Ultra-Modern Or Traditional?


3 minute read

June 10, 2016

Have your say, I’m curious to know.

Four years ago, I did a video about these new-age, ultra-modern, somewhat “California Style” houses in Toronto, with their odd, sore-thumb look on traditional streetscapes, and one reader commented, “These houses ruin a neighbourhood.”

Styles change, and trends come and go.

So let’s look at a few examples of these “ultra-modern” houses, with their California-style-roots, and compare them, along with their features, to classic, traditional properties…


Go ahead, have your say!

I was going to try to remain neutral, but it’s hard to provide photos without commenting.

There are a lot of different ways we can evaluate the “ultra modern” versus the “traditional” homes, but I want to pick a few characteristics at random:

1) Kitchen
2) Windows
3) Staircases
4) Basements

We could pick just about anything, but these offer a good start.

First, however, let’s look at the most important criteria: the exterior.


Call me old-fashioned and simple, but I really, really don’t see the appeal here in Toronto to this:


This isn’t quite as ugly, but isn’t my cup of tea:


This looks completely out of place:



Now how can you possibly turn away a gorgeous red-brick, Georgian style like this, compared to the ultra-modern look:


Or this one:


Or a classic red-brick Edwardian, 3-storey that you’d find in High Park, Riverdale, or Roncesvalles:


Or an English cottage-style with original stone facade:


Here’s more of a “stone and stucco” new build that you might find in Leaside, Davisville, or Lawrence Park.  I still prefer this over the ultra-modern:




Which of these kitchens do you prefer?


This isn’t too overboard:


But I don’t like this one at all:



This is more my speed, and something you’d find in a traditional Leaside, Lawrence Park, or North Toronto home:




Now let’s look at the staircases, just as one characteristic of a home.


The glass is overwhelming in the ultra-modern style:


It works in this case – with that huge glass window, but I still don’t love the pane of glass versus traditional wrought-iron spindles:


This just feels really dark and uninviting to me:


I don’t love the floors either…



Call me crazy, but I prefer the oak stairs and wrought-iron spindles:


This is a bit gaudy, and I don’t love the design of the spindles, but I prefer the wooden bannister and steps:


All of these seem to have floating stairs, but here’s a very traditional set, done in hardwood:


Now let’s take a look at the windows as another indication of the style.


These are really strange looking to me, and the tiny little horizontal “box” window adjacent to the long vertical window seems to serve no purpose unless you’re 7-feet tall:


This is just showing off your unique design:



Call me boring, but what’s wrong with this:


Or this – a classic 3-window set in a bedroom with the “leaded window” throwback, although I’m sure it’s not real lead:


Now let’s look at the basement as an indication of how the styles translate into the rec-room, or man-cave, or kid’s play room.


A tile floor?

In a basement?

That’s going to be freezing cold on your feet, and it’s not child-friendly.



I’m a big fan of broadloom in a basement rec-room.  It’s got soft under-padding so it’s good for kids, it’s warm, and it’s comfortable.  Personally, this is how I’d want my man-cave to look:


And if you want hardwood (or likely laminate, given basement floors are tough to level), here’s a traditional basement that shows the mouldings, and staircase too:



As I said, it’s tough to post photos without commenting!

We all have our own tastes and preferences, and while I’ve had clients that like the ultra-modern look in condos, or even clients who have purchased homes with more sleek, modern interiors, I’ve never sold, or even shown, a house that has the exterior of one of the houses shown at the top.

I like areas with a somewhat homogeneous look to the streetscape, and when you have one of those, in between two very traditional, red-brick homes, it’s the very definition of “Peacocking.”

So what’s the verdict?

Ultra-modern, from the exterior to the interior: like or dislike?

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. A Grant

    at 7:52 am

    I for one gravitate towards post-mo (sigh… weird for the sake of weird). Not because they’re “better” than the gorgeous traditionals you noted above – but because they’re a more interesting form of urban infill compared to some of the cheap-looking McMansions or suburban-style row houses that are often the alternative.

  2. Ed

    at 8:05 am

    I love all the windows of the ultra modern but I would no longer be able to walk around the house naked 🙁

  3. Paully

    at 8:10 am

    Can we all get together and agree that the pot-light thing has been overdone? I’ve seen listings that boast: “Over 130 pot lights!” as if that is some kind of great thing.

    1. jeff316

      at 10:26 am

      Agreed. Pot lights already look dated. The problem is that they damn useful.

