90 BALSAM AVE., TORONTO
ASKING PRICE: $2.469-million
TAXES: $9,653.83 (2011)
EXCLUSIVE LISTING: Thomas Neal (Royal LePage Estate Realty)
The back story
Richard Percival Sherris was a clerk at Royal Bank of Canada when he became the first owner of the newly-built house at 90 Balsam Ave. in 1908. Records show the house was valued at $3,500 back then.
In 1926, the grand house north of Queen Street was divided up and many residents lived in the various units over the years.
Real estate agent Thomas Neal of Royal LePage Estate Realty points out steps leading to the backyard, which were built using the red cobblestones taken up from Queen Street when new streetcar tracks went in.
The cobblestones are quite common around properties in the Beaches neighbourhood because so many residents went down with wheelbarrows to collect them, says Mr. Neal.
“They always point it out – they’re quite proud of it,” he says of the little bit of history tucked into many back gardens.
Current owners Jan and Bruce Carwardine bought the 4,500-square-foot house in 1986. It was quite rundown, they recall, but the couple wanted a large family house where they could raise their two young daughters.
They purchased the warren of apartments with a plan to restore the building to a single-family house.
First up, remembers Mr. Carwardine, was the renovation of the third floor. Once the space was opened up and rejuvenated, the couple moved in with their two young daughters.
Meanwhile, they gradually worked on the floors below.
The backyard was full of cinders from the coal-burning furnace, Mr. Carwardine recalls. Previous residents just dumped it out there in years past, he says.
“I took truckloads away.”
Another early project was the restoration of the front veranda.
“The spindles were all rotted away,” says Mr. Carwardine.
He managed to find one that was still intact and took it to a wood turner in Bolton, Ont. who was able to recreate an entire set. Since that time, some of the other homeowners on Balsam Avenue have used his pattern to have the woodwork on their own front porches restored.
The home’s front door was found stashed in the basement and returned to its original spot.
Some sleuthing on the part of Mr. Carwardine turned up the original builder’s plans for the house, which was known as the Princess Anne design.
As a sound mixer in the film business, Mr. Carwardine has worked in many old houses around Toronto. Occasionally he finds himself in a house – in a neighbourhood such as the old Village of Weston – where he recognizes the work of the same builder.
He points to the limestone lintels, the windowsills and the caps on the pillars of the front porch as the distinguishing features.
One detail Mr. Carwardine had trouble with was finding period hardware for the pocket doors that closed off the dining room.
But then he headed to Alberta to work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with Brad Pitt in the leading role. The set designers had found some antique pulls and, after the filming, Mr. Carwardine was able to bring them back to Toronto and use them in his living room.
The house today
Over time, the Carwardines have restored many elements of the house and replaced others.
Most of the windows still have the original slumped glass.
Mr. Carwardine knows how hard it is to recreate the wavy appearance of old glass; whenever it’s required for a movie, the set designers have to have it crafted in Germany.
The floors in the house – wood with walnut inlay – have all been replaced by a carpenter who was in Toronto one summer on a break from his regular job. Now he’s back at work in the Vatican.
The kitchen stands in the same place as the original at the rear of the house but today it is modernized with white cabinets, a marble-topped island, a sitting room and a breakfast area overlooking the garden.
There’s also a walkout to a backyard dining area.
Upstairs, the second floor has three bedrooms.
The third floor has been turned into a master suite with a large bedroom, a walk-in shower clad in marble, and a balcony with views of Lake Ontario.
Throughout the house, decorator Leah Koman chose colours and finishes that highlight architectural features and blend the modern elements with the historical.
The best feature
The wrap-around veranda has always been a favourite spot for Ms. Carwardine.
“We used to have kids’ birthday parties out on the veranda,” she recalls.
She was able to close off both ends and let the kids have the run of the area. Two long tables would accommodate large gatherings.
Inside, the family often had parties with 100 or more guests.
“It was the greatest family house to raise kids in,” she says.