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Rohan Walters-designed home, 157 Coxwell Ave., Toronto. Street view. (Dave LeBlanc)
Rohan Walters-designed home, 157 Coxwell Ave., Toronto. Street view. (Dave LeBlanc)

Feeling the Lego love on Coxwell Avenue Add to ...

I seriously considered it. Seriously. I even called my wife and said “I think we should buy this” after my tour with Jennifer Scaife of Royal LePage Estate Realty. I imagined tucking the car between those steel-capped, rocketship-shaped columns each evening, saying goodnight to the raccoons, walking the bridge to the front door and then snuggling in for a night of cooking and relaxing. In summer I'd sit on the roof and watch cars stream past on Coxwell Avenue, and, eventually, I'd install a Malm fireplace on the third floor to enjoy a crackling fire in winter.

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And then reality set in: One bedroom (or two tiny ones if I built a partition wall), no closets, and only one bathroom. And we've got a lot of stuff despite moving last year from a suburban home to a downtown condo.

But still, I could've shoehorned my life into the three-storey, 16-by-16-foot home at 157 Coxwell Ave., had I given a few more pieces of furniture the boot. And besides, having bragging rights to one of the coolest homes in east-end Toronto would've been nice. It sure would be easy to give people dinner party directions: “South of Gerrard, look for the tall thing that resembles a stack of giant blue Lego blocks.”

But will others feel the same Lego love?

“I really don't know if this is going to [sell]in 20 minutes or, you know …” says Ms. Scaife with a shrug. “It's either going to go very quickly or it's going to languish.”

“Someone who can add to it, make it better, change it,” is the person 51-year-old architect Rohan Walters says he'd like to see purchase his 2003 creation. “And do it in ways that are beautiful that I may or may not expect, and to take advantage of the wonderful piece of acreage that is there.”

That person may already have come forward, actually, since the house has been on the market since Jan. 10 for $349,000.

Had Mr. Walters decided to live at 157 rather than rent it out, he'd have taken advantage of the 205-foot deep lot by adding a small building behind the main house and, behind that, planted an “urban farm.” It would have grown well, too, since the water table is only a few feet below the surface (that's why the house sits on helical piles driven 46 feet down into bedrock). Instead, he continues to enjoy life at an equally interesting space at 1292 College St. and packs his days with things like set design for movies and television, volunteerism and raising his children. To that already full plate he's recently added the design and construction of another alternative home on a former driveway site measuring a mere 10-by-37 feet.

In fact, his tight schedule motivated the sale of 157 after his current tenants informed him they were moving out: “It's not a financial decision, it's a life balance decision,” he offers.

It's likely the home's new owner will find a certain “balance” living here. First of all, he or she will have no choice but to be nicer, since it's common for curious passersby to beg for tours. More importantly, they'll learn to live with less: Sure, the main floor can hold a good-sized dining table beside that roll-up, glass garage door, but not much else, and the second floor, which contains the home's only bathroom, will not permit a three-piece bedroom suite. The trade-off, of course, is the top floor, which can be anything—living room, painting or photography studio, yoga retreat—and the wonderful roof deck.

Balance will also be achieved by how little it costs to run the place, since heat comes not by traditional furnace and ductwork, but rather the three radiantly-heated concrete floors and cooling is done by the simple “stack effect” principle of allowing hot air to rise and exit via top floor openings.

Because Mr. Walters left the space raw to keep construction costs down, the plain pine trim (some of it with grooved channels for electrical wiring), exposed rafters and bare-bones kitchen can be finished to whatever degree the new homeowners would like. “One of the joys I get is to see how people adapt to the space,” says the architect.

So who'll take the big blue Lego plunge? To my mind, it'll be someone who doesn't take themselves too seriously, and wants to smile when they arrive home each day; one who doesn't mind playing the role of steward to a piece of architectural art. It'll help if they've looked at how little they'd get at similarly-priced 500 square-foot condos downtown, and they won't mind waiting for the neighbourhood to gentrify, which could be soon.

“It's a wonderful neighbourhood, it's in major transition, it's got a high energy,” agrees Mr. Walters, “so what I would hope for is that they're not going to just tear it down and do something same old, same old. That would be a little bit of a heartbreaker.”

Someone who would never break the heart of a very creative architect would be great, too.

 

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