To live well into your 90s, there are two
things you might want to consider, says Hugh MacDonald. Eat
his "secret breakfast" every morning and live in a
A mixture of different grains, nuts, seeds and yeast, the
breakfast isn't really a secret; the nice folks at your local
bulk-food store will let you have it without much coaxing.
As for the "happy house," you'll have to find your
own; Mr. MacDonald has lived in his for more than 50 years
and has no intention of moving out.
It was obvious to him when he first saw the 1,000-square-foot,
wooden split-level at 48 Rathburn Rd. that a great deal of
love and care went into its design. The house's modern look
and layout immediately captivated him, as did the extensive
use of open-grain woods. But what made it even more special
is that it was the first so-called Trend House, destined to
be one of only 11 ever built.
The Trend House program was the brainchild of various British
Columbia lumber-related industries and was initiated in the
early 1950s to both capitalize on an increasing interest in
West Coast post-and-beam housing styles and to combat sagging
sales figures in Eastern Canada. In 1951, the group -- led
by Cleve Edgett -- asked the modernist Vancouver firm Sharp
& Thompson Berwick Pratt to come up with a design for
an exhibition home, to be built for an international trade
fair in Toronto the following year.
In an in-house competition, the design of 30-year-old architect
Fred Brodie was chosen. The structure was not built at the
trade fair, however, but in the new Toronto suburb of Thorncrest
Village, "where, it was hoped, the house would attract
a broader cross-section of visitors," writes modern design
curator Allan Collier in a research essay on the program.
Hugh MacDonald was among 200,000 visitors to the house in
the summer of 1952. He fell in love with it, as thousands
of others likely did. "It struck you right from the first
as being modern," he explains, a twinkle still in his
eye. "The layout of the house, the openness of it, everything
about it was the way a house that you want to live in for
the rest of your life should be."
Although not incredibly radical from the outside, the house
did stand apart from its brick neighbours on Rathburn Road
(then called Rosethorne Road) because of its long, boxcar-like
What also set it apart was the carport that ran parallel
with the street and -- save for the cinderblock semi-basement
-- the all-wood construction. There was a large, open balcony
with an extended roof overhang on the east side that made
for an inviting outdoor room, and window mullions and doors
were painted a soft mint-green to contrast with the dark,
vertical cedar cladding.
Inside was where the house's design really shined. Entering
through one of two front doors on opposite sides of a small,
street-level vestibule attached to the carport, visitors stood
on a slate floor and were greeted by a split staircase. Up
a few stairs was the main floor, down a few was the lower-level,
which opened up to a patio at the back via large glass doors.
Visitors were immediately struck by the openness of the living/dining
room, and by how much an architect could use wood in his design.
Plywood-panelled walls were left unpainted, the grain providing
pattern and texture; kitchen cabinets, too, were constructed
of plywood; the gently sloping ceiling was made of cedar.
Running along the length of the house was a dropped trellis
providing a sense of coziness and enclosure. Interestingly,
a few of the trellis openings had light fixtures with diffuser
shades dropped in, allowing for indirect ambient lighting.
Only a brick fireplace -- with a bold, riveted copper hood
-- and a few painted walls provided contrast from the many
and varied wooden surfaces.
Sitting at his well-worn teak dining table under the same
trellis more than 50 years later, the still athletic and energetic
Mr. MacDonald is much like his house. While conservative on
the outside -- with his silver hair, blazer and open-collared
shirt -- on the inside he's complicated, eccentric, yet as
warm as all the woody surfaces that surround him. Mr. MacDonald
explains -- between his frequent trips to fetch items of interest
such as his prized wooden carvings, a self-published book
on evolution and his recent tennis trophies -- that when the
house went on the market in the fall of 1952, nobody wanted
it. Nobody, that is, except him.
"It just didn't sell. All winter the snow was all over
it and then came spring and it still hadn't sold," he
says, still a little surprised after all these years. "The
reason it hadn't is because it basically had one bedroom and
a smaller room for a child but it just wasn't suited for the
needs of a family."
In 1953, baby booming families were looking for three-bedroom
houses. Mr. MacDonald, at that time 43 years old with wife
Sally and only child Bonnie, had the perfect-sized family
for the house, so he called the B.C. lumber company directly
to arrange terms. One year and $20,000 later, Trend House
No. 1 became the MacDonald house.
That same year, because of the popularity and response to
this first house, the program was expanded. In the spring
and summer of 1954, 10 more houses were opened for public
exhibition across Canada, including another house in Toronto,
this time on Weybourne Crescent in Lawrence Park
Norman Dusting, the then vice-president of the Council of
Forest Industries, was secretary of the B.C. Lumber Manufacturers
Association in 1954. It was his job to report to the company
directors on the success of the program. "I did it because
Cleve Edgett, who was the principal man involved in the whole
project, was on the road at the time participating in some
of the house openings," he explains.
The directors, Mr. Dusting remembers, were pleased. "That
was one of the initial projects of wood products promotion
which developed into much, much bigger programs as the years
went on," he says. After the Trend House program, the
B.C. lumber industry would go on to build a show home using
timber-frame construction at Olympia in London, England, in
1957 and then expand yet again to Japan and China.
And the program's influence was felt, assures Mr. Dusting:
"Split-level houses, for example, [and] post-and-beam
housing -- all of which were developed to a great extent with
that whole program through the fifties and sixties. It definitely
influenced Canadian builders."
