Wander through Midtown Toronto often enough and you’ll stumble upon a few residences that stand out from the traditional Victorian-style homes that dot most tree-lined streets. These properties are more modern and geometric in appearance, with deeply recessed windows and exteriors clad in stone and stucco.
Chances are, one of these residential projects was designed by Atelier Kastelic Buffey (AKB), a boutique architecture firm founded in 2004 by husband and wife duo Kelly Buffey and Jason Kastelic. Together, the pair designs stunning, out-of-the-ordinary dwellings that consistently turn heads. Case in point: the Toronto-based firm was named “best emerging practice” by the Ontario Association of Architects this year, and it doesn’t take a judge to understand why.
In the words of Buffey herself, she and Kastelic “focus on the most essential elements, edit well and always aspire to the poetic.”
Naturally, we had to learn more:
BuzzBuzzHome: Start by telling us about the moment you and Robert Kastelic decided to start your own architecture firm. What was your main motivation?
Kelly Buffey: After working for several years as an interior designer and starting my own business, I went back to school in 2003 for a Master of Architecture degree, something I wanted to do for a long time. My projects were ongoing while I was in school and I needed help administering them. Rob, my partner in life and work, had been working for another firm at the time but he was looking for a change so we decided to join forces as AKB (Atelier Kastelic Buffey).
BBH: What was the first project you ever designed as a firm, and how does it compare to what you’re designing now?
KB: Our first project was the Alpine chalet in Collingwood. We developed a unique language of contemporary architecture in the context of a gabled roof and this informed our approach to the work that followed. Our vision is quite consistent as is the language of our work but it is also evolving as the type of projects we are working on are becoming more complex.
BBH: Congrats on being named “best emerging practice” by the OAA! What is it about your designs and firm as a whole that stand out from other practices?
KB: Thank you! We have been told that our work looks very European and perhaps this is inherently ingrained in each of us given our heritage. But we also look to the Nordic countries for inspiration since they are working with similar climactic conditions as ourselves.
It’s difficult to say what differentiates our practice from others. We have a strong work ethic, a dedicated team, supportive clients and collaborators and we’re passionate about what we do. We’re also highly detail oriented and we offer our clients a boutique experience through our work process.
BBH: The Balance Ordos Villa in China is so eye-catching and distinct looking. Tell us more about the project. What was the main inspiration behind the design?
KB: The Balance project in Ordos was designed to provide a variety of different experiential qualities within a building that appears to be very simple from the exterior. From the outside we see two solid volumes and a transparent level in between that has been shifted and rotated to engage the only landmark on the site at the time — an art gallery.
But the interior of the villa is more complex. It consists of a private indoor-outdoor pool below grade, an inward focused ground floor, a sculptural central staircase, a second floor beacon of light and transparency and a third and fourth floor consisting of four quadrants that combine double height spaces, exterior courtyards and lofts. The concept reflects a tension between opposites that finds a new and dynamic equilibrium in the building — balancing such ideas as complexity and simplicity, fragility and solidity, private and public, ephemerality and timelessness.
BBH: Most of your completed residential projects are located in Midtown Toronto. What is it about this area that appeals to you most?
KB: The locations of our projects are determined by the clients who come to us with either a new or existing property. So far, most of our urban work has been in Midtown Toronto. These neighbourhoods are generally vibrant and well maintained with larger lot sizes. But we have also done a sound studio in Parkdale and several houses outside of the city.
Pictured above: The Stone House in Toronto’s South Hill neighbourhood.
BBH: Let’s switch gears. As emerging architects, we’re interesting in hearing about what’s been most fulfilling, as well as most challenging, since the company was founded.
KB: The most fulfilling part of our job is a successful project with a happy client. The most challenging part can be working through the necessary but often lengthy administrative processes with authorities.
BBH: What are some of the big architecture trends you’re seeing in the industry right now? What’s working, and what isn’t?
KB: There has been a positive movement toward sustainability over the past several years and we fully support this long-term approach to building construction and design. We do not support greenwashing and we feel it’s more important to address issues of sustainability on a fundamental level not only in architecture but also in all of our life choices. This isn’t always easy to do.
BBH: Tell us about your plans for the future. Where would you like to see the company, say, five years from now?
KB: We hope to continue to provide a high level of design and personal service to our clients while managing controlled and steady growth of our company. We’re currently branching out into small and medium-sized commercial work and are always excited by the prospect of working with fantastic clients on thoughtful projects.
Thanks for buzzing with us, Kelly!