  4. Kyle

    at 9:15 am

    I personally don’t think the modern examples chosen are very good examples of modernism. They are more like “faux-modern” or “cheap developer modern”. They’re basically standard house plans, that have been slightly altered with flat roof sections and over-sized windows, and then covered with cliche modern-y finishes, like veneer stone and stucco. Calling these “modern homes”, is like calling a Yaris with a spolier and turbo scoop a “sports car”

    True modern homes, are designed specifically for their site and they maximize things like light, flow, sight lines, utility. Like these slide shows:

  5. Jeff

    at 9:31 am

    I love the modern stuff. and i love it precisely because it sticks out in areas that have a mix of old and new houses.
    if im gonna pay 1.5-2M for a house (and im not because i cant afford that insanity), i would want something unique and unconventional.

    1. Paully

      at 5:01 pm

      If I were going to pay $1.5 -$2 M for a place, I would expect it to come with an acreage or waterfront, and maybe some servant’s quarters too, not a tear-down.

  6. James

    at 9:36 am

    How about a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B?

    I don’t like houses that try to mimic being really “traditional”, because they don’t even know what traditional style they are emulating, it’s just a conglomeration of different styles that ends up looking really fake. Especially the McMansions.

    But the ultra modern homes can be way too cold, and often they put form over function, for example no door handles on kitchen cabinets, no railings just glass panes, etc. That’s so annoying.

    Ideally, my perfect home would incorporate modern elements of design, but still respect some traditional aspects, for example I would pay close attention to the building materials used in the neighborhood, as well as the pitch of the roof, so as not to be a sore thumb. I wouldn’t want to copy the traditional styles though, and quite frankly say you’re building a home in the Annex, it would be impossible for your builder to get that style down anyways.

  7. Kyle

    at 9:40 am

    I like old houses that have that mullet thing going on. At the front they’re traditional and blend in with the street, but at the back it’s all modern big sliding glass walled kitchen/family room that connects onto a deck or patio.

  8. Marina

    at 9:52 am

    Traditional houses look warmer to me in general.

    But I also have small kids. I look at all the glass and stone in the modern places and all I see is massive head traumas.

    Also, is it just me, or do modern places tend to look dated much faster?

    1. Joe Q.

      at 9:59 am

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with that last comment.

      As the song goes: “What’s hip today / might become passé”

      1. GinaTO

        at 10:31 am

        Agree with both of you. I also evaluate what I see through my “have small kids” lens, so glass staircases with floating stairs are a big no-no. I don’t mind the exteriors of the more modern houses – still prefer that to faux-brick McMansions. The ultra-modern interiors often feel cold, though, and seem to emphasize form over function, so not as family-friendly.

        1. Squidward

          at 8:00 pm

          I like to describe those faux brick palaces as “steakhouse modern”. 🙂

  9. CB

    at 10:02 am

    I’d rather live in a traditional home, but having a mix of different styles in the same neighborhood doesn’t bother me. I can’t imagine living in a house with all of the windows that some of those modern homes have. People can see right in at night – creepy. Forget dashing from the bedroom to the bathroom in your towel.

    What offends me (regardless of the style, but usually those stone facade ones are the worst culprits) are the homes that you walk up 10+ stairs to the front door because the house sits on the garage. They look massive and imposing from the street and they are so friggin ugly. The ones going up in my area usually have no windows along the side at all – how would you like to live next to the huge shadow one of those casts? When houses look way oversized for their lots it absolutely ruins the look and feel of an area.

  10. ML

    at 11:31 am

    Great post, and love your blog, but you have inadvertently pointed out the main problem with modern houses: they are really extremely hard to do well. Having a builder try to build modern without a really skilled architect is a recipe for en ugly shape that doesn’t look good and doesn’t fit in with the neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be like that. A good architect can make everything work beautifully and integrate into older neighborhoods, but you have to be more thoughtful than simply slapping modern materials, big windows, and straight edges together.

    Without exposing addresses of good examples, see most houses by AKB, Superkul, Drew Mandel, and Naturehumaine. You’ll see they are much more successful than the examples you provided. I’d much rather live in any of their houses than an old Toronto house with bad light, wiring, plumbing, heating, cooling, and inefficient floor plans.

    1. Kyle

      at 11:48 am

      Totally agree! I posted a very similar comment earlier, but it is awaiting moderation. I would take modern done right or an unmolested mid-century home any day. I have lived in traditional homes all my life. While i still love them, they have their drawbacks: 20% of the square footage is wasted on a living room that never gets used, the kitchens are often very small and segregated from the rest of the house, there are typically few bathrooms and they don’t usually have a lot of natural light.

