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Toronto Luxury Real Estate: Integral House

I begin the new year by highlighting Integral House, a significant piece of Toronto architecture built by Shim + Sutcliffe architects. Providing the buyer for such a special property was not only one of the highlights of 2020 for me but of my entire real estate career. What makes me happiest is the knowledge that the buyer is the correct custodian to maintain and update this special home so it can be preserved for many years to come.

I am a huge fan of architects and design. I like to see “outside the box” thinking, as well as unique structures and materials, and Integral House checks all those boxes. I am not a fan of the McMansion-style construction often seen in the Bridle Path, Forest Hill and fortunately, less frequently, in Rosedale as it’s a heritage neighbourhood. Construction of Integral House was permitted in Rosedale as it was built on a site with a non-rated property, an existing contemporary home built by Danczkay of  Huang and  Danczkay, builders/developers best known for being behind some of the first condominiums in Toronto at Queen’s Quay.

Integral House has many critics that state it is not a home, but I disagree. Integral House is esoteric and contemporary, pushing the boundaries of residential architecture for sure. According to an Architecture Digest article, December 2014 Glenn Lowry, director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, was quoted as saying Integral house is “one of the most important private houses built in North America in a long time.” The home was designed for James Stewart, a famous mathematician who wrote many school calculus textbooks. Stewart was also an appreciator of the arts, a violinist and a collector of glass vases. When someone chooses to build something so specific to their lifestyle there is a definite compromise to resale value; what worked perfectly for Jim Stewart doesn’t necessarily work for the average Rosedale buyer. Jim didn’t design this house for resale, though, he designed it for his pure enjoyment. Sadly, his enjoyment was cut short when he passed away in 2014. 

Stewart was very involved with the design process. Integral House is actually named after the integral symbol in calculus and these symbols are found throughout the house. Other items on his detailed wish list included:

  • a concert hall with space for entertaining 200 people
  • office space to accommodate the creation of updated editions and all the math textbooks he had published
  • a subtle private space with a large master suite that enjoys the ravine treetop views
  • the requirement that the home be curvaceous, not one continuous curve but rather a series of straight lines to create the curves
  • areas where his collection of glass be showcased throughout the home

I had the pleasure of being in the home while someone played the concert piano; the acoustics are incredible and the sound was hauntingly beautiful. To be one of the select few attending the concerts held in the home would have been pretty special. The private space on the upper floor provides one phenomenal primary bedroom with an upper den as well as a dreamy ensuite washroom overlooking the ravine. There are a few smaller bedrooms down a long hallway, as well as a caretaker’s suite tucked away on the office level. I love how the home is integrated into the ravine in a series of levels and how each level provides the feeling of living in the trees. Stewart had a floor for his office to house all his math textbooks and the lower level consists of a gym and an indoor pool with a retractable wall of glass to bring the outside in!

Photo: Helen Braithwaite (iPhone)

A point of interest is a rich, royal blue glass installation in the stairwell leading to the bedrooms.

I always caution anyone undertaking a new build to create a comprehensive budget. Integral House is so unique and it was such an engineering feat to build it into the ravine that I am sure there were many unforeseen issues. Architects create but they don’t always know how much things cost, so it is best to have a seasoned builder do the number crunching thoroughly before you begin any project. Also make sure the builder chosen is equipped to deal with the complexities of the project. With a design like this one you need a builder who can guide the process to ensure the design is going to function properly. I always say the best architects blend form and function seamlessly.

One thing to know when purchasing an esoteric architectural property is that there will be ongoing maintenance issues.  When architects are creating things that are outside the box they are experimenting a little so results can be unconventional. It is simple to design an HVAC system for a basic builder home, but in a home like Integral House where there are walls of glass, curvaceous rooms, and extreme ceiling height the HVAC system becomes far more complex and more of an industrial system. Also, new technology is developed over time to create better efficiencies. A true custodian is constantly monitoring, tweaking, maintaining. We all know the stories of the maintenance required on Fallingwater and other Frank Lloyd Wright properties. The Eames House in the Pacific Palisades is undergoing an entire restoration to maintain the house to the level it was built. In other words, if you are thinking of purchasing a signature property, understand that you are also taking on a labour of love. Exterior sections of  Integral House are clad in wood, which is problematic with our harsh winters and humid summers. It requires constant staining and a prior owner had attempted to put a marine grade finish on the wood for protection. I am just happy that my buyer understands what it takes to bring a significant piece of architecture to its glory and is already working away to fine tune this beautiful home.

For more details on Integral House, be sure to watch the Azure video. It is wonderful to hear James Stewart proudly discuss the home and the intricate details of his collaboration with Shim+Sutcliffe Architects.

I hope you are enjoying my architecture blog pieces and if there is anyone you would like me to highlight I am open to suggestions!


Helen Braithwaite

  • Real Estate Representative, Chestnut Park Real Estate Limited
  • Chairman’s Award 2017-2019

Photos from Architectural Digest