Nestled along Ottawa’s historic Island Park Drive, lined with 1920s-era mansions that look like they are from The Great Gatsby, there lies a home that may seem a bit out of place. Amidst the usual Tudor and classical style of homes, there rests a remarkable residence in a mid-century architectural styles, a heritage category that is thankfully gaining some much-deserved attention in the Nation’s Capital.
The mid-century modern movement became popular in the years between 1947 and 1970, inspired by the works of designers such as Gropius, Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Influenced by Brazilian and Scandinavian architects, the mid-century design style was characterized by a clean simplicity, integrating structures with their natural surroundings.
This innovative look began to find its way into the post-war suburbia boom here in Ottawa. At the time was bursting with new home developments, such as Bill Teron’s “Bells Corners,” and new homes in the Alta Vista area. A design style that emphasized structures with open floor plans and plenty of windows, many mid-century homes utilized an architectural design that removed interior support walls to create airy living spaces in a sprawling bungalow format. Natural stone fireplaces instead of brick accented the interior along with vaulted ceilings and futuristic fixtures.
An exquisitely-preserved example of this architectural style sits on a corner lot on Island Park Drive. It was designed by Matthew Poray-Swinarski, a Polish architect who escaped as a prisoner of war during World War II to study architecture in England. Starting a private practice in Ottawa in 1964, Poray-Swinarski drew up custom plans for this cutting-edge home on Island Park Drive in 1956.
The current custodians of this mid-century marvel are James and Lynsey Scarrow who, along with their two children, moved into the home in 2014. They had been looking to move into a bigger home in the Westboro neighbourhood and were visiting another house nearby when they spotted this home, which coincidentally had an open house that very day.
“I had no idea there were mid-century homes in Westboro,” said Lynsey, whose husband James fell immediately in love with the natural light and one-level open concept of the home. “Our son joined us at the open house, and he ran through the house, happy as can be. We really felt that it had a good vibe, so we decided to make an offer.”
With its large yard, privacy hedge, attached garage and other amenities, the mid-century home seemed to blend perfectly with Lynsey’s collection of mid-century furniture. Lynsey’s father was an engineer who had designed his own mid-century home in 1969, so she already had an affinity for the style. A deal was soon struck to purchase the home and the young family moved into this unique time capsule, together with some new appropriate-period furniture to match the relatively unaltered 1950s family home.
Their first purchase was a Norwegian chair and nesting kitchen table set that they use every day. Appointed with details such as a rattan room divider, an original “Jetsons” style kitchen, and an unaltered teak-shelving office unit, the home looks like a set from the Mad Men TV show. Its open concept and flowing bungalow layout help to unify the family through a labyrinth of rooms, but with enough privacy for the kids to have their own creative spaces.
Living in a classic mid-century home does provide some challenges for a growing family, along with its quirky original fixtures that include unique ceiling lamps and doors. As cool as the bathroom faucet may appear, James laments, “The whole fixture is molded in ceramic so I can’t just put my head under the tap!”
As custodians of a unique heritage home, James and Lynsey have realized that there is a certain caveat of ownership. When they moved in, the neighbours were extremely concerned about how they would treat the house, and the couple state, “We knew we had a great responsibility to preserve not only a home, but also a coveted piece of the neighbourhood.”