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Tamira Sawatzky and Elle Flanders transformed the former Star Sheet Metal Mfg. Co. on Dundas Street into a bold live/work space. (Naomi Finlay)
Tamira Sawatzky and Elle Flanders transformed the former Star Sheet Metal Mfg. Co. on Dundas Street into a bold live/work space. (Naomi Finlay)

Home of the Week: A clever surprise behind the store front Add to ...


Asking price: $1.55-million

Taxes: $4,603.00 (2013)

Agent: Clive McLean (Bosley Real Estate Ltd.)

The back story

In the search for curb appeal, most house hunters would likely drive right by a gritty shop on Dundas Street West. But Tamira Sawatzky and Elle Flanders were instantly intrigued by a building with a vintage sign heralding Star Sheet Metal Mfg. Co. above the storefront window.

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Inside, they found a long, narrow space, with its shelves crammed full of tools, machinery and pieces of fabricated metal.

“It was an actual sheet-metal shop,” says Ms. Sawatzky. “Everything was full of elbows and angles.”

At the time, Ms. Sawatzky, an architect with a residential practice, and Ms. Flanders, an artist and filmmaker, had decided to combine their talents into a venture named Public Studio. They needed a live-work space where they could pursue photography and architecture – both individually and in collaboration.

For Ms. Sawatzky, who studied architecture at the University of Manitoba, it wasn’t difficult to envision the semi-industrial interior as a light-filled studio and dwelling.

The couple spent about one year renovating and moved in April, 2012.

The house today

With the Star Sheet Metal sign still attached to the façade and graffiti surrounding the entrance way, passers-by might not even notice that the space beyond the new glazing has been transformed into a modern and open studio/dining room.

A long, narrow table near the window serves as a work table at some times and the setting for lively dinner parties at others.

Beyond the dining area is a kitchen with an 18-foot-long white-marble island. The kitchen’s cabinets and storage nooks were built into the space under the stairs. That allows for an uncluttered room and – on the opposite side – an expanse of wall that displays a rotating gallery of images.

At the rear, a rickety shed gave way to a spacious living room that sits a few steps below the kitchen level. Steel beams were built in to reinforce the structure.

“We blew this all open and opened up the back,” says Ms. Sawatzky, gesturing to a wall of glass and wood, with oversized windows and sliding glass doors leading to the garden.

In the living room, built-in shelves are lined with books. Despite the open plan, the couple found many creative ways to add built-in cabinets and shelves throughout the house, adds Ms. Sawatzky.

“Storage is really important.”

Outside, a deck is an extension of the living room.

A shed at the end of the garden is painted a vivid shade of orange to stop the eye and keep the space from feeling too narrow, says Ms. Sawatzy.

The banister on the stairs leading to the second floor was designed by Ms. Sawatzky and created by a local shop.

The wall behind the stairs had such an interesting combination of painted surfaces and textures that the couple opted not to refinish it. Now it stands as a reminder of the building’s history.

Upstairs, the master bedroom at the rear of the house has a wall of windows overlooking a green roof that sit on top of the living-room addition.

To create closets and bathrooms on the long and narrow second floor, the couple built a rectangular box along one wall.

The space is divided to create a walk-in closet, a master bathroom with a steam room and a guest bathroom. They salvaged and reused the lath from the plaster walls of the metal shop as a wall treatment for the structure.

At the front, a studio that doubles as a guest bedroom overlooks the street.

On the third floor, the couple created a separate apartment that provides rental income.

The best feature

“Our studio doubles as our dining room,” says Ms. Sawatzky, who says the large, north-facing window brings in lots of light during the day and the ambience of Dundas Street West at night.

The house is very quiet and sheltered from any street noise, she adds, but sometimes the pair deliberately brings in the neighbourhood vibe.

The neighbourhood is “hip and groovy” without the commotion of Dundas and Ossington, says Ms. Flanders.

During the evening, they often roll the window shade right up so they feel like a part of the Little Portugal street scene, says Ms. Sawatzky.

“It’s like feeling you’re a part of something. It feels like you’re in the world.”



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