A Renaissance of Art Deco Design

When one architect’s unfinished dream is finished by another, the results can be stunning. Grand spaces for entertaining and comfortable family living are realized with an addition.

Intrigue pervades the incomplete works of acclaimed artists, composers and architects. From Charles Dickens’ missing final chapter of The Mystery of Edwin Drood to Schubert’s extraordinary Unfinished Symphony, the reason these masterpieces were never completed to their creators’ exact intention is steeped in speculation.

To continue posthumously where another creative has left off is not a feat that just anyone would consider. When a mansion of late 19th-century neoclassical design came on the market in Rosedale, Toronto, luxury custom home builder and interior designer Po Ku rose to the thrill of a challenge. Guided by the blueprints of the original architect, which were never fully realized due to limited supplies during the Great Depression, Ku renovated and refurbished the impressive residence.

“I felt obligated to finish what he had started,” says Ku, who appreciates classicism and bringing history to life by restoring Tudor, Gothic and other period homes. “Details and materials inside the house were modest, although the intention of the architect, Norman Alexander Armstrong, was there to create something brilliant.”

The renovation of the 5,300-square-foot estate took 18 months to complete. Once flat, the roof is now embellished with dormers and turrets, and the entrance has the grandeur of a Roman temple with stone portico, triangular pediment and stately stone pillars.

Inside, Art Deco elements were liberated when the confined living area was expanded. An elliptical staircase is now the home’s true magnum opus, seamlessly orbiting in graceful curves to the second-floor bedrooms and illuminated naturally by an elliptical skylight with iron grill. During the renovation, a box was discovered in the basement containing decorative Art Deco elements. Ku had these embellishments refinished in a muted black and added between the rails. Like a diamond in the rough, the spiral newel post at the foot of the staircase was an original hint to the home’s Art Deco motif. The polished aluminum was refurbished to a high shine. 

By removing partitions and the original second floor, a grand open area with lofty 19-foot ceiling was created. Truly spectacular, the living room’s tall fireplace is flanked by ornamental architectural columns and scroll-like hand carvings known as “Ionic capitals,” used in early Greek temples and later in French Art Deco style.

“Art Deco is the true international style, blending Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese and European motifs,” says Ku. “It was an interesting time when people weren’t scared to use design, style, and culture from other countries.”

The highly imaginative and efficient design of the kitchen is ample evidence of Ku’s architectural and engineering prowess. Like a bridge spanning the culinary space, the hand-honed black granite island is supported by columns, and the floor-to-ceiling cabinets with glass doors were fabricated to emulate the skyline of Manhattan.

“It’s quite a sight when you turn off the room lights, turn on the cabinet lights, and sit in the family room looking into the kitchen,” says Ku. “I designed them architecturally to be like a building within a building. It’s theatrical, really.”

Minimalist and modern, a single black-lacquered Charles Rennie Mackintosh chair makes a bold statement next to the limestone fireplace in the upstairs master bedroom. Its en suite bathroom offers a delightful view of the backyard rose garden. Mosaic tiles frame the antique tub like a Persian rug and are a gorgeous complement to the Carrara marble countertops and silk drapes.

“It takes a trained eye to see a home’s potential,” says Ku. “I’m proud of this project because Rosedale is a very conservative neighborhood, like Shaughnessy of Vancouver. People used to just drive by, but now they stop because there’s something worth seeing.”

Photography by Po Ku


 Austere refinement suggests a sleeping quarters inspired by Scottish Art Deco.
Austere refinement suggests a sleeping quarters inspired by Scottish Art Deco.

 Cabinetry glows at night like a cosmopolitan cityscape in this massive chef’s kitchen.
Cabinetry glows at night like a cosmopolitan cityscape in this massive chef’s kitchen.