Agents: Isabel Beveridge and Daniel Lynch (Royal LePage Real Estate Services, Ltd.)
The back story
Aself-described hippie chick, visual artist and lapsed freelance writer, Noelle Elia purchased this three-storey Victorian near Queen and Bathurst in 2002, occupying one part and renting out remaining rooms at below market value to an assortment of like-minded artistic types.
“It was my first time being a landlord, and it wasn’t always easy,” she says. “I’d under charge rent to my artist friends, and then resent my altruism and the burden of expenses. It was a big learning curve and a valuable life lesson.”
But life at the house was pretty good. People from France, Japan, Turkey, Libya, the United States as well as Canada have lived there since Ms. Elia took possession: filmmakers and Toronto International Film Festival guests, journalists, dancer/choreographers, writers, the Parisian who guided Toronto in its first Nuit Blanche and an HIV-AIDS research doctor/photographer, who stayed often over the years and became a close friend of the homeowner. There was great conversation between these walls and fabulous parties. On festive occasions, Ms. Elia would dress up her house to its best advantage, enchanting guests with a personalized vision of interior design as a work of inhabitable art.
Her home’s charm is so potent, it has served as the backdrop for many a lifestyle TV episode as well as a breast-cancer-awareness PSA. It was also the site of the so-called Laughter Parties hosted by Canadian indie filmmaker and “laughologist” Albert Nerenberg, who happened to edit his 2009 documentary, Laughology, in the basement. “One tenant from France was convinced there was a ghost in the house, but I didn’t have a problem with that,” Ms. Elia adds. “It’s an old house, pourquoi pas?”
Ms. Elia says her house was “an architectural oddity” when she first moved in. Previous owners had actually removed the living room floor. “When you were in the basement, surrounded by gorgeous exposed foundation stone ... you were looking up 18 or more feet to the ceiling of the main floor, with the light coming in from a giant front window. It was thoroughly unique, like an intimate gallery backdrop, but not really right or livable. And according to one engineer, it was also structurally unsound.”
To remedy the situation, Ms. Elia began an exhaustive renovation, which included replacing the floor and the basement staircase, raising the ceiling on a third-floor bedroom and adding a Velux skylight and three new outside decks. It also included a stimulating renovation of the kitchen with the addition of apple-green counters, shiny white cabinets, a bright orange linoleum floor, striped vintage wallpaper on a showcase wall and lime-green and fluorescent-pink paint on the remaining walls, a colour scheme that led one visiting electrician to ask, “Is this a kindergarten?”
“The staircase,” says Ms. Elia, not missing a beat. “The house is an 1895 classic Victorian house, but the stairs are not the usual side-of-wall scenario that you see in most Toronto Victorians. The stairwell is located in the centre of the house, constructed of beautiful dark wood and with gorgeous railings adorned with wooden globes at each turning point in the stairwell. The gorgeous winding staircase reminded me of John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire – minus the bear – and it was easy to project creative possibility onto the house.”