Mandell House

A study in densification, natural light and space economy

The central skylight brings light into the core of the house.

by Drew Mandell

Urban infill has become an increasingly important tool in counteracting the effects of urban sprawl. It can breathe new life into city centres, attract tax payers to blighted areas and help ameliorate the pressures of sprawl.
Such include longer commutes, increased traffic congestion, and the loss of agricultural land, forests and public open space. Urban infill also results in reduced site servicing costs per unit for both government and developer, which in turn result in lower housing prices.
Located in suburban Toronto, this detached, single family home sits on a 13ft. wide x 115ft. long lot, the former site of a single car garage that had stood empty for a number of years. The challenge was to design a home which enabled one to live well in an atypical, under-sized lot, designed with the flexibility to accommodate a variety of activities, and an evolving lifestyle over time.
The design required the re-examination of the house type to suit the peculiar opportunities and constraints of this project. The structural system consists of steel joist and stud balloon framing that provides a rigid exterior frame while allowing the interior spatial flexibility necessary to derive the most out of the given site parameters.
Access to light and movement through the space most directly resolve the form of the project. Circulation spirals up and over the entrance through a series of interconnected spaces, as large as possible, lit with natural light from above. As zoning prohibited windows on east and west [side] walls, principal rooms are organized around a central core containing a light-well, kitchen, washrooms and vertical service distribution. The open core, glass balustrade and skylight window into the shower and bathroom allow light to penetrate most of the home. Perimeter spaces connect to the exterior with large areas of glazing and operable pivot windows and doors.
Connection to the outdoors and the desire for privacy is resolved in a few ways. A garden wall separates the front pad parking from the walk-out garden to the study below; and the dining room is elevated on top of the entrance with a large operable glass panel. In addition, existing mature trees on neighboring yards form a natural canopy that shelters the floor to ceiling glass wall connecting the living room to the garden at the rear of the house.
The limited size of the site demanded an efficient and multi-functional interior. The entrance is setback which allows natural light to enter two faces of the adjacent study and keeps the floor area within the allowable building envelope dictated by the zoning. Elsewhere in the house, kitchen storage is pushed under the stairs, a fireplace hearth acts as seating in the living room, a heat duct is clad in stone and serves as a bench in the master bedroom; and sliding wood panels divide the front room from a hallway or alternately fold-up in front of a closet.
Common wood finishes and custom details lend a legibility and coherence to the project as a whole. The wood ceiling helps to define space and orient movement, as well as act as a warm counterpoint to the cool concrete, glass, tile, and white walls.
The project stands as a broad example of how the inventive use of available land, be it urban infill or new development, coupled with wise material choices and multi-functional interior spaces, can deliver a satisfying living environment and more efficient use of available resources.


  • Credits: Architect: Drew Mandel [OAA Intern Architect], Drew Mandel Design, Toronto
  • Structural Engineer: Blackwell Engineering Ltd., Toronto
  • Builder: T. Fijalkowski & Associates, Toronto
  • Photos: Peter A. Sellar/ KLIK, Toronto; Heather Dubbeldam/ Saeed Behrouzi, Luminous Productions, Toronto; Drew Mandell


  • Steel balloon framing of light-weight heavy guage steel joists 8in. and 10in. x .075 in. on 8in. and 16in. centres, and steel studs 6in. x .075in. supplied by Bailey Metal Products.
  • Stucco finish EIFS wall by Dryvit with western red cedar siding of 2×2 vertical strips finished with natural stain.
  • Mahogany windows and glazed doors custom made by Radiant City Millwork, jatoba hardwood flooring, oiled, mahogany ceilings, oiled.
  • Lighting by Eurolight, and skylight by Alumicore
  • Budget: $95 million
  • Final cost: $88 million
  • Cost per sf: $270
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