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The Passion Project: an extreme Rosedale reno inspired by an out-of-control art collection

great-spaces-the-passion-project-rosedale-reno-art-collection_illustrationCheryl Atkinson and Don Schmitt were running out of wall space; they’d been collecting artwork for years, and their Trinity Bellwoods semi was starting to look more like a storeroom than a sanctuary. Both practising architects, they were also itching to design their own home—a bright, contemporary space they could share with their cats, Smudge and Eldridge, and their 25-year-old son, Sam, a Concordia fine arts grad who’d recently moved back home. In the spring of 2013, they happened upon the perfect blank slate: a run-down Victorian in Rosedale with a red-brick façade and three sprawling storeys. It needed work—the building had been duplexed, and the interiors were gloomy and outdated—but the couple tackled the reno with relish. They opened up the back of the house, turning five cramped rooms into a soaring, light-filled atrium; carved out airy workspaces for themselves and Sam on the second and third floors; and, as a centrepiece, installed a twisting snow-white staircase that melts into the surrounding walls. Now there’s sufficient room to showcase all their graphic prints, intricate sculptures and prismatic oil paintings (including a few Sam Schmitt originals). The space is barely recognizable, except for the dining room, which they left almost untouched—a wood-panelled ode to the home’s 125-year history.

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The Collector: a multicoloured midtown rental bursting with over-the-top opulence

great-spaces-the-collector-alex-donovan

Alex Donovan hoards beautiful things. The 53-year-old decorator bought his first piece of art—a vivid screen print by Ann-Marie LeQuesne—in 1982, after moving from Woodstock to Toronto to study art and design. He’s since lent his flamboyant sense of style to homes all over the city, both as an interior designer and as a buyer for upscale furniture showrooms like HorseFeathers, 1212 Decor and Barrymore. All the while, he’s amassed his own cache of treasures, transforming an 800-square-foot rental apartment near Yonge and St. Clair into an explosion of colour and art. The five small rooms, which he shares with his bichon frise, Flanders, are chockablock with enough canvasses, sculptures and ornate furnishings to fill a Rosedale estate. But Donovan doesn’t mind the tight squeeze. He loves reading magazines and watching TV in his hot pink sitting room. Client meetings take place at an antique desk piled with books, candles and curios. It’s tricky to keep things organized—one reason for the ever-growing collection of antique armoires—but Donovan has never been tempted to move into a bigger place. “Why should I?” he says. “This way, I can always reach my drink.”

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Zen Habitation: a salon don’s tranquil Rosedale retreat

After decades on the move, Ray Civello has finally settled down. The 57-year-old salon founder began his career bouncing between hairdressing jobs in New York, Toronto, Montreal and Paris before launching his eponymous parlour in Rosedale in 1989. (He’s since opened six more: three in the GTA and three in Chicago.) He spent the next two decades designing, building and flipping houses all over Rosedale and the Bridle Path, first as a bachelor and later with his partner of 15 years, Kelli McGushin. But when their son, Corrado, was born six years ago, the pair started thinking about pressing pause on their peripatetic lifestyle. In 2013, they bought a stately, somewhat dilapidated house overlooking the Rosedale ravine and, with the help of Alicia Garas of Melacor—the decorating force behind all of Civello’s salons and several of his homes—turned the dark, cramped rooms into a pristine white showpiece. They tore down walls to create a huge open kitchen and sitting area (where they spend most of their time) and added tons of personalized details: a golf simulator in the basement, a meditation room for Civello (who tries to practise every day) and a swimming pool for Corrado. “I think I might stay here for a while,” says Civello. “And that’s a crazy thing for me to say. But I just like it so much. We really live in this house.”

