You don’t need to check house numbers to find Justin and Janice Barbour’s home on a tree-lined street in Ritchie. All you have to do is look up. Because this is a house that’s all about the roof – or half-roof. Or perhaps more accurately, a half-arch, an unexpected curve of glass and longboard aluminum that soars above the blocky two-storey base.
Locals call it the round house (or, the house with the weird roof) and it’s become a neighbourhood landmark in the two short years since its completion. It’s impossible to walk past without lingering for a longer look, and wondering what the story is behind the extra storey.
Janice and Justin have become accustomed to the curiosity their home provokes.
“When the house was being built, people would wander onto the site, open the front door and walk right in,” says Justin.
Some even did that after they moved in, assuming the house was still vacant. And they still keep coming.
“I’ve had complete strangers ring the doorbell and ask if they can look around,” says Janice. “They all want to know why the roof curves and what’s up there.”
The Barbours are both chartered accountants and Justin’s initial explanation is suitably practical. He explains how the curved area adds an extra 600-some square footage while still respecting zoning regulation for height. But, as the conversation progresses, it’s clear their real motivation was more about making a statement than making space.
“Basically, we wanted to build a piece of art,” says Justin. “Because as accountants, we don’t do anything inventive day to day; we shuffle papers. This was our opportunity to do something creative.”
So when the couple decided to relocate from St. Albert to inner Edmonton and build an infill home to be closer to their daughter’s Spanish immersion school and Janice’s workplace in the south side, they recalled an unusual home in Colorado called “The Shield House.” They had found it during an online search back in 2012 and it stuck in their minds.
“One side of the house curved like a barrel from the ground to the roof,” says Justin. “I was so drawn to that picture and that rounding concept inspired our design. I still can’t explain why I liked the look because I don’t like round things. Just look through this house. Everything is square – except the roof.”
Exposed steel beams form rigid right angles; the sinks are square and their faucets are angular. Even the toilets are square. Yet contrasting to the study in squareness is the grand three-storey-high sweep of the curved west wall, meticulously lined with fir tongue-and-groove planks.
Covering the entire expanse in wood was Janice’s idea, one Justin originally resisted. “It was a bone of contention, he didn’t want it at all,” says Janice. “He thought it would look like a cabin.” Justin now admits the fir wall turned out “brilliantly” and praises the craftsmanship of carpenters who spent weeks on scaffolding to perfect the wall.
The fir wall is a key example of how Janice brought a softening touch to her husband’s preference for a very stark, industrial look. “I think, without me, this house would have a lot more steel in it,” she jokes. The interior is still decidedly industrial, with concrete floors, steel beams, custom-built steel railings for a suspended staircase, and an almost wall-less floor plan. The ambiance created is cleanly contemporary, yet still warm and inviting thanks to bold orange and lime-green pops of colour which are repeated consistently on all levels, in cabinetry, tiles, light fixtures or furniture.
The Barbours love to entertain and enjoy how well their new home’s open layout works for large or small gatherings. “Everyone ends up in the kitchen when you entertain, so we made the main floor ‘all-kitchen’ with two large islands.” And if you’re lucky enough to be one of the Barbour’s guests, you’ll also discover “what’s up there” under the mysterious roof.
Yes, it’s another entertaining space, with a half-kitchen, funky furniture and a bar. A keg of Alley Kat beer on tap and, once the railings are installed, guests will be able to walk out onto a large deck that wraps around the house and enjoy views of Mill Creek Ravine and the river valley.
After living in their “Round House” for two years, the Barbours can’t think of much they’d change. Janice thinks she’d put the window in her daughter’s bathroom higher up, but that’s about it. Still, the Barbours recognize their design isn’t for everyone, just as not every piece of art is universally appealing.
“It’s like the Jason Carter painting of a wolf by our dining room table,” Justin explains. “It speaks to us, but some people don’t get it at all.” Like an artist committed to his creation, Justin knows he’s the only critic that matters. “When someone comes to our house for the first time but doesn’t like it, they’ll stammer for a couple of seconds, trying to find a word that won’t offend. Usually, they come up ‘unique.’ Or ‘different.’ But I don’t care. It’s our house, and we built it for us.”