When Srilata Raman and Christoph Emmrich moved to Toronto in 2008 to take up academic posts at the University of Toronto (Raman teaches Hinduism and Emmrich teaches Buddhism), neither had even visited the city before. “It was a huge move for us. We had no idea what to expect,” Raman says. “But Toronto was so reassuring because it has a British feel to it in parts.” Raman lived in Britain for six years and Emmrich grew up in the British colonies. “We felt less intimidated by the newness of it,” she says.
Even so, buying and outfitting their mid-Toronto home for their family (the couple have a 12-year-old daughter, Emilia) was significant, as it meant making a space for themselves in a new – even if not completely foreign-feeling – city and making essential decisions about how they should live. “This house has been, for us, about putting down roots in Canada and Toronto,” she says. “This is home, and what is our home to look like?”
There was much to love, already, about the house they landed in: A Georgian revival, built in the early decades of the 20th century, it features a central-hall plan and wainscotting throughout. “The clincher, interestingly, was the attic,” Raman says. Despite its bad shape, Raman was able to use her imagination. “It really looked like the attic in The Chronicles of Narnia,” she says. It had the potential to be wonderful – and elicit wonder, in turn.
It took years to decide what they wanted the attic to be (“I was tempted to take it for my study,” Raman says, but that felt greedy), finally agreeing on a library and common room. “As a family, we are constantly grappling with the issue of books. It’s probably our one huge indulgence,” she says. They enlisted the help of a master craftsman Paul Lynch to create the floor-level bookcases (Raman’s idea) and hanging shelves (Emmrich’s), the latter anchored into the roof by iron rods, and which freed up floor space. Lynch repaired the floors using barn board and created the curved window surrounds. “Now, that wasn’t easy at all,” Raman says. “But I think he fell in love with the job. Even today, Paul says this is one of the most challenging and creative jobs he’s ever worked on – and the one he’s proudest of.”
The Mah Jong sofa is the room’s centrepiece and provides plenty of options for lounging, reading and entertaining. And its modularity certainly helped when it came to transporting it up the narrow attic stairs. Lighting comes from three sources: overhead fixtures, fabricated by TMS Lighting and purchased from the Door Store; up-lighting that illuminates the shelves and creates “a very mellow soft light that’s not very useful for reading,” Raman says; and standing lamps, for focused illumination and an early industrial feel. Raman eschews sleekly modern furnishings and fixtures for those that better align with the look and feel of the house, such as Stickley’s handcrafted Arts and Crafts-style items. “We like furniture from the same period, which makes sense in the house,” she says. If it’s contemporary, “it has to be contemporary in a certain way,” she says, like the sofa, which she describes as “soft, not edgy.”
Beyond the pleasantly contrasting Missoni Home fabric of the soft seating, there’s a space dedicated to Emilia, who takes her classical Indian dance lessons in the space, with books, a table, chairs and puppet theatre. “Between the ages of five and 10, she would create these puppet shows and stage them for us, making up stories and enacting them, sometimes with a friend,” Raman says. Much like the space surrounding them, “it was magical,” she says.