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Inner Sanctum: a converted church condo in Little Italy worth a seven-year wait

Inner Sanctum: The former Baptist sanctuary in Little Italy has been converted into mammoth, light-soaked condos

The red brick Romanesque Revival at College and Palmerston has lived a few lives in its 126 years. In the early days of the city it was a Baptist church. By the mid-20th century it was serving Portuguese Seventh Day Adventists. Finally, in 2006, the dwindling congregation sold up to a group of investors, led by the developer Matthew Kosoy, so it could be turned into luxury condos. One of the investors, Joel Prussky, a capital markets trader at BMO, came in with his eye on a smaller unit—the former rectory, a mere 5,500 square feet spread over three storeys. He liked the idea of preserving a piece of the city’s history and thought it would be a fun investment. But it would be seven years before the space was habitable—the building’s heritage designation slowed development. In the interim, Prussky met and fell in love with his wife, Janice Nathanson, had a daughter, Kate, bought a house in Casa Loma and raised an Aussiedoodle named Coco. As construction rolled along, the family got excited about the idea of moving downtown and having Kensington’s shops and College’s restaurant row at their doorstep. To prepare for move-in, Prussky and Nathanson worked closely with two interior designers, Mazen El-Abdullah and Lisa Lev, to finish the space to their tastes. They added a gracious central staircase, a roof deck with 360-degree views of the city and an elevator to bypass the long hike (they have wet bars on every floor for the same reason). In 2013, they finally moved in, and they’ve been loving it ever since.

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Swish Château: an interior designer to the jet set creates a plush sanctuary in the city


Great Spaces: Swish Château

For 25 years, Lori Morris has designed fantasy-inducing estates all over the world—a sprawling mountain lodge in Montana, an ancient house in ­Jerusalem, an oceanfront beach property on the Gulf of Mexico. The hectic, travel-heavy lifestyle made her crave a waterfront retreat of her own. ­Walking around her Etobicoke neighbourhood in 2003, she came across a terraced neo-Georgian row house on the lakefront and had to have it. Problem was, it wasn’t for sale. She waited five years for it to come on the market and scooped it up the moment it did. In ­February 2008 she took possession and got to work turning the 2,500-square-foot property into her own private escape. She was inspired by French châteaus she’d ­visited on buying trips and indulged herself with the same luxuries as her clients: custom furnishings; antiques collected from France, Italy and ­England; ornate chandeliers; and enough rococo gilding to make Marie Antoinette blanch. She also updated the look to satisfy her 21st-­century tastes. She stripped the house down to the studs, added grand archways to open up the space and crowned the rooms with custom millwork she designed herself. The result is an over-the-top hideaway that serves as her own Petit ­Trianon in Mimico. Her favourite room is her ­bedroom—she calls the rest of the house “the long hallway to my bedroom.”

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East Meets King West: a film producer’s 34th-floor ode to the Far East

Great Spaces: a film producer’s 34th-floor ode to the Far East

Niv Fichman’s 1,100-square-foot condo mimics a traditional Japanese house—as much as it can on the 34th floor of a building at King and Spadina. The 56-year-old co-founder of the film production company Rhombus Media (Enemy, Sensitive Skin, The Red Violin) is a self-professed Japan fanatic. His fascination was fuelled by frequent visits to Hiro Sushi in the ’90s and equally frequent visits to the country itself—he figures he’s been at least 70 times in the last 25 years. “Even before my first trip, I was sold, conceptually and aesthetically,” he says. “I love the attention to detail, the way they maximize space and the way they treat art.” So when he bought this pre-build unit six years ago, he hired architect Drew Sinclair, of RegionalArchitects, to turn it into an ode to the Far East. ­Fichman’s goal was to have as few rooms as possible—an idea he took to extremes by putting his bathroom in the centre of the open-­concept space (wooden sliders act as shoji screens when privacy dictates). The bedroom is a traditional washitsu, a Japanese room with tatami floors that serve as a sleeping pad. Yes, Fichman rolls and unrolls a futon mattress each morning and evening—something that sounds easier in theory than practice.

