with warm wood panelling alternately camouflaging and delineating private spaces.
“The studiolo was conceived as a series of interconnected wooden rooms (reading room, writing room, storage room, entry room) that act like stage sets inside a larger room,” she says. The interior is unified by two types of plywood: poplar plywood, which has an unrefined texture, as well as white-washed birch plywood, which has a smoother finish. “Plywood is a readily available (ie. Home Depot), durable, cost-effective material that echoes, in an industrial language, the interior wood inlay cladding of the original Studiolo Gubbio.”
Whereas Renaissance-era architecture conjures close, candle-lit rooms, P’s study is airy and filled with natural light. Sunshine streams in through a picture-frame window from Alumicor and a series of Velux skylights that illuminate the 5.5 metre-long desk below. This is where P writes and reviews scripts, sketches and, we imagine, dreams up characters and plots.
An inconspicuous entryway behind the desk opens onto the garden, which was itself conceived as another room (an idea the architect also explored in this semi-private backyard patio project). “The fluid interconnections,” Moryoussef remarks, “create a sense of constantly unfolding space, which produces a sense of intimacy and expansiveness.” Here, you have to fully round a corner to know how much space lies ahead.
Not surprisingly, cladding the 30-square-metre building in plywood required a carpenter with an experienced hand. Thanks to his training, however, P was able build his own bookcase, saving money on labour. And, according to the architect, he was an ideal client in other ways as well. He “trusted the capacity of excellent design to create an environment he himself couldn’t quite picture.” That pushed Moryoussef and her team, in turn, to pursue a bolder vision for what a backyard studio in Toronto could look like.
This shines through in the study’s textured facade. Although the structure and cladding are made of standard concrete blocks (supplied by Brampton Brick), the black vertical strip facing the main house is composed of porcelain mosaic tiles from Japan. Normally found inside the home, this domestic material underscores the feeling of being indoors, even in the courtyard.
Since the renovation, P’s golden retreiver, Oliver, has taken well to the European touches in his yard. “When he comes downstairs in the morning,” says Moryoussef, “he barks not to be let out — but into the studiolo.”
For another inspiring backyard studio project, check out How an Architect Dad DIYed a Dream Garden Studio.