Sam Elbadawi and Carmen Ellis-Toddington are a husband and wife design/build team who own and operate Structural Anomaly – and they know a thing or two about collaboration. Having been in The County for two years, they travel to Toronto at least once a week, but as more local clients discover their strong, modern and affordable design ethic, they’re working at home a lot more.
SAM:“My dad was an architect and contractor so I’ve been immersed in design and building all my life. Dad pretty much started the movement in North York in the 1980s to turn bungalows into two storeys. I studied at OCAD and worked with Taylor Smyth in Toronto and I’ve also done construction projects with HPA. I love modern design. Our company is called Anomaly, and we’re bringing that modern sensibility to our work in The County. Not just transplanting an urban aesthetic, but paying respect to the strong vernacular of the local architecture – with a twist. We were drawn to The County’s pastoral beauty, but the historic element – the architecture – was a huge part of the attraction.
We live in Rosehall, just west of Wellington. There are so many beautiful places and The County is such a big place, it was hard to choose. But Rosehall is just 15 minutes from the 401 and Carmen travels for work so it’s very convenient. I still do architectural consulting for the City of Toronto and I have residential projects there, too, so I travel at least once a week, but as we pick up more local clients, I’m spending more and more time here, which is fantastic.
It was an interesting transition. It takes a while to build your business but we have strong design ideas that are resonating here.”
CARMEN: “I worked in corporate communications for a major telecom for 15 years but when we had kids, I wanted a change. I don’t want to miss these precious years. Now, I’m a freelance business writer and copy editor. I refine web content for clients and help them with marketing. I manage our own business, and I also work part-time work as a proofer for The Wellington Times (which I can’t speak highly enough of!). I’ve dipped my toe in the local business scene, but my clients, for the most part, are small businesses and entrepreneurs in and around Toronto. It keeps me busy but I get to enjoy the flexibility of working from home.
For me, the transition was easy. Toronto is a great city, it’s exciting and there’s so much to do but it’s difficult at times to see past the buildings and constant commotion. Here, you have room to breathe. It’s visually restful, especially when I walk with the boys in the countryside. I was the agitator to move here. Every time we visited, we looked at property and I loved the sense of peace, the beautiful scenery and winding roads. It’s still my favourite thing, just driving down quiet country roads. So we went from thinking What If? to Why Not Have an Adventure! And it’s nice not to be a slave to the mortgage.”
SAM: “Having grown up in the industry, I have an intimate knowledge of design and construction. Because I understand the fundamentals of construction and the limitations of materials, I can pare down a house to make it more modern without using standard trims or going super high-end to get the look I want. Both Carmen and I love to play with materials. We are all about how things feel and how they will wear, as well as how they look. We combine soft and hard. I think we play more than other designers, we put steel together with walnut and pine – and no, I’m not afraid to use pine!
Our strength is sourcing beautiful materials and putting them together in unexpected ways. I believe Prince Edward County gives you more leeway. There is a sense of freedom here. I think that’s what attracts a lot of creative people to The County. Design is still serious but not SERIOUS like in Toronto. You’ve heard the terms country chic, rustic modern, etc. I suppose The Drake defines that style sensibility right now: modern pared with traditional elements. That playfulness really resonates with us and I’ve found clients here are more open-minded and willing to experiment.
Because we understand construction, we can focus on affordability. We know where to put the money. You can’t skimp out on construction if you want a house that lasts and is safe and sound. But designing for efficiency cuts running costs. The old timers knew that. Positioning windows opposite each other to run a breeze through the house and deflect or retain heat, for instance. You can buy flooring for $10 or $2. We prefer $2. Our floors are 10-inch-wide pine planks that look and feel great. You listen to what the area has to offer – find beautiful raw materials and local artisans to bring out the best. Ball Machinery in Wellington fabricates our steel. Once we discovered how good they are, we started incorporating a lot more steel elements into our designs.
When I say ‘back to the vernacular with a twist,’ I mean using things like board and batten. It’s very common here in The County, but we do it with the plank to the front and batten to the back. Suddenly, it’s very modern. Metal roofs are great, efficient and affordable and they fit right in here so why not use them? Building materials have to fit in their environment. Carmen and I are big on context.
People appreciate working with an architect who can design a simple, affordable house using common sense and quality materials. Everybody has their own sense of style, but our clients choose us because they believe beauty and affordability should co-exist. We strive to create spaces that are soft AND modern – and light-filled. Natural light is essential to our designs, especially in The County where the views are breathtaking.”
CARMEN “Since relocating to The County, we have more time to breathe, we’re getting more sociable and meeting other young families who’ve also made the move. I think it’s cool that we all come from different places but we’ve chosen to build new lives here. It’s very much a diverse mash-up of tastes, backgrounds and interests. And in terms of lifestyle, it really is the best of both worlds. You can go to the beach or to a world-class winery or fantastic restaurant, and it’s true—there are a lot of cultural events, shows and creative outlets to keep you busy.
One thing we did when we first moved to The County was volunteer with the PEC Syria project. It was amazing to see the way people here responded to the call to help Syrian refugees—opening their hearts, their wallets and their homes. It’s not like the big city where there are millions of people to call on for help. It’s so refreshing when a small community finds they’ve got almost too many people offering to help! It absolutely confirmed for us we found the right place to call home.”
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