      1. jeff316

        at 1:32 pm

        Useless hallways too. Ours has a dark, pointless hallway running from front to back. Waste o space

  11. m

    at 12:05 pm

    I lean a little more towards traditional vs modern, but would pick modern over poorly executed faux traditional any day. Particular pet peeves: bad window muntins (i.e. little strips of wood in between the 2 window panes that are supposed to give the illusion of divided panes of glass), fake window keystones, a riot of exterior cladding materials (e.g. stone plus brick plus stucco). On the interior, hollow core fake paneled doors.

    The gist of all of these being that so often, people add architectural details that provide a whiff of tradition, but don’t fool anyone. Better in that case to just do away with the fakery and go for clean lines. For example, a nice flat plywood door can be quite beautiful. But perhaps the fakery is an attempt to cover up poor quality materials? I do think it’s quite possible to have modern design that is practical, affordable, and family friendly. The house should fit its intended use.

    And I don’t mind having a mix of styles in a neighborhood. If someone is going to tear down an old, poorly maintained home that has no architectural merit, and replace it with a modern box, that doesn’t bother me. It adds character to the neighborhood, as long as it’s a good example of its style and not massively different in size than its neighbors.

    Lastly, houses built pre air-conditioning days seem more often to be built to take advantage of cross breezes. I open my windows in the summer, and rarely close them. Much nicer than being stuck in an air conditioned box. But design comes in there as well, such as having transom windows, high ceilings, and/or a floor plan that facilitates air movement.

  12. Mike

    at 11:19 am

    I prefer a more modern look myself. As previous commenters mentioned, if you’re going to do a modern house, you need a skilled architect or else you will feel like you’re living in a Ruth’s Chris. So, therefore, that alone will require a lot more money on top of the real estate cost. Besides that, a proper design in that style will demand expensive materials in the construction. So, even more money.
    Also, a modern design is most unforgiving of clutter, mess, and any of the other everyday consequences of actually living in a place. The ultra modern, minimalist design that looks so amazing in the glossy photo spread will look absurd with magazines, car keys, remote controls, tomorrow morning’s recycling, etc., lying around. You might want professional upkeep, therefore, to keep your place looking like a feature in Architectural Digest. So, more money.
    Most, important, the setting of the house is essential to the success of the design. The best examples of modern houses are found on large properties, often surrounded by nature. You have probably seen such houses in architectural books and magazines. Again, this will demand a great deal of money. It is true that these houses can “stick out” on a residential street and compromise the character of the neighbourhood. But it’s also true that a situation in a residential street defeats the whole purpose of a modern house design. You look out from the floor-to-ceiling windows of your pristine, minimalist living space, onto a vista of streetlights, utility boxes, your next door neighbour’s gas barbecue, etc.
    Most examples of “modern” houses I have seen in town are a regrettable combination of mediocre design, budget-conscious execution, and inappropriate setting. It sounds snobby, and it probably is but, unless you have the means to do a modern house properly, (I.e., truly huge amounts of money) you’re better off with a more traditional style of house. Otherwise, your reach is exceeding your grasp.

  13. jeff316

    at 9:59 pm

    Some of those modern window placements look ridiculous in an empty space but are probably quite functional, once the room is filled with furniture. The first one, in particular, seems like a bed would fit perfectly in between the two sets of windows. In my old house we have a large bedroom that can’t fit a king-sized bed mainly because of where the window is placed.

  14. condodweller

    at 10:22 pm

    I prefer modern myself but as stated above it has to be a good design. I would not want modern for the sake of being modern. But the same would apply to any traditional brick home of any style.

    I believe even a modern design should attempt to fit in with existing homes to the extent it’s possible however saying one destroys a neighbourhood is bit extreme.

  15. Andrew

    at 6:14 pm

    …and I’m sure the cavemen did not like the Georgian style houses. Times change, tastes change. Thankfully, society sees a need for new styles. Tin Lizzy anyone?

  16. Frances

    at 1:12 am

    I’m tired of fake Tudor, fake Georgian, fake whatever. I prefer the clean lines of modern design but I’m not to happy with some of the modern designs I see that don’t fit the neighbourhood at all. The interiors you show seem to be all stone and concrete and some of those floors look very slippery to me. I don’t like either of your modern kitchens but that traditional one will be difficult to keep clean; all those panels are dust and dirt catchers. I don’t think that kitchens should be completely open to the living area. Idiosyncratic window placement is simply thoughtless (literally). And I’m not the least bit interested in living underground; basements are for work shops and storage.

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