The houses that line Wendigo Way share one of the most entrancing locations in Toronto.
“I call High Park my front lawn,” says Norma Gigone, who lives at No. 16 with her husband, Steve Sevsek.
The residents of the dead-end street face directly into the woodland that fills the north-west corner of the 161-hectare park.
The dense tree canopy doesn’t end at the park’s border – it extends right through the little pocket of houses that sit in the sheltered valley below Bloor Street.
Ms. Gigone and Mr. Sevsek renovated the interior of their house, but they found themselves constantly lured outside by the verdant setting. They decided to create a little added comfort in the area surrounding the barbecue.
With a little nudge from the architect two doors down, they ended up with a backyard living and entertaining space with a covered kitchen and bar, dining table, a fireplace, television, waterfall and putting green.
Of the 10 houses that line Wendigo Way, six of them have been designed or renovated by Charles Gane – a principal at Core Architects – who finished building his own house on the secluded lane in 2003. Mr. Gane says he would rather oversee the work than have his neighbours hire someone else. That way he can ensure that materials, finishes and colours are consistent and in keeping with the area’s Arts and Crafts architecture.
Otherwise, he says, “somebody else is going to do it and they’re going to ruin it.”
Mr. Gane had a much more expansive vision for his neighbours’ backyard.
He suggested an outdoor fireplace built in the same stone – Owen Sound ledgerock – that he has used all the way along Wendigo Way.
Underneath, he called for steel shafts called helical piles to underpin the entire deck.
A wood canopy covers the outdoor kitchen, which provides the barbecue, sink and a stainless steel island. Guests can sit along the length of the island facing the television, which is often on for Stanely Cup playoff games and other sporting events.
Comfortable outdoor furniture is grouped around the fireplace, where Mr. Sevsek often prepares dinner on the grill.
Mr. Gane designed a rectangular backyard fountain with a waterfall to drown out any noise from the neighbours.
There are also relaxing places to sit under the trees, which include six grand black oaks.
“It’s a canopy,” Mr. Sevsek says of the leafy overhang. “The trees go up 100 feet and they just go out.”
In the summer, Mr. Sevsek says, the couple spends just about all of their time outside.
“It becomes a hub of the neighbourhood too,” Mr. Gane says of the many gatherings on the back deck.
A fence that runs along one side of the property and the other structures sent the couple to the local committee of adjustment. After several meetings and some objections from the neighbours, the couple agreed to plant 17 new trees on their property to offset the work they were doing in the backyard.
“We spent $20,000 on trees,” says Mr. Sevsek, who acknowledges that not all of the neighbours were happy about the scale of the project.
“Especially in an established neighbourhood, you’re going to get people who don’t like change,” Mr. Gane says.
Core Architects is known for the very modern condo projects it has designed in Toronto’s downtown.
Mr. Gane says he is a modernist but in the historic part of Swansea where Wendigo Way is located, he blends traditional and modern elements.
“Modernism gives you a certain freedom. There’s a clarity to it,” he says, adding, “you can be a modernist and be respectful of traditional architecture.”
He uses lots of Douglas fir and adds wood detail where needed to make designs appear more in keeping with the area’s heritage. Shingles and a peak roof are also hallmarks of the area’s style. The Arts and Crafts style makes a good bridge between traditional and modern, he adds.
To tie together the wood and stone at his projects – from Wendigo Way houses to Georgian Bay cottages and downtown condos – Mr. Gane often calls for elements to be painted in a deep grey Benjamin Moore paint shade called iron mountain.
A little farther along Wendigo Way, he is working on the renovation of an existing house that is being almost entirely rebuilt.
He rejigged the original plan to make the house better fit in with the landscape and trees.
“It’s like a thin wedge,” he says. “I think it will be a great place when its done.”
Mr. Gane has identified a sea change in Toronto in recent years as more people turn away from Victorian and Georgian architecture to seek out more modern design. He believes that people who live in modern condos for a time also look for that style when they become move-up buyers.
“People living in modern condos come to appreciate them,” he says. “Once they’ve been living in them for 10 years, they go out and buy a house.”
Young people also react against the architecture they grew up with, he adds.
“They say ‘I don’t want my parents’ house.’ They want light, they want architectural interest.”
His own house and his neighbours’ houses along Wendigo Way are examples of buildings that blend into their setting, he points out.
“I didn’t come in here and build modern glass boxes.”