By DAVE LEBLANC
Friday, January 12, 2018
To paraphrase, you know what they say about the best laid plans of architourists and architects, right?
I wanted to tell the tale of the "Sundial House" in King City, an hour north of Toronto. Designed in 1968 for the co-owner of a concrete forming and masonry company, the 8,000 square foot, circular, poured-concrete home had once been an architectural showpiece. It still is, in a way, but it has also suffered from some insensitive renovations and most of its handpicked furniture and art is long gone.
When I visited in late October, I'd watched architect Morton Katz, now 83, walk through, slowly, and shake his head in dismay many times. While I'm paraphrasing, quiet observations such as "These rooms have been widened, so the sundial effect has been diminished," and "This dining table isn't what we picked out," or "What's this pipe doing here?" were common.
With bedrooms designed to catch the morning sun, other rooms able to trace the sun's daily path and a living room sunset show each evening, I could sense what this home once was, but I'd left wanting more.
While Mr. Katz and I agreed that such is the (possible) lifecycle of a private home, there was enough dejection hanging in the cool autumn air that Mr. Katz promised to visit the Ontario Archives, where most of his work is now stored, to borrow some photographs of the building in its prime.
But I did get more: As hands were shaking and I'd snapped a photograph of the white-bearded architect - who bears some resemblance to Donald Sutherland - in front of the home's front door, he suggested we knock on that of the neighbouring home.
"I designed that one too," he said, "and they've kept it exactly as it was."
While our knock went unanswered that day, in the weeks that followed I learned more about Mr. Katz and his body of work. However, Mr. Katz, as with many of his generation, didn't trumpet his accomplishments: He sent me his résumé - of which I was aware of, perhaps, 30 per cent - and let it quietly speak for him. Born in Hamilton, Mr. Katz received an anthropology degree at the University of Toronto before completing his architecture degree there in 1962.
Upon graduation, he worked for the largest, most famous (arguably) Modernist firm in Canada, John B. Parkin Associates.
Then, he travelled to study housing typologies around the world. He came back and got in with Peter Dickinson's successor firm, Webb Zerafa Menkès Housden. He went into private practice in 1965 and started teaching at U of T in 1967. He would design a 26-foot, Arctic-ready geodesic dome with his students and plunk it on the roof of the architecture building in 1971.
In 1990, he would take up sculpture; 27 years later, he'd count many local gallery shows and some as far away as Tokyo.
He would complete more than a dozen public and private commissions, including a Second World War memorial for Harbord Collegiate in Toronto.
And, despite all of that worldly experience, his face still lights up like a kid in a candy store when Amadio and Maria Scodeller welcome him into the foyer of their home. Scanning the caramelcoloured, "hard as a rock" tile underfoot, the smooth, iron-rich brick that makes up the walls, and the warm wooden ceiling overhead, Mr. Katz says: "Everything I designed, even the paint colours on the doors, there's nothing changed ... and it was finished in 1972 and I started drawings in 1968-69."
To our left, a small staircase leads to a groovy, shag-carpeted office that overlooks the indoor pool, complete with supergraphics by Mr. Katz on the cinderblock walls. The desk was specified by Mr. Katz, as was most of the art and woven wall hangings. Straight ahead, a wide, winding hallway creates drama and mystery: Yes, the kitchen and living room are that way, but isn't it better to "discover" them each day?
We note the kitchen's original knotty pine cabinets, wall oven and a double-sided fireplace (the side facing the kitchen is for indoor barbecuing). On the other side of the fireplace, there's a small sitting room featuring an Italian "Phantasma" floor lamp.
Like every other room on this level, a wall of glass opens to a wraparound balcony. Similar to the Sundial House next door, the walls of each room project outward like fins.
Past the formal dining room is the formal living room, with original artwork on the walls (again selected by Mr. Katz) and modular, marshmallow-esque "Camaleonda" furniture. There's also a quadraphonic sound system that "at the time, was the best you could get," Mr. Katz says.
As for that solid marble coffee table, Mrs. Scodeller says: "We had to bring it in with a crane."
After touring some children's bedrooms (the Scodellers raised four girls and now have many grandchildren) stocked with vintage Canadian Reff furniture, and the master bedroom, which still sports shiny purple and black closet doors, we descend the winding staircase to the lower level to take in the angular home bar, which is so "Studio 54" it could be used as a movie set.
While it's a lot of home for these empty nesters - Mr. Scodeller is in his mid-80s and Mrs. Scodeller is "almost 80" - one can sense the love and pride that's kept them tucked away in the trees of a concession road north of Toronto.
Outside, near the bridge to the picnic table, Mr. Katz and I ruminate on his architectural bookends, one completely intact, and the other compromised-but-salvageable.
While the Sundial House came first, Mr. Scodeller, who was born in a small village in the Friuli region of Italy, had his home designed around the same time, since he and his neighbour were partners in the masonry company. We decide that the differences between them a half-century later have everything to do with circumstance and nothing to do with nefariousness. It's just what happens, sometimes.
But if you, gentle reader, have been left wanting more, contact your realtor: the Sundial House is currently on the market.
The 'Sundial House' (top photo) in King City, north of Toronto, has succumbed to various renovations that left its architect, Morton Katz, top left, somewhat perplexed. But a neighbouring house he also designed in the late sixties and early seventies remains intact, including various rooms, staircases, and - remarkably - original artworks selected by Mr. Katz. 'Everything I designed, even the paint colours on the doors, there's nothing changed ... 'he said on a recent tour of the home.
TOP PHOTO: ONTARIO ARCHIVES OTHER PHOTOS: DAVE LEBLANC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL