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Great Spaces: a Haliburton cottage that turned a die-hard city slicker into an amateur woodsman

Great Spaces: a Haliburton cottage that turned a die-hard city slicker into an amateur woodsman

Stephen Grant is one of Toronto’s top divorce lawyers, the man one-­percenters like David Thomson and Michael McCain go to when their marriages ­falter. He’s also a city guy who never dreamed of owning a cabin in the woods. That is, until he met his wife, Sandy Forbes, in the early ’90s. She’s a lawyer too, a partner at Davies who specializes in commercial litigation. She yearned for a ­weekend escape from their frenetic schedule. “Sandy wanted a cottage,” says Grant, “and like any sensible husband, I said yes.” (His line of work has made him an expert on matrimonial arbitration.) Their decade-old retreat is on a forested lot in ­Haliburton facing a quiet lake. But its design, by architects ­Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, is thoroughly urban. The structure is encased in Shim-­Sutcliffe’s signature rusting steel, and the burnished concrete floors belong in a downtown loft. In these modern surroundings, Grant has learned to enjoy the relaxed pace of country life: while Forbes lounges for hours with a paperback, he passes ­leisurely afternoons trying out recipes from Saveur and Bon Appétit.

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Great Spaces: a starkly beautiful haven above a furniture shop in the Junction

John and Juli Baker, owners of the cultishly popular Mjölk, built a home that’s as starkly beautiful as their shop below

John and Juli Baker met by chance seven years ago at the Cloak and Dagger pub on College Street. She was studying art curation and photography at OCAD. He played guitar in a folk-rock band. They were both obsessed with modern design, and they sparked immediately. Their first collaboration was a blog where they gushed over graceful chairs, well-­proportioned teapots and other striking examples of Japanese and Scandinavian design. It proved so ­popular that, in 2009, they bought a Victorian storefront in the Junction and started selling the rarefied products they’d been blogging about. They ­married in the showroom a year later and set about gutting the two-storey living quarters above the shop. The couple’s ­minimal aesthetic—all white or wood, with no ornamentation—is the kind of thing that looks great in Dwell, but can seem impossible for people with pets, kids or both. And yet they’ve made the look work in a busy household that includes a two-year-old girl, a newborn baby boy and a cat (Elodie, Howell and Isha, respectively). Working with architects Peter Tan and Christine Ho Ping Kong of Studio Junction, the Bakers chose durable materials—copper, soapstone, white oak—and used them throughout the 2,000-square-foot space. The cohesive palette helps to maintain the streamlined effect. So does having really nice stuff: when the kids’ shaggy rocking sheep gets left out, it looks more like a sculptural statement than clutter.

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Great Spaces: a subterranean house in Wychwood Park that got the whole neighbourhood talking

Two decades ago, Ian MacDonald and Diane ­MacDiarmid fell in love with a sloping lot in Wychwood Park. They figured it would be easy enough to expand the 1950s bungalow perched on it—­MacDonald is an architect, after all. That was before they encountered the ­Wychwood Park ­Heritage Advisory Committee. The ­couple’s new neighbours were convinced the structure would block views, cause stress to the trees and clash with the Arts and Crafts–­dominated enclave. After months of ­tension, ­MacDonald came up with an unorthodox solution: dig into the hill so that the main floor of the old bungalow would become the top floor of the new house. Although the new living space sits eight feet below grade, the lot’s slope allowed for floor-to-ceiling windows, which make the house feel bigger than its 2,600 square feet and not at all like a basement. The windows also frame ­exterior views: a 450-year-old oak tree outside the dining room and the pond where their two boys, both studying engineering at ­Dalhousie, still play shinny in the winter. It took the neighbours a while to warm to ­MacDonald and his modernist aesthetic, but they eventually came around on both fronts—he’s been elected chair of the Heritage Advisory ­Committee for the last 12 years straight.

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Great Spaces: Inside a North Toronto fixer-upper that’s been custom-outfitted for fun

Alister Campbell and Colleen Mahoney like to host dinner parties. Lots of them. It’s not unheard-of for them to have friends or extended family over one night, colleagues the next. Campbell, who runs a private insurance firm, and Mahoney, who sits on the board of the non-profit Action Against Hunger ­Canada, also have two teenage boys, Dugald and Declan, and two boisterous labradoodles, Poppy and Prudence. In short, it’s a madhouse—but a happy madhouse custom-designed to suit their needs. When they bought the rundown ­Tudor-style place in North Toronto two years ago, they hired the design firm Nivek Remas to bring in an elegant, modern aesthetic that would accommodate their special brand of contained chaos. The end result includes a living room that’s formal enough for cocktails with colleagues but that also has cushy couches for watching CFL games. The Hans ­Wegner table in the dining room expands to seat 18—perfect for when family members from Ottawa or ­Saskatchewan are in town. And when Mahoney wants to get away from the hubbub, she retreats with her laptop to the airy new master ensuite, which has an extra-long vanity overlooking the trees in the backyard.

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The Suite Hereafter: four of the most impressive master bedrooms in Toronto

Oversized and opulent master bedrooms are the busy Torontonian’s favourite new indulgence. Here are a few of the city’s best

The Suite Hereafter: four of the most impressive master bedrooms in Toronto

The master suite in Vivian Reiss’s Annex home

The Person: Vivian Reiss, a 61-year-old visual artist and renovator
The Place: A 5,000-square-foot house in the Annex with an 800-square-foot master suite

When Reiss moved into her Romanesque Revival mansion 26 years ago, it was a dilapidated warren of small rooms and gloomy corners. The woman who built it in the 1880s was the widow of a prominent Upper ­Canada politician and had 11 children; Reiss only has two, both of whom have now moved out. She’s an artist and she wanted her home to be as brightly hued and full of light as her exuberant oil paintings. Unafraid of taking on a top-to-bottom overhaul (she now renovates apartment buildings and offices professionally), Reiss immediately started tearing down walls. She turned three bedrooms—two on the second floor and one on the third—into a two-storey master with a sitting area, and filled it with salvaged fixtures from old Toronto buildings and curios from frequent trips abroad. Her dressing salon was formerly a porch, which she glassed in, adding curtains for privacy. Finally, Reiss repurposed the library to create an enormous tiled ensuite inspired by the Moorish tiles of the Alhambra palace. Her reasoning: she loves books, but enjoys bubble baths by the fire even more.

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Great Spaces: see inside a Moore Park home that feels like a family-sized tree house

Great Spaces: see inside a Moore Park home that feels like a family-sized tree house

Mary Abbott grew up outside of Guelph in an old farmhouse so secluded that her parents didn’t bother with curtains. “The land around us was made up of fields and forests,” she says. “It was extremely private.” Abbott has since left the rural life behind. She’s a corporate lawyer, her husband, Kevin Gormely, is an executive at a printing company, and they live in the middle of the city with their two small boys. Still, she channeled her upbringing when they rebuilt their home last year. The property is ensconced in the tree canopy of the Moore Park ravine, so she opted for giant picture windows with no coverings. Even the master bedroom is ­drapery-free—Abbott and Gormely enjoy waking up with the sun. The couple, working with architect John O’Connor of Basis Design Build, also kept the ­interiors spare to better showcase their extensive collection of contemporary Canadian art. Spare, but not spartan: O’Connor incorporated natural materials like soapstone, birch and Douglas fir to add rustic warmth. So even though the house looks modern, the palette is as ­elemental as the towering trees outside.

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Great Spaces: inside a Midtown home where there’s art on the walls, on the floor and in the driveway

Great Spaces: inside a Midtown home where there's art on the walls, on the floor and in the driveway

(Image: Derek Shapton)

Astrid Bastin recently gutted her century-old, midtown ravine-side house. Just about everything was updated—except the barn-shaped gambrel roof, which she maintained. Bastin, who was born in Bogotá, runs AB Projects, a cultural exchange program for established Canadian and Latin American artists. She mainly works with avant-garde mixed media artists and often gives them a live-work space in her home for a few months, then helps sell their work; the commissions are invested in the organization. As a result, the first floor of the house is a showcase for experimental pieces. A tiny TV shows a blinking eye, for example, and a series of speakers play noises such as crunching gravel. Even her driveway is an installation, with a piano that plays Chopin every evening from 5 to 7 (the tunes are quiet enough not to irk the neighbours). The ­renovation, by Dean Goodman of LGA Architectural Partners, was tailored to highlight the ever-­changing assortment of artwork. The expansive walls are MoMA white and there’s plenty of room for the crowds of curators, collectors and art lovers Bastin often entertains.

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Great Spaces: transforming an East York bungalow into a series of welcoming cubes

An actor and a TV writer create a dramatic turning point for their mid-century bungalow

Great Spaces: transforming an East York bungalow into a series of welcoming cubes

Before Yannick and Shantelle Bisson moved into their three-bedroom East York bungalow in 2007, Shantelle was a freelance writer, and Yannick was a gigging actor booking the occasional movie of the week. With three daughters to support, Yannick would often turn to contracting to help pay the bills. The ­couple’s luck changed that year when ­Yannick landed the lead role on CBC’s popular detective series Murdoch ­Mysteries. A few years later, feeling squeezed for space (and a little more flush), the Bissons went hunting for a bigger house, setting their sights on Rosedale. But the more they looked, the more they realized how much they loved their little cul-de-sac overlooking the Taylor Creek ravine and wanted to stay put. They hired the architect ­Gordon Ridgely who, along with Upside Developments, transformed their ­bungalow into a series of interlocking cubes. ­Yannick pitched in, too: he crafted the fireside bench out of pine beams salvaged from a 200-year-old barn used on his show. In more ways than one, this is the house that Murdoch built.

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Great Spaces: Inside the dramatic modernist makeover of one Annex manor

Great Spaces: Inside the dramatic modernist makeover of one Annex manor

For five years, Jen Grant and Dave ­Dattels lived the high life in London. Grant was there to do a PhD in security and intelligence at Cambridge, and ­Dattels was working in finance. They had a loft in trendy Clerkenwell, which they filled with a budding collection of modern art. But the couple were itching to be closer to family, so in 2009 they packed up and moved back to Toronto—and started looking for a place that would rival their London pad. They fell in love with a 4,200-square-foot house in the Annex that was nothing short of disastrous. It was divided into 11 apartments and had been sitting empty for two years. Grant and Dattels enlisted the help of the architect Heather ­Dubbeldam to completely transform the space. They now have two kids and a finished home that’s open and loft-like. They even renovated the backyard coach house, which they use as a guest suite when their ­London friends come to visit.

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Great Spaces: Take tours of four of Toronto’s boldest, boxiest new homes

Torontonians are finally rejecting fussy Victorian architecture and going bold. In almost every neighbourhood, there’s a house or two that stands out. They’re tall, modern and boxy—the new Toronto aesthetic. Here, a look inside some of our favourites

Great Spaces: Take tours of four of Toronto's boldest, boxiest new homes

See the first house »

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Great Spaces: a look inside the lodgings of Drake Hotel owner Jeff Stober

Great Spaces: the house that Drake built

Jeff Stober is known for his exacting taste. In fact, as the owner of the Drake Hotel and the new Financial District restaurant Drake One Fifty, he’s staked his career on it. It’s no surprise, then, that his home of more than 20 years is an extension of his public spaces. He calls it an “aesthetic laboratory” that morphs every few years with changing seasons, trends and tastes. The current iteration, which he worked on closely with his longtime design collaborator, John Tong, and the Drake’s curator, Mia Nielson, perfectly sums up Stober’s aesthetic: a playful mix of classic and contemporary styles, modern and vintage furnishings, and high and low culture. He’s filled the house with art—much of it Canadian—and furniture that, while expertly crafted, still retains a sense of whimsy. He’s also a lover of the outdoors, which is why he made sure there were plenty of huge windows and natural wood details—not to mention a fully loaded gym in his backyard.

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Great Spaces: Jamie Metrick of the Elte clan raided the store’s showroom to decorate his condo

Great Spaces: Jamie Metrick of the Elte clan raided the store’s showroom to decorate his condo

Jamie Metrick loves rugs. As the head of the rugs department at the venerable furniture store Elte—which his great-grandfather founded in 1919—he spends all day every day thinking about them. It’s no surprise, then, that his two-bedroom condo at Spadina and Dupont is full of rugs—which, it turns out, are the only things in the place he picked out himself and among the only proper furnishings he had when he moved in four years ago.

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Great Spaces: five garage conversions to swoon over

Torontonians don’t like compromise. We want to live in the city, and we also want guest rooms, art studios and dens. The answer? Convert unused sheds, garages or pool houses—turning forgotten outbuildings into precious square footage

Great Spaces: Geoffrey Roche

Who: Geoffrey Roche, a 60-year-old entrepreneur and former ad executive, and his wife Marie Claire
What: An 800-square-foot pool house with an office, dining area and sleeping quarters
Where: North York

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Great Spaces: an extreme DIY reno in Trinity Bellwoods that was 12 years in the making

Great Spaces: an extreme DIY reno in Trinity Bellwoods that was 12 years in the making

When Bev Hisey and Dan MacKenzie bought their 1,400-square-foot Trinity Bellwoods row house, they had a long to-do list. They’d been renting that same house for 12 years before their landlord offered them a chance to buy. “By most people’s standards, it was a hovel,” says Hisey, a textile designer. It had a kitchen that hadn’t been touched in 70 years, worn-out floors and no insulation. So Hisey and MacKenzie went all out. When their 19-year-old daughter, Edmond, left home for a job as a cherry harvester, they moved out for six months and gutted the place, designing a new interior together. MacKenzie, an architect, sketched out the blueprints, and Hisey did the interiors. Their focus was on opening up what had been a cramped and darkish space. They busted down the mudroom and replaced it with a deck, fronted by a giant wall of windows that makes the all-new, all-white kitchen bright all the time. Upstairs, they knocked down the wall between the master bedroom and their daughter’s old room (she sleeps in the guest bedroom when she visits) to make a big, airy master suite. The house now feels entirely different—the only reminder of the original building is a photo, taken by the couple’s friend Donna Griffith, of a rusted drainage pipe, which hangs, full-size, in the living room, in exactly the place it used to be.

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Great Spaces: a Yonge and Eglinton home that’s designed to age gracefully

Great Spaces: a Yonge and Eglinton home that’s designed to age gracefully

Farzad and Connie started thinking about building a house five years ago when they were living in Cambridge, England. Farzad was finishing his doctorate in management and Connie was working for a Dutch bank. Their two kids were young, and the couple wanted to settle in Toronto, where Farzad grew up (Connie is from Hong Kong). They imagined a house that was minimalist but kid-friendly, environmentally conscious but not visibly so, and most importantly, adaptable. They hired the architect Paul Raff, and the resulting space, on a leafy street near Yonge and Eglinton, feels like a swanky yoga studio minus the mirrored walls. The kitchen is flanked by two identically sized spaces, which can be used interchangeably, as the living room or dining room—Farzad and Connie sometimes swap the two by season, eating next to the big backyard window in summer and cozying up by the same window to read in winter. The basement is kitted out with a kitchen in case their kids boom­erang in their 20s and want their own space. And although the main level of the house is, right now, perfectly suited to family life, it was designed to be converted into a one-level retirement suite in the future, with Farzad’s office becoming a master bedroom and the entryway powder room becoming an ensuite.

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