Toronto Tile House blends contemporary forms with traditional materials

Tile House by architects Kohn Shnier is a modern interpretation of the historical residences of its Toronto suburb

Contemporary exterior of new built Tile House, a Toronto suburban home
(Image credit: Michael van Leur)

Kohn Shnier’s Tile House is a lesson in contextualisation, demonstrating how to skilfully integrate a contemporary design into a street of older residences in a Toronto suburb. The project replaced an existing house and follows the physical form of a traditional pitched roof dwelling. The front façade is completely tiled, incorporating the roof slope into the visual volume to give the house a solid, unified appearance. The handmade clay-tile cladding evokes the red brick that is commonly used in local domestic projects, while the large expanses of glass, set within slender steel reveals, convey a strong, modern sensibility.

‘The house is distinct from its neighbours while fitting in at the same time,’ say the architects. ‘We hope for a house which appears both more archaic and more contemporary.’

Staircase in Toronto Tile House

(Image credit: Michael van Leur)

The physical form of the house follows the building line and footprint, a narrow rectangle on a deep plot.

The site slopes away from the road at the front towards a ravine at the rear, allowing for a taller, four-storey rear elevation that is almost entirely glazed. This provides a sylvan south-facing view for the main living spaces, as well as creating a leafy outlook for the private terrace that opens off the top-floor bedroom.

Minimalist home in Toronto looking out to the garden

(Image credit: Michael van Leur)

Inside, the rectangular plan is arranged around a central stair core, with three en-suite bedrooms on the upper two floors; a spacious living area and home office on the ground floor; and a kitchen, dining room and media space on the lower level.

The clients wanted the house to be suitable for both flexible living and a place to work, with a generous space for home office desk and sufficient nooks and crannies for them to seek out personal space. The owners are empty nesters, and the project was about reconfiguring their lives now that their children have moved out.

Corridor with bespoke joinery in Toronto house

(Image credit: Michael van Leur)

Kohn Shnier was set up in 1990 by Martin Kohn and John Shnier. As well as a varied portfolio of residential projects, including experimentation with prefabricated systems, the Toronto firm has also worked on educational, residential, and commercial projects. Tile House embodies their approach to context and materials, with a carefully crafted internal layout that can be arranged in multiple ways.

The central-core staircase is open tread and screened with delicate vertical louvres, adding to the sense of transparency, while also providing a physical separation between the live and work areas. The lower-level kitchen is visually and audibly connected to the ground-floor living space by a double-height void that unites the two sections, all part of a strategy of subtle connections that pervades the design. Stone and wooden flooring is paired with white walls and simple detailing, with long runs of built-in cabinetry and floor-to-ceiling curtains to maximise the sense of interior space.

Dining area and library shelving looking out towards greenery in Toronto suburban house

(Image credit: Michael van Leur)

While the house is left as an open-plan space most of the time, several concealed pocket doors can be moved into position to create privacy for guests. The main bedroom has room for exercising and even a UV spa, in the top-floor suite, while the private terrace has far-reaching views across to Toronto’s downtown in the south.

Decked terrace in Toronto home

(Image credit: Michael van Leur)

Permeable staircase structure over a sleek kitchen in contemporary Toronto suburban home

(Image credit: Michael van Leur)

Sleek bathroom in modern Toronto home

(Image credit: Michael van Leur)

Rear view and garden of contemporary Toronto house

(Image credit: Michael van Leur)


Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.

With contributions from