May 27, 2024
Backing into a renovation at century-old Danforth home
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On the back of Barbora Malhotra’s Danforth-area home, renovations have grafted an entirely modern, and strikingly beautiful, addition that reads as a separate dwelling.Nanne Springer/Nanne Springer

As has been widely reported, a three-year global pandemic with a work force suddenly moored to houses and backyards created a boon for home renovation companies and landscapers. It also helped sales of running shoes: as early as April, 2020, CNN reported that New York sidewalks were crammed with joggers, and, in June, 2021, worldathletics.org published a Nielsen study of 10 countries declaring that 13 per cent of all runners had taken up the sport in the past year.

And all of that running caused at least two Torontonians to ditch their old house altogether.

“We, just like a million other people, started running,” says Barbora Malhotra. “So [my husband] and I, we had [two] little kids who were stuck at home, so we would take turns and we ran to this neighbourhood, it’s about 2K, so a five-kilometre run back and forth. … We ended up looking at this house even before it came up for sale, we just fell in love with it.”

Granted, the couple had been feeling the squeeze of their little Leslieville semi near Queen Street and Jones Avenue and had discussed moving. But to fixate on a house that’s not on the market? Dangerous certainly, but this one, in Toronto’s Greektown, was like a siren in The Odyssey: it called to them.

That’s because, unlike the rest of the neighbourhood – which contains Craftsman-style houses built just after the Prince Edward Viaduct opened in 1918 – this house was distinctly different. Built about 10 years before, when much of the area was undeveloped, it was more formal, more Edwardian, and rather than the usual second storey bay window topped by a small dormer on the third, this one had an asymmetrical, full-length, turret-style bay (with a matching bay on the side) and an unusual, compact, enclosed porch. Complete with a rare, wide driveway leading to a garage – its clay tile roof is really painted metal – it sang a song too sweet to ignore.

And in a sweet turn of serendipity, a conversation about that house at Ms. Malhotra’s husband’s work revealed that someone knew the owner, and, even better, that the owner had decided to sell but hadn’t listed the property yet.

“It was one degree of separation and we ended up having a coffee [with the owner] and came to look at the house,” says Ms. Malhotra.

That there had been drawings done by an architect to replace the old – and strangely skinny – addition to the back and replace it with something wider and much more contemporary intrigued the couple further. Eventually, by November, 2020, all shook hands on a $2-million price tag. And since Heather Asquith had already put her architect’s thinking cap on about the place, she was asked if she’d like to come back for another look. She said yes, but steered the couple to her previous clients to ensure they liked the work. They did, so Ms. Malhotra extended the invitation to meet at their “less than half the size” Leslieville place for a chat.

“You guys had done a lot of work to it,” Ms. Asquith says to Ms. Malhotra. “So it was kind of nice, it gave me a good idea of what style you were looking for.” By the time the couple took possession in March, 2021, the design was in place for the new addition and demolition could begin.

Stand in the backyard today, and it’s clear there were no shrinking violets on this team. Ms. Asquith has grafted an entirely modern, and strikingly beautiful, addition that reads as a separate dwelling due to its thick, exaggerated gable, bold balcony at the beltline and moody, dark first floor. “If these laneways really become populated, these aren’t back-of-house any more,” she says. “These are real façades.”

  • Toronto Danforth area home of Barbora Malhotra. Interior renovation and addition design by architect Heather Asquith.Nanne Springer/Nanne Springer

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Walk around to the street and stand on the sidewalk and the addition vanishes completely – the right tact in a leafy, old neighbourhood. Open the front door and it’s still not clear that Asquith Architecture has modernized everything. That’s because the front door is original (as is the gorgeous hardware) and the original front parlour has been retained to serve as a home office. And, since it’s likely there was a fireplace in there back in the day, a little gas unit has been installed in the corner of the dark-painted room. Open to the foyer, the office sports new pocket doors with reeded glass to block it off from the kitchen and dining area.

Once inside the kitchen it’s all about change. One might notice the custom cabinets by Nick Day Design and how they give a slight nod to formality via a thin, raised frame around each door, or perhaps the eye will stop at the rich porcelain island and backsplash. Audiophiles will surely swivel their necks to the other side of the room in order to admire the audio listening station, complete with vinyl-appropriate cubbies and shelves.

Sprint up Ms. Asquith’s new staircase – the minimalist handrail and pickets are divine – and the sun worshipper will be pulled into the primary bedroom. Not only does it have a big, slide-open window, there is a tiny space to stand outside to sip one’s morning coffee. “This is always a bit of a debate, right, if we do a roof deck will anyone use it. … Will you just feel exposed sitting out there in front of all your neighbours?” asks Ms. Asquith. “So, the idea is this is a little more private but still gives you that inside-outside feel.”

In the ensuite, a wall of rich, mottled, moss-coloured tile and twin, earthy-green concrete sinks by Mudd help welcome the outdoors inside on the even coldest, darkest January day (and after one’s morning ablutions on that cold January day, there’s a cozy media room and gym in the completely renovated basement).

Cardio health, better sleep, endorphins: all benefits of running. Now, we can add better real estate, too.