Fraser House

Toronto, Canada

Designed by Ron Thom in the late 60’s, the Fraser House ranks among Canada’s finest examples of mid-century modern residential architecture.  Prior to Altius’ engagement, the home was a veritable sixties time capsule complete with cork floors, pine green curtains and bathroom fixtures in various pastel shades.

While the bones of Thom’s free-form design were brilliant in conception and execution, the landscaping was non-existent, the exterior worn, and the interiors dated.

Altius was faced with the daunting task of restoring the home and reconfiguring the programme while complementing Thom’s design intentions. This included upgrading all of the electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems while protecting the original brick work and clear cedar panelling.

Exterior of the Fraser House with concrete retaining walls and reflecting pools looking towards the shaded entryway
Aerial view of Toronto's Fraser House by Ron Thom restored by Altius Architects
Custom built in Mahogany millwork in the entryway of the Fraser house tucked into the exposed brick walls

Starting from the street, new board-formed concrete retaining walls stabilize the driveway slopes while exposed-aggregate pavers replace the existing asphalt surface.  At the entrance to the walkway, weathered steel slabs climb up to the garden, while a cast-in-place concrete and mahogany bench mimics the concrete patterns of the interior fireplace mantels.  The walkway to the front door, also originally asphalt, was replaced with Indiana limestone inlaid with cedar.

A hidden garden patio was created in front of the house in a space previously occupied by a flat lawn.  Two pools drain into a third, creating a large reflecting pond and acoustical fountain.  Custom brass accents, board-formed concrete, limestone, and mahogany create a warm and tactile outdoor entertaining and dining space. The table and benches were designed to compliment the Thomas Lamb steamer chairs.

The exterior of the home was “upgraded” to what the team believed would have been the original design intention.  This was largely limited to the roof, rafter and eaves which were all designed and reconstructed, especially the covered walkway that links the carport to the house. Asphalt shingles and plywood soffits were replaced with cedar shakes and ship-lapped cedar to match the interior.

The custom built in wrapping wood staircase is accented with tile landings and a hanging pendant light through the central core of the stair
The custom built in cabinetry of the Fraser house to work around the complex angles of the home
The rebuilt walkway of the house with a custom wood structure and roof rafter finished with cedar shake and ship lap siding
The office of the Fraser House which overlooks the lower floor and features angular clerestory windows
The master bath soaking tub which is built into the unique geometry of the house with custom storage and slate tile

Custom built-in pieces were designed and integrated into the home to house the owners’ extensive library and art collection, while mid-century furniture pieces were selected to complement their eclectic tastes.

The master bedroom which features a large custom built maple headboard with space for art pieces

The home originally had five compact bedrooms, many more than the empty-nester clients needed. The Altius team converted the programme to a generous one-bedroom with a guest room for occasional visitors.

The interiors were stripped of unnecessary curtains, trim, and doors to reveal Thom’s clean geometry. The floors were completely replaced, the interior cedar refinished to its bright natural appearance, and all of the interior millwork replaced with new designs that emphasized the Arts & Crafts training Thom’s office brought to the original scheme.

Vancouver architect Paul Merrick, who worked with Thom on the original house paid the greatest compliment when visiting in 2018, he said how pleased he was that Altius had “finished the house”.

Working closely with Toronto’s Urban Forestry Department, the owners and Altius embarked on the first private ravine restoration in the City of Toronto, a 10-year plan involving the complete removal of all invasive species and the reintroduction of hundreds of new plants representing dozens of species of native trees, shrubs and flowers.  More than two decades later, the thriving biodiversity of this small patch of Toronto ravine remains exemplary, a result Altius and the owners are very proud of.

The walkway at night showcasing the dynamic lighting on the exposed cedar wood structure