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Great Spaces: four extremely cool laneway houses

Peter Tan and Christine Ho Ping Kong’s laneway house near St. Clair and Old Weston Road (Image: Juliana Sohn)

Peter Tan and Christine Ho Ping Kong’s laneway house near St. Clair and Old Weston Road (Image: Juliana Sohn)

Some of Toronto’s most spectacular homes are tucked out of view, nestled in narrow alleyways that run between city streets. Laneway housing is deeply urban, relatively cheap, environmentally smart and seriously stylish. Here, four families that have it all figured out.

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This Old Coach House: a century-old house in the Annex that’s as quiet as a cottage

This Old Coach House: a contemporary coach house in the Annex

The People: Klaus Nienkämper, 43, and Marisa Simunovic, 40, who together run the King East design store Klaus.

The Place: A contemporary coach house in the Annex.

Nienkämper is a connoisseur of quirk. He collects cast iron toys and kitschy cuckoo clocks. He stocks his King East furniture store with doughnut-shaped fruit bowls and lamps inspired by Mickey Mouse. And he’s drawn to unusual homes (he used to live in a former railway conductor’s house in the Annex). The century-old converted coach house he shares with Simunovic and their twins, Oliver and Otto, is only 1,400 square feet, but Nienkämper says that’s more than enough: “In my line of work, you see a lot of enormous homes. You don’t really need that much space.” It helps that the house feels as private as a cottage—it’s backed by an acre of wooded green space.

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Steel Beauty: a wonderfully mod metal box near Dupont and Shaw

Steel Beauty: a mod, 1,300-square-foot house near Dupont and Shaw

The People: Steve Bugler, the 52-year-old owner of Radiant City Millwork, and Valentina Nedelcu, a 52-year-old engineer.

The Place: A mod, 1,300-square-foot house near Dupont and Shaw.

Bugler and Nedelcu bought their property from a semi-retired metalworker in 2008. They tore down the existing rental house and, with input from architect Michael LaFreniere, designed a steel-clad box. Bugler and his three-man crew did all of the framing and most of the finishing, including walls of custom windows (Bugler’s specialty) in the front and rear. But on the side of the house that hugs the laneway, he limited himself to a single, high window to showcase the rusted-steel exterior—and keep passersby from seeing inside.

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Tall Order: a 2,000-square-foot tower in Corktown with almost no interior walls

Tall Order: a 2,000-square-foot tower with two home offices in Corktown

The People: Julie Dyck, a 43-year-old jeweller, and Michael Humphries, a 44-year-old mobile app designer.

The Place: A 2,000-square-foot tower with two home offices in Corktown.

Dyck and Humphries were living in a converted storefront near Queen and Parliament when they noticed a For Sale sign on a 25-by-25-foot lot next door. This was a decade ago, and they weren’t quite sure what could be built in such a tiny space, but Dyck has a DIY bent and was determined to figure it out. She enlisted the architect Drew Hauser, a childhood friend, and together they designed a five-storey glass, brick and steel structure. The house has almost no interior walls—aside from those that surround the two bathrooms—which makes it feel surprisingly large.

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Live-Work-Play: a laneway house in Carleton ­Village with an amazing courtyard centrepiece

Live-Work-Play: a courtyard house in Carleton ­Village, near St. Clair and Old Weston Road

The People: Peter Tan, 44, and Christine Ho Ping Kong, 47, the husband-and-wife team behind the custom woodworking and design shop ­Studio Junction.

The Place: A courtyard house in Carleton ­Village, near St. Clair and Old Weston Road.

As an architecture student at U of T, Tan wrote his thesis on laneway houses. He and Ho Ping Kong wanted to design their own and found the perfect lot in 2001, behind a Davenport Road house. They stayed in their Junction apartment on the other side of the tracks while they built their new home over six years. The centrepiece is the courtyard, flanked by floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. They use the space as often as weather allows—for client meetings, art shows, to host parties of up to 300 guests—and sometimes even when weather doesn’t: as their kids, Abbe and Ian, can attest, designers make the best snow forts.

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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.