The Trend House program influenced interior decorators and
the general public, too. The houses were furnished by Eaton's
using designer pieces from the National Industrial Design
Council's (NIDC) design index, which had been established
in 1948 to catalogue and promote Canadian furniture and industrial
design. Russel Spanner, Peter Cotton, Jan Kuypers, Julien
Hebert as well as the firm of J & J Brook designed just
some of the pieces selected, the goal being to outfit Trend
House interiors with articles as modern, light and innovative
as the homes themselves.
After purchasing his empty Trend House, Mr. MacDonald knew
he had to use similar furniture so it wouldn't look "heavy,"
he says. "We were in touch with Ottawa [the NIDC] about
it and I suppose in a way we copied the furniture," he
admits between sips of white wine.
To see the house today is to see it as it was at the 1952
exhibition. Mr. MacDonald has done little to alter its appearance
inside or out. The only real changes have been to enclose
the open balcony for year-round use and to modernize the bathtub
and toilet. The light fixtures, built-in cabinetry and various
surfaces showcasing the different types of B.C. wood products
"Most people spend a lot of time and money on keeping
their houses up to date. Repainting, putting up wallpaper
and all the rest of it; we've never had any of that,"
Mr. MacDonald says, beaming. "That ceiling has never been
As an added bonus, age has turned most of the interior wood
a honey-gold colour and the exterior cladding a rich chocolate
In the United States, Arts + Architecture magazine hosted
the Case Study House program between 1945 and 1962. Thanks
in large part to the power of the American media and the glorious
photographic work of Julius Shulman, most of these homes stay
lodged in the consciousness of the international design community.
Not so with the Trend House program, says Winnipeg architect
Mr. Wagner, who has made it his hobby to photograph every
Trend House in Canada, was never taught about the program
in architecture school.
Instead, he learned of it quite by accident during a 1988
trip to England. While browsing in a little second-hand bookstore,
he found a curious full-colour, 32-page booklet entitled "Western
Woods Present 10 Canadian Trend Houses" and was intrigued
enough to buy it.
A few years later, he began looking up the houses each time
he'd find himself in one of the host cities. To date, Mr.
Wagner has seen or had reports about all of the houses except
those built in Montreal and Halifax.
As Mr. Wagner visited them, he found that unlike their American
Case Study counterparts, the Canadian houses had since blended
into their surroundings and didn't give up their history as
readily. "If you go look at the one in Edmonton or Regina,
they're pretty unremarkable; you wouldn't pick them out particularly
from the rest of the houses on the street," he says. "And
if you look at the one in Vancouver, it's a very nice house
but it's in a neighbourhood of other well-designed houses
not too far away."
So, in essence, it's an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem.
Whether it's the fault of architectural schools or the media,
the Trend Houses remain footnotes -- if they're mentioned
at all -- in books dealing with the history of Canadian modernism.
They are, as writer Adele Freedman has put it, "history
of the near-forgotten, undocumented, Canadian kind."
It's a shame, too, because while most of the houses present
a rather conservative face to the street, their method of
construction, floor plans and innovative interior finishes
are worth documenting and preserving.
Things might be changing, however. Mr. Wagner has started
a group called the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation with the
intention of cataloging and educating the public about his
city's stock of post-war buildings. He may even contact the
family living in the Winnipeg Trend House, since it's his
suspicion that the original family still lives there.The Calgary
Trend House is being lovingly restored and updated by Michael
Kurtz, who has a detailed website showing his progress since
buying the house in 2002 (where you'll also find scans of
the 32-page booklet) at http://www.mkurtz.com/trendhouse.
Closer to home, the Ontario chapter of DOCOMOMO (Documentation
and Conservation of the Modern Movement) has begun assembling
a list of people interested in learning more about these fascinating
houses You can add your name to the list by contacting James
Ashby at email@example.com.
Mr. MacDonald, though, will continue to tell anyone who'll
listen about his happy house and his secret breakfast. And
to ensure the house stays happy, he promises to tell Mr. Ashby
if he ever decides to sell, so that someone else will be able
to enjoy it for another 50 years.
Victoria: the smallest at 825
square feet. Architect John A.
DiCastri. Interesting for its ar-
rowhead-shaped floor plan.
Vancouver: 1880 square feet.
Architects Davison and Porter.
Edmonton: 1280 square feet.
Architects Dewar Stevenson &
Stanley. Featured built-in wall
combination of a television, ra-
dio, fireplace and storage
Calgary: 1516 square feet. Archi-
tects Rule Wynn & Rule.
Regina: 1035 square feet. Arch-
itects Stock Ramsay & Associ-
Winnipeg: 1750 square feet.
Architects Smith Carter Ka-
London, Ont.: 1180 square
feet. Architect Philip Carter John
son. Unconventional framing
method used prefab, glue-lami
nated hemlock arches to sup-
port roof (no load-bearing walls).
Toronto: 1700 square feet. Archi-
tects Fleury Arthur & Calvert.
Eric Arthur, a University of Tor
onto professor and author of
Toronto, No Mean City, designed
this home at 46 Weybourne
Cres. for himself and his
Montreal: 1635 square feet.
Architect Philip F. Goodfellow.
Halifax: 1360 square feet. Ar
chitects Davison Duffus Ro
mans & Davis.