Homeowner Sherry McMorran and architect Jennifer Turner stand in the hallway of Ms. McMorran’s Playter Estates home – said to have been built originally for a member of the Playter family – and survey the unrenovated living room. Ms. McMorran says that during the “next renovation,” perhaps she’ll have Ms. Turner add some crown moulding along the ceiling, to which the architect’s shoulders visibly rise.
“Well, maybe something modern,” says Ms. Turner, cautiously. That could work, since, in this eclectically decorated, century-old home north of Danforth and Broadview Avenues, old and new things rub shoulders, rules are broken with ease and humour erases any tension between the fussiness of the Edwardian era and Ms. Turner’s clean, minimalist lines.
Perhaps a moulding featuring a repeating pattern of Gobo, Mokey, Red, Wembley and Boober, with a few Doozers and Gorgs peppered into the background would work well. Or Kermit, Big Bird and Miss Piggy?
After all, Ms. McMorran spent much of her career as a costume designer working with Jim Henson on Fraggle Rock in the 1980s, plus the feature film Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird, and the short-lived and oddly formatted The Jim Henson Hour.
Regardless of what is eventually decided, the home today stands as a testament to what can happen, architecturally, when two birds of very different feathers become collaborators and friends.
“Pretty much every client I’ve had I’ve done two to five jobs with,” offers Ms. Turner.
“She’s adorable, you see,” adds Ms. McMorran with a giggle.
“You spend a lot of time in architecture building trust with people,” continues Ms. Turner. “Of course, you’re working in their best interest, but it takes a while to learn how to communicate with each other.”
The first time this pair communicated about design was in the late-1990s. Then with Ian MacDonald Architect Inc., Ms. Turner oversaw the overhaul of the home’s kitchen, where strong-but-hidden steel beams turned a room in which it wasn’t big enough to swing a muppet into one that can host plenty of guests, muppet or otherwise; the beams also support a massive window-wall that turns Ms. McMorran’s amazing, rambling garden – complete with a very English brick wall and converted stable – into an extension of the room.
Nooks and crannies feature some of Ms. McMorran’s collections of all-white pottery, colourful art-glass and other gee-gaws, but they also dissolve corners to make the room look even larger; by making the eye work to refocus by extending and contracting planes, the brain is tricked.
“That was a very conscious thing,” explains Ms. Turner, a native of British Columbia who studied architecture at UBC but came to Toronto in the late 1980s, “and which was continued in this renovation was to make an armature for Sherry’s collection.”
To see that most recent renovation – a third-floor living area and master suite completed in 2012 – it’s necessary to first pass the other part of the earlier one on the second floor, where an enclosed sunroom over the front porch was gutted and expanded to create an office/creative space for Ms. McMorran. In here, wraparound windows with a commanding view of jaunty, toy-like rooflines and big broccoli trees would inspire even Oscar the Grouch into fits of artistry. A heated floor ensures it won’t get too cold, either. “It’s fantastic in a storm,” offers Ms. McMorran.
The third floor is even more fantastic. On the street side, Ms. Turner has punched a massive and “robust” bay window into the severe roof-slope; now, there’s room for a couch and television combo so Ms. McMorran’s husband, movie sound-guy extraordinaire John Thomson, can sneak away to watch sports. There’s space, too, for African headdresses, old globes – one was given to the teenaged Ms. McMorran in the early 1960s – bowling pins and great artwork.
Underneath the roof’s peak is an L-shaped fireplace: the bottom of the “L” is clad in shiny, dark tile and holds the firebox, while the vertical column is finished in Venetian plaster for an almost suede-like look. Past the fireplace, a resloping of the roofline means headroom isn’t a problem in the master suite.
And because Ms. Turner has a skilled hand, one must walk past the fireplace to realize there is a master suite back there: “I think that’s really important, because a lot of times people come into houses and the whole thing’s right there,” she explains. “There’s this whole idea of opening up houses, [but] you still need to differentiate the spaces, either through modulating the ceiling or using millwork to have peek-throughs.” Too small for a person, the peek-through beside the fireplace is a favourite of the family cat.
“This is the only place where I think more is not more – I don’t want anything in it,” says Ms. McMorran of the gorgeous master bathroom. Here, Statuario marble is married to IKEA cabinets and a custom bench dissolves one end of the shower enclosure. More marble on the floor, a sculptural tub and a burst of foliage outside the window complete the composition.
And while it’s true that rooms such as this are where Ms. Turner’s talent really shines, it’s the multiuse spaces, the “let it all hang out” living spaces, that show how architect and client really aren’t all that different: “We have very similar tastes,” she confirms. “I am more of a minimalist, for sure.
“I love this stuff of Sherry’s,” she finishes with a laugh. “I would have any of these things … just not all of them.”