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Fenwick Bonnell confronted several challenges when he first visited a fine old house in Rosedale. The most vexing was an awkward sloped ceiling under the stairs.

"It was a really odd, useless space," says the partner in Toronto-based design firm Powell & Bonnell.

The solution became obvious when he surveyed the homeowners' belongings. Their affinity for books was clear, not only in their over-sized collection but also in their artwork.

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The nook under the stairs became a display area for books and objets d'art. "It kind of sets the mood for the house," Mr. Bonnell said.

The firm was recently lauded for the work with an Award of Merit by the Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario.

Mr. Bonnell teamed with David Powell and Albert Limshue after the family called the firm in to refurbish the house in 2008.

The red brick house was built circa 1910. The renovation that had been done around the 1980s was typical of its time: Walls were blown out on the main floor, heritage windows were sent to the dumpster and a two-storey window was created in the original graceful bay. To accommodate a tall tree indoors, the previous owners had removed part of the second floor.

"Everything had been stripped out; you start to lose the rooms' proportions when you do that," Mr. Bonnell said. "We wanted to make the house appropriate to the period in which it was originally built." The details, he adds, were "nasty." Aluminum windows and railroad ties in the garden were hauled away.

Meanwhile, the only two bathrooms were in small spaces that dated from Edwardian times. The homeowners asked the designers to make the house comfortable for a family of the 2000s, but they also knew that they might move again in a few years so they didn't want to overspend.

The first task, Mr. Bonnell says, was to restore walls to approximately their original positions on the main floor. In order to improve the flow of light and people, doorways and archways were made larger than they would have been when the house was built.

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Where small bedrooms in a cut-up floor plan made a warren of the second floor, the layout was reconfigured so that the front of the house provided one of the children with a large bedroom, study and ensuite bathroom.

At the rear, the house was extended by six feet and a new master suite was created. A huge bedroom now contains a fireplace. The suite has a sitting room and a large ensuite bath. A former small bedroom was turned into a dressing room.

The addition to the back of the house was minimal, Mr. Bonnell says, but the extra space allowed the designers to create an expanded bathroom with a limestone floor and bold Cipollino marble on the walls.

The third floor became the bedroom, bathroom and study area for the boy of the family.

On the main floor, the designers installed a new kitchen and family room within the existing footprint. It is a galley kitchen with a separate breakfast nook, fireplace, sitting area and doors leading to the garden.

"They wanted it to be efficient. It couldn't take over the entire room," Mr. Bonnell says. "They weren't looking for a show kitchen with huge appliances."

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Now the family members prepare meals together. "It's a mature kitchen, in a way," Mr. Bonnell says. "The kids are all grown up."

The dining room was fairly small so the designers put a curved banquette in front of the window. In place of a sideboard, the designers had pedestals built to provide a place to store china and crystal. A large round dining table sits in the centre of the room. The round table seems more friendly, Mr. Bonnell says, and it also fit well within the room.

The living room was designed to be elegant enough for Saturday night gatherings but relaxed enough for Sundays spent reading. "We like our clients to use living rooms for entertaining, of course, but also to flop down and read a book."

The colour palette is light and neutral. The walls are painted in the designers' current favourite, a greyed-out cream by Pratt & Lambert called Chalk Grey.

Window coverings, sofas and chairs are all in neutral fabrics. The carpet is made of nettle. Cool blues, greens and greys accent the warm neutrals.

"They have really, really great art and really refined taste," Mr. Bonnell said. "The art work is the dominant colour in the house."

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A mix of metal, wood and mirror in the living room adds glamour and brightness. "We wanted to bounce more light into the interior."

The main floor also has a study with a desk, television and more books.

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