Stairway to Heaven
The work of Frank Lloyd Wright influenced this home’s design
By Jack Kohane
Photos LAV Construction
Frank Lloyd Wright would be struck by this home. Blending classic looks, modern functionality and cutting-edge building materials and construction techniques, Wright’s influence can be seen everywhere in the interior curves, squares and rectangular niches of this 5,000-square-foot, two-storey Etobicoke home in westend Toronto. It’s crowning climax, the home’s grand spiral staircase, is a bold tribute to the architectural master.
Built by LAV Construction, owned by Eugene and Larisa Valisyev, a husband and wife design-build team, this home lives up to its one-of-a-kind label. Located in one of the city’s most in-demand neighbourhoods, set amid rolling parklands, manicured greens of a nearby golf course, and neighbouring palatial estates, real estate values hovering around $2 million are not uncommon.
Intended to mirror Wright’s corkscrew-like staircase creation at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, this swirling architectural punctuation mark served as the starting point for LAV’s residential project. “It was an image that stuck in my head,” says Larisa, the design diva behind LAV Construction. “That form of staircase totally supported the style I envisioned. The staircase became the heart of the house.”
The home’s exterior facade evokes the stately chateaux of the Loire Valley. “I wanted towers with masonry in a Middle Ages chateau style, combined with the rest of the front composed of limestone blocks, for a modern look that fits it into the upscale neighbourhood,” explains Eugene.
He and his wife experimented with design and house construction concepts, including the heating and cooling systems, heated floors (using DURA-top instead of concrete for more even heat distribution), and a pulse-quickening surround sound system that spans the basement, patio, main floor and upstairs master bedroom. LAV wanted to achieve something on an ambitious scale, brimming with grace and elegance, yet comfortable for relaxed living.
Bringing a worldly perspective to home design and construction, the Valisyevs are heavily influenced by the culture and history of their east Europe homelands.
In her native St. Petersburg, Russia, Larisa worked as a graphic designer, but by doing design work for the businesses and homes of friends she discovered an innate talent for decorating. She earned an interior design certificate from a local university. In 2004, she moved to Prague, Czech Republic where she met Eugene, her husband-to-be who was already in the construction business. Here she solidified her design credentials. Moving to Toronto seven years ago, she and Eugene have since gained a growing client list, fashioning and furnishing custom houses across Canada.
“My style is versatile, and my philosophy stresses a close link between the disciplines of architecture and interior decoration,” says Larisa.
On landing the five-bedroom, five-bathroom Etobicoke home project, Larisa says her mind worked non-stop to finalize the design. The construction took nine months to complete. “I dreamed about the house at night. I found inspiration everywhere. Even in movies I look for intriguing interior and exterior details, kitchen ideas, unusual railings, mirror frames, anything that works for a space.”
Her final decision emerged while attending an interior design show presenting the latest in home designs. “That’s where I had a breakthrough,” she enthuses. Her vision focused on using different tones of white with touches of contrasting black, such as two black stripes on a white floor, and black stairs standing out against a light background. She sees this home as using a different approach to building. “We did it by moving away from traditional construction practices and trying new and innovative techniques.”
Panoramic Pella windows funnel lots of sunlight inside, filling every room. Other features include 10-foot ceilings on the main floor, an elegantly appointed living room and dining room, and a generously proportioned family room with access to a patio with barbeque. The ultra-modern kitchen comes equipped with high-tech Bosch appliances, African Macasar Ebony cabinets, quartz countertops, soft-close drawer systems, and a hidden walk-in pantry.
The fully finished basement with nine-foot ceilings is a playground delight. Its games room houses a pool table and dartboard, an exercise space with TV, a bar area with its own fridge and dishwasher. The spotlight is on the cinema room, accessorized in six comfortable leather chairs and sofas, a 7.1 surround sound KEF speaker system, HD Epson projector and an awesome 120-inch flat screen.
But the biggest challenge in this project proved to the spiral staircase. “No one knew how to make it the way we saw it,” says Eugene. “The alternatives were either too expensive or had overly heavy wide railings.” One of LAV’s contractors, Gustavo Castellano of Stair Star Ink, came up with the workable solution: make the staircase with a high stringer (height of 36-to-38-inches according to code). That method transformed the railing into one solid element. “The process was stressful because no one knew for certain the outcome,” recalls Eugene. “But the result is amazing. We have an elegant and almost weightless staircase. The experiment worked to perfection.”