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By: Jack Kohane


Among Cabbagetown’s picture-perfect front gardens, shaded sidewalks, sizable semis and mammoth detached homes of every 19th-century architectural style — Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Second Empire and bay and gable — 280 Carlton St. stands out as the neighbourhood’s grande dame.

Architect Brian Andrew has won awards for his master-planned retail stores, entertainment complexes and towering hotels, but he’ll tell you that designing the facelift of his semi-detached Victorian in Cabbagetown was particularly tricky. “Century homes present challenges,” says the design principal with the Toronto-based firm of WZMH (formerly The Webb, Zerafa, Menkes, Housden Partnership).

As recent empty nesters, Mr. Andrew and his wife, Sylvie, a vice-principal at Toronto French School, had initially planned to build a new house more geared toward this season of their lives. They searched the city’s established neighbourhoods, such as the Annex and Summerhill, for their ideal house. But plans changed when they found the Carlton Street gem, listed for sale at MLS online.

“It was the wow factor as soon as we saw it,” Ms. Andrew says. “We sensed this is a house of substance with great bones, so we could be creative.”

Purchasing the house two years ago, the Andrews moved in, along with Kai, their eight-year-old Yorkshire terrier. No renovations were done for the first several months because, as Ms. Andrew explains, “We wanted to live in the space and think about what to do with it.”

From its 12-foot-high ceilings, to the plaster ceiling medallions and elaborate crown mouldings in the original part of the house, every detail signalled huge potential.

Skads of sketches were produced to finalize the interior design. “Many times I was tweaking those drawings until the wee hours of the morning,” Mr. Andrew recalls. The idea was to craft an overall look to make a personal statement, to introduce a contemporary look and feel that would complement the “old” house while being attuned with the way the new owners live.

Its potential was realized right from the threshold. You walk into a very crisp, light-filled 21st-century home, on new European white oak flooring. In the living room, off the foyer, eyes are drawn to the retro chic 1920s Le Corbusier armchairs and chaise longue.

Mr. Andrew’s own imprint is evident, too. In the front hall are a series of framed building drawings of his architectural projects, penned by Mr. Andrew himself. Art has a big place in this house and reflects the owners’ personalities. Much like the house’s fusion of heritage and contemporary architecture, their taste spans from Canadian aboriginal art to contemporary works by new Canadian artists.

Black basalt stone tiles define the kitchen in the open-concept 1980s addition at the rear of the house. Contrasted against those tiles are brushed stainless steel kitchen appliances and the whitest of whites — the engineered quartz countertops and central island by Cambria. The kitchen cabinets, made by Artcraft in Niagara Falls and supplied by Toronto’s Binns, are a contemporary combo of walnut veneer and lacquer.

Capping this Carlton Street showstopper is the two-storey dining room that visually connects the ground and second floors. Full length, 21-foot-high windows and doors also spotlight the intimate and beautiful rear garden with its arching 90-year-old horse chestnut tree. Appearing like giant teardrops above the dining table, a pendant chandelier fashioned by Italian industrial designer Achille Castiglioni, and supplied by The Flos contemporary lighting collection was sourced at Luminart Lighting Design. “This was a complex install for the electrician, who had to thread the lights individually through the ceiling, all of which took about 10 hours to complete,” Mr. Andrew notes.

Among Cabbagetown’s picture-perfect front gardens, shaded sidewalks, sizable semis and mammoth detached homes of every 19th-century architectural style — Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Second Empire and bay and gable — 280 Carlton St. stands out as the neighbourhood’s grande dame.

Designated a Heritage property, this home’s façade and solid structure have remained in fine shape through the years despite its former use (until recently) as a rooming house, as have many other houses in Cabbagetown.

From the street, this elegant home remains true to its Victorian roots. Its original stained glass windows are intact, and its red bricks, constructed in 1882 by aptly named Benjamin Brick (who also built 308 and 314 Carlton streets) are in near-pristine condition. The only exterior work needed for the steep exterior gable and wood trims was a new coat of paint using two Benjamin Moore colours: a dark deep Evening Dove blue and an Oxford Grey for lighter accents.

Some other facts about the house: The first occupant, Alan Miller, was a senior official at the Toronto General Hospital, which was, at the time, on Gerrard Street, between Sackville and Sumach. He was also an amateur astronomer and had some of his astronomy work (such as drawings) published.

Carlton Street’s grande dame is showcased with eight other local beauties in this year’s Cabbagetown Tour of Homes on Sun. Sept. 16, from noon to 4 p.m. (For information, visit The homes on the tour are examples of how history and modern life intersect.

This is the 34th year of the event, is a fundraiser for the Cabbagetown Preservation Association, in its mission to preserve the architectural integrity and historical character of Cabbagetown, now designated as an heritage conservation district.

“The wonderful thing about the tour is that it offers people a snapshot in time,” Mr. Andrew says. For homeowners, it’s important to remain true to the building but also the neighbourhood and the streetscape.”

Source: National Post