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Home of the Week: A home in the Republic, rejigged

Home of the Week, 25 Rathnelly Ave., Toronto. Asking price $1,679,000

25 Rathnelly Ave., Toronto

Asking price: $1,679,000

Lot size: 20 by 110 feet

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Taxes: $6,647.73 (2012)

Listing Agent: Leeanne Weld Kostopoulos, Royal LePage Real Estate Service Ltd.

Canada's centennial year, 1967, also marked the creation of the Republic of Rathnelly – a neighbourhood ensconced between Davenport and Avenue Road to the west and east, and MacPherson Avenue and Cottingham Street to the south and north – where residents jestingly seceded from the city of Toronto.

At the time, this semi-detached Victorian house was owned by Fraser Watts, then teaching architecture at the University of Toronto but soon to be the dean of architecture at the University of Waterloo.

Dr. Watts was not just a teacher of design, but also a student of its modern trends. Some time in the mid-1960s, he attempted to give the conservative row house a mid-century modern makeover, with the addition of some decidedly sixties touches, including cedar ceilings and a sunken living room.

Those two elements caught current owners John Monger and Odette Soriano's attention when they purchased the house in 2000.

"We were instantly smitten with the house because it was so different from everything else we had seen," said Mr. Monger.

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The renovation

When Mr. Monger and his family decided to change the house, they did so in a very thoughtful process, aimed to update Dr. Watts's vision.

"The renovation was a real marriage. We tried to bring the best of what was already in the house into a contemporary setting," said contractor Kerry Dorey.

Initially all Mr. Monger wanted was a shed, so he asked Mr. Dorey, who was working on a neighbour's property, to take on the job. But soon odd jobs morphed into a multiphase renovation of the home that took about a year to finish.

Mr. Dorey's history is as varied as the houses he works on. Prior to establishing E.W. Dorey Restoration and Design, Mr. Dorey was a successful actor. In fact, he didn't truly realize his passion for construction until he worked on a home in Stratford, while also performing on the legendary stage.

As a result of his layered professional history, Mr. Dorey has a distinctly different approach to renovations. It's far more collaborative, more communicative and more creative, said Mr. Monger.

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He used all of those skills when tasked with modernizing the home's basement, the first phase of the Rathnelly project. Aside from digging down to get more head space and installing a cork floor, he also worked with the bulkhead that borders the bottom of the space. The decision to tuck it under a built-in couch, and as a seat in the shower and as a bench along one wall generates an almost sleight-of-hand result. The bulky basement piece disappears in the room, instead of disrupting it. And with the installation of a bathroom to the space, the basement is ideal for housing guests.

"It's really quite perfect for having company. At the end of the night, the family goes upstairs and the guests can retreat into their own space downstairs," said Ms. Soriano.

The third floor also saw a major change. At the top of the stairs used to stand a small closet that had a toilet tucked away in it, said Ms. Soriano. So they decided to do justice to the closeted powder room and turn it into a three-piece bathroom that sits outside their daughters' bedrooms.

For all of its strange but charming quirks – like tiled windowsills – 25 Rathnelly was missing one crucial aspect: a master suite. So Mr. Dorey and his team took apart the second floor, which had been segmented into many little rooms, and created a spacious bedroom with an adjoining bathroom that looks out onto the lush backyard.

"It has become something of a retreat, which we didn't really have before," said Mr. Monger.

Favourite features

And yet, the master bedroom was not the most important change to the house, said Mr. Monger. That was the renovation to the front of the first floor. The kitchen was not a huge space to begin with but when Dr. Watts renovated it, he closed it off, as was the style in the 1960s. So Mr. Dorey and his team opened it up again and put in a big bay window that shines light onto the open dining space, which is perched above the sunken living room.

"When it was closed, we spent very little time in the dining room. But now it's much more the centre of the house," said Mr. Monger. "It's made an enormous difference in terms of how we live."

"And it's a very practical space. There is plenty of room for food now," said Ms. Soriano, motioning to the vertical, pull-out pantry drawers Mr. Dorey's team installed.

Another amazing space in 25 Rathnelly is its garden, which is fitting, since Dr. Watts was such a garden lover that his narrow urban green space was featured prominently in a 1972 magazine story about the home.

Its crowning feature is a massive apple tree that last summer produced 400 pounds of the fruit, most of which Mr. Monger and Ms. Soriano gave away.

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