Calgary Modern | Q&A w/ Jenny Hassenbach, Newgrowth Fine Homes

Photo: LifeSeven Photography
Photo: LifeSeven Photography

The upcoming Calgary MA+DS Modern Home Tour on 9/24 will feature 2624 Toronto Cres, a stunning contemporary home on a view lot. Spectacular city and valley views are afforded by the home’s design: a board formed concrete wall, which acts as the home’s main architectural statement both outside and in, creates fantastic sight-lines and serves as an implied barrier between public and private spaces.

The project was a collaboration between intern architect Marvin DeJong of DeJong Design Associates Ltd. and husband-and-wife team Jenny Hassenbach and Hugh MacDonald of Newgrowth Fine Homes. We sat down with Jenny Hassenbach to chat about the home – which also happens to be her personal residence – and how Calgary has embraced modern design.

Q&A w/ Jenny Hassenbach, Newgrowth Fine Homes

You began Newgrowth Fine Homes, a Calgary-based custom home building company, in 1999. How did you come to launch this company, and what are your design and construction philosophies?

It’s kind of a funny story. Hugh and I both grew up on farms. He is an engineer and was project managing in large factories. I was in sales, although I have an accounting education. Both our careers necessitated living in a large city. On our honeymoon, we were going up the ski lift at Telluride and saw a gorgeous log home on the hill. Hugh turned to me and said “Houses. We could build houses, we could live anywhere!”

At the end of the honeymoon, Hugh resigned and worked for an established general contractor for a year, then we formed our own company. We did some renos, sold everything to buy a lot, and proceeded to design and build our first spec project – which was a Craftsman style semi-detached home. We sold both sides and were in business!

To this day, Newgrowth’s philosophy is that quality workmanship is critical. We want every home we build to be in great shape for many decades. Newgrowth demands quality from the foundation to the roof and all the finishes in between.

Both Hugh and Grant (our business partner) are engineers, which enables them to solve many dilemmas and add value to the building process. We also believe in hiring the right trades and then paying them right away; they are so key to our business success.


Over the years, how have you seen Calgary’s culture of modern design evolve?

Calgary is a progressive, newer city and has really embraced modern design. We do not have many century homes and the city is still growing – so modern buildings and styles are welcomed. Another contributing factor is our demographics: often the people building new homes are young professionals.

It seems, 10 years ago, architects found that 80% of folks wanted traditional and only 20% wanted modern. Now that has reversed, with 80% leaning towards contemporary. Having said that, even the more traditional homes have more clean and modern interiors.

Photo: LifeSeven Photography
Photo: LifeSeven Photography

Your home on Toronto Crescent NW will be featured in the upcoming Calgary MA+DS Modern Home Tour. You worked with intern architect  Marvin DeJong of DeJong Design Associates Ltd. on this project. What did that collaboration look like?

We started the design process in 2008, when we first purchased the lot. Marvin had a small model in his office of a home with mono-pitched roof lines. There were no homes like that in Calgary at the time, and we liked the style.

Ours is a view lot so it was important to consider that in the design. Marvin visited the site and listened to what we felt was important. He explained how most Canadians live in the back of their homes, but on our lot we needed to design comfortable spaces in which to enjoy the view – which is at the front of our home.

The process was fascinating. Marvin started with a floor plan, which allowed for circulation and living, and next the walls went on the drawings, and the exterior was last. He would sketch, put it into CAD, and then we would meet. The computer-generated drawings were printed, then the sketching continued. We would leave, think about it, and meet again. Often the sketching was right on the drawings, and sometimes there were many renditions using tracing paper.

He ‘pushed and pulled’ the home so that it was not a box, but rather a collection of spaces. There would be discussions and further sketching, then back to CAD, and so it continued until we had the design we were all happy with.

Lastly, exterior materials and colours were chosen, which we consider a big responsibility as they are visible for decades.

What were your biggest priorities in designing the house? What proved to be the biggest challenges?

2624 Toronto Cres has a beautiful view of the city and the river valley so we wanted to maximize that and build spaces for our family to enjoy.

Using thoughtful design, the home was designed with large sideyard setbacks so it is not imposing from the street. We also wanted to ensure each upper room to have a valley view and terrific airflow. We did not want to maximize square footage and end up with a typical large box.

Marvin’s vision was that the home would have terrific sight lines and an implied barrier from public to private spaces. The board-formed concrete wall accomplishes this goal and is THE feature of the design.

Having said that, the concrete wall also proved to be the biggest challenge. It had to be built to add structure to the home – all the framing ties into it, there are thermal breaks because windows are installed directly into the concrete openings. Yet because it is the feature of the home, it needed to look fantastic. The wall was very labour intensive and added to the budget, though it was well worth it.

Photo: LifeSeven Photography
Photo: LifeSeven Photography

In addition to having designed this home, you also live in it! What’s your favorite room in the house?

The kitchen/dining room area. It is so sunny, clean, and bright with a magnificent view. The layout makes the kitchen a pleasure to work in and a comfortable gathering place for family and friends. Let’s face it, everyone we entertain ends up in that room.

What features of the home should tour-goers be sure to keep an eye out for?

  1. The board-formed concrete for sure. It remains exposed as a central core, creating circulation and a dramatic backdrop throughout the home – the stair floats upward in a ribbon against it, the archways lead to new spaces, and it is the dramatic kitchen wall.
  1. On the west side, a light-well was designed, then a “fire wall” was added, transforming the light-well into a three-storey windowed internal courtyard. This allows abundant light into the lower level, foyer, and stair, plus provides epic views from the upper hall.
  1. The three living areas on the main are designed to accommodate family change and function over the years. Currently the kitchen and entertaining room are at the front of the house for the best view and access to the terrace. Alternatively, the dining room could be in one of the back rooms and a sitting area configured at the front.
  1. Overhangs are prevalent on all rooflines, enhancing the architecture and helping to protect the windows. On the south exposure main level, the overhangs are specifically designed to create passive solar shading, reducing direct sun in the summer months, while increasing sun exposure in the winter when the sun is lower in the sky.
  1. Clerestory windows mid-house and venting windows throughout provide cooling and clever cross-ventilation, negating the need for AC.
  1. A generational separation is built in on the second story, where the children’s bedrooms are up front and the master suite located to the rear. Each bedroom has valley views and its own bathroom.
  1. The master ensuite area is designed for two schedules/body clocks. One can rise, bathe, dress and exit through the walk-in-closet to the main hall without disturbing their partner.
  1. The garage is designed to be attractive and functional.

Do you have your tickets to the Calgary MA+DS Modern Home Tour? Purchase them here!

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