63 Wembley Dr., Toronto
Asking price: $989,000
Taxes: Not yet assessed
Lot size: 20 feet by 150 feet
Agent: Noel Trumpour, Keller Williams Advantage Realty
The back story
Williamson Ravine Park is tucked away in Toronto’s east end. It’s not a geographically large nature reserve but it is surprisingly dense (thickly wooded and home to Small’s Creek) and hidden just out of view of busy Coxwell and Gerrard streets. The park is named after William Williamson, who was a man of many hats in Toronto at the turn of the 20th century: a manufacturer, an alderman for the area, a justice of the peace and a builder. It’s only fitting that the bronze plaque honouring the namesake of the park now sits on the property edge of 63 Wembley Dr., which is a building and architectural feat in itself.
The three-bedroom house is perched on the west of the ravine. Built by developer Lawrence Hyland and architect Steven Fong, the house is a contemporary mix of Swiss-modern style and New York City loft. Think a nouveau chic cottage built on a quiet Upper Beaches street.
There was nothing particularly easy about the construction of 63 Wembley Dr. It took nearly 10 years to get the zoning of the land in order with the city. But even when Mr. Hyland and his team broke the ground in March, it wasn’t smooth sailing because of the challenges posed by the plot of land, which is anything but flat. In fact, before building it was an uneven slope covered by weed-like Norway maples.
“A lot of people didn’t think a house could be built on this land,” Mr. Hyland says.
But instead of being discouraged, Mr. Hyland considered his options. Levelling the area off wasn’t on the table because the Toronto Region Conservation Authority owns the ravine bank below. Initially Mr. Hyland wanted to use caissons (those concrete columns you see during the initial stages of most house-building projects) but between the angled land, the small size of the plot and the sand basin beneath the ground, he realized he couldn’t construct this house in a typical fashion.
Helical screws ended up being the solution to Mr. Hyland’s foundational challenge. Not only were the galvanized steel screws less cumbersome to work with (unlike caissons, the screws only needed a little Bobcat to install, not a 60-foot tall machine), they were also more ecological, helping Mr. Hyland stick to his goals making 63 Wembley eco-conscious.
“That was the change that made this whole project work,” he says.
Mr. Hyland worked with architect Steven Fong, who also designed Matthew Matheson’s Parts and Labour restaurant. Like Parts and Labour, Mr. Fong added a distinct industrial feel to the house with its concrete floors and commercial windows. But the end result is not cold and impersonal, as you might expect from a modern house with an industrial touch, because Mr. Fong also drew inspiration from the abundant nature surrounding the city home.
“You get end-to-end views, with the ravine on one side and the city street on the other,” says Mr. Fong. “You go from city to countryside just by turning your head.”
To take in as much of the surroundings as possible, the house has huge commercial windows, both front and back. And despite their size, they don’t let the heat escape because they are more energy-efficient than regular residential windows. They only let in the view, and perhaps more importantly, light.
Often in long and narrow homes, the middle of the house is dark and cut off from natural light, Mr. Fong explains. So he very consciously laid out the floor plans in a way that would capitalize on the natural light from the large windows and kept all of the house as bright as possible.
“The idea was to do the best of European design, which is a sense of openness, but at the same time provide privacy where it was needed,” says Mr. Fong.
Even the decor details were selected with this in mind. Staircases are enclosed with removable glass walls, closets have sliding translucent doors and even the finished basement is bright during the day with its high ceilings and west-facing windows.
The light is one of two things people always rave about, realtor Noel Trumpour says. The other thing is the floor, and that’s not just because it’s a pretty shade of grey – nearly a pale platinum. It’s also warm. The house’s heating comes from the tubes embedded into the one-and-a-half inches of concrete that make up the floors.
And this concrete is not the tough stuff you’ll find on the sidewalk. It’s smooth, soft and has almost a bounce to it.
But for Mr. Fong, the wow factor is the kitchen.
“You can have 10 friends over and they can have their elbows on the kitchen island, talking together, looking out onto the ravine,” he says.
And then there is the third floor, which is an open-concept master bedroom suite. The bedroom aspect of it is in the east-end of the home, looking out over the top of the ravine. Steps away from the bed is a small upper balcony that is like a grown-up’s version of a treehouse, with the treetops just out of reach. On the other end of the floor is the bathroom (one of four in the house), which has a bath, shower, two sinks and water closet. In between the spa bathroom and the bedroom space is a luxuriously large walk-in closet.
“It’s a little sanctuary,” says Mr. Fong.
“The house is both a great place to entertain and to relax.”