29 DRAPER ST., Toronto
Asking price: $1,198,000
Lot Size: 32.83 by 87.77 feet
Taxes: $4,853.07 (2012)
Listing Agent: Elliot E. George, Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd.
Discovering Draper Street is like finding a time capsule of the old city of York. The tiny street can be mistaken as an alley for inattentive passers-by, its little cottage-like houses are quaint but not boastful. Most stem back to the 1880s, many still maintaining pieces of the original façade.
The street is such a treasure trove of history and architecture that the City of Toronto deemed the entire length of it a heritage site in 1998.
It was that year that Kevin Xuereb bought his own piece of history, 29 Draper St., the birthplace of Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first black member of Parliament and lieutenant-governor of Ontario. Over the years, Mr. Alexander’s home has been through several incarnations. Originally built in 1881, it was first occupied by machinist Charles Cluthe. In the latter part of the 20th century the front of the house was converted into a convenience store.
The back story
When Mr. Xuereb walked into the house 15 years ago, he not only saw the potential in the structure – it had strong bones, a big backyard and parking for multiple cars – but also in the neighbourhood.
“I remember thinking ‘Wow, this is really close to the core, why wouldn’t people want to live here,’” he said. “Being down here, I’ve felt more attached to the city.”
In the late 1990s, the King West neighbourhood was rapidly changing from a semi-industrial, undeveloped area in Toronto’s downtown to one of its hippest neighbourhoods. And along with the area, 29 Draper also saw some changes under Mr. Xuereb’s watch.
A lot of the work involved repartitioning the house. Mr. Xuereb worked with crews to take down the walls and other barriers that separated the front of the house (where the convenience store was) from the rest of it. The finished result is an open concept living and dining area that makes you feel like you’re in the grand room of a much bigger house.
“When people walk into the house, they are impressed by the inside,” he said.
“They often say ‘But it looks so small from the outside.’ They are not expecting to see this,” he said as he gestured to the stately space around him.
He also expanded the basement and finished it, leaving it with a spacious rec room, full bathroom and an extra bedroom.
Upstairs, the house had been divided into multiple bedrooms, some smaller than most people’s walk-in closets. The upper floor now has three rooms more suited to modern living, with plenty of space and sizable closets with built-in storage.
Other small maintenance changes were made along the way, including bringing in new hardwood for the main floor, re-insulating the bulk of the house and soundproofing the wall 29 Draper shares with its southern neighbour.
Perhaps the biggest change over the years happened in the kitchen. When Mr. Xuereb bought the house, the kitchen was sparsely equipped. It had a small sink shoved into a corner and there was a gas range near the back entrance. Most of the space was occupied by a massive dining table.
With the help of his wife Paula, Mr. Xuereb gave the kitchen a total makeover and added a much-needed touch of modern functionality – multiple stainless steel appliances, including a drawer microwave. Ms. Xuereb oversaw the decor and worked to incorporate the classic motif of the house into its new kitchen by using darker shades of wood and continuing the regal oversized moulding along the upper cabinets.
Of course, the history of the house is one of its defining features. Plaques aside, though, there are numerous details that give the house charm and character.
One of the surprises Mr. Xuereb encountered when he was disassembling the storefront was a trap door near the bay windows. It used to lead down to the store’s cold space. That secret passage became unusable after the basement was finished, but Mr. Xuereb decided to keep the frame of the door.
He also kept the original doorbell (an actual bell on the door, which works when you turn it), the claw foot tub and the letter box.
The newel post at the bottom of the stairs is one of Mr. Xuereb’s favourite details. Originally at the top of the stairs, Mr. Xuereb went to great lengths to restore it, stripping it of its paint and giving it a new stain before making it the focal point of the main floor. It’s one of the first things you see when you walk in and sets the tone of the house perfectly: refurbished, repaired, renewed.
“All of these old features, like the newel post, make me feel more connected to this home,” he said.
It is with great sadness that they leave the house, said Mr. Xuereb, adding that 29 Draper’s rich history is now a part of his own.
“This house, this neighbourhood has become who I am.”