Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Home of the Week: Adding modern design to Victorian charm


Asking price: $1.749-million

Taxes: $6,933.07 (2012)

Story continues below advertisement

Lot size: 21 by 98 feet

Agent: Leeanne Weld Kostopoulos, Royal LePage Real Estate Ltd., Johnston & Daniel Division

The back story

The four-bedroom Victorian on Rathnelly Avenue was in terrible condition when Colleen McGill and James Rosenthal looked at it seven years ago.

"It was a complete dump," says Mr. Rosenthal. "We were newly engaged and bought it spontaneously."

In fact, when they left the house, Mr. Rosenthal had written it off. But Ms. McGill is a principal with McGill Design Group.

"I had it redesigned within 20 minutes," says Ms. McGill. "I loved the high ceilings and some of the classic mouldings."

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. McGill also loves the neighbourhood, which is just north-west of Avenue Road and Davenport. The "republic of Rathnelly" is a slender part of the South Hill neighbourhood.

It was declared independent from the rest of Canada after the neighbours got together to fight a planned Spadina Expressway. The declaration was in jest but today the street sign on the corner across from No. 6 reads "Republic of Rathnelly."

The residents still hold a street party every couple of years to commemorate their victory.

Ms. McGill and Mr. Rosenthal, who now have two daughters, undertook a renovation that included the pipes that bring the water supply from the street and ended at the rafters on the third floor.

"We worked through many projects that we knew we had ahead of us and many we didn't know," Ms. McGill said.

The house today

Story continues below advertisement

The Victorian-era brick house was quite modest compared with many of the mansions built at that time, says Ms. McGill. She points out that it had no fireplace, for example, and only a little bit of trim.

"These were more utilitarian," she says of some of the typical properties in the neighbourhood.

Ms. McGill added panelling to the walls in the living room and dining room. She had mouldings replicated where necessary.

The living room window still has the original stained glass.

The couple added three fireplaces throughout the house.

"It's sort of Victorian without being stuffy," says Ms. McGill of her blend between old and new.

For example, she kept the plaster medallion in the dining room, but painted the ceiling around it in Farrow & Ball's off-black.

"It gives a little bit of drama to the room without being overbearing," she says.

The huge mirror in the entryway is a little trick she uses to make the area feel bigger and give it a sense of presence.

"The fun thing about this house is it's classical but you can really add modern things if you want to."

At the rear of the house, the kitchen has a breakfast area and French doors leading to the garden. The panelled cabinetry is painted white.

Outside, the backyard patio includes a fountain and pear trees around the perimeter.

"In the spring it's white flowers everywhere," Ms. McGill said.

Upstairs, the second floor has three bedrooms and a bathroom. Throughout the house, Ms. McGill added built-in cabinets and storage at every opportunity.

Downstairs, the basement has been renovated to add a playroom, bathroom and guest bedroom but the area could also be used as a nanny suite.

The best feature

The couple turned the two-and-a-half-storey house into a three-storey by raising the ceiling on the upper level.

Now the third floor serves as office space for McGill Design. French doors lead to the exterior area, which sits in the shade of a large tree.

"It's so pretty when the sun sets diagonally through the park," says Ms. McGill, pointing to the parkette at the rear.

The area has a bathroom with a walk-in shower and a round window overlooking the backyard.

Ms. McGill says the children are often at home downstairs while she and Mr. Rosenthal and their colleagues are working upstairs.

"You'd be amazed how many people you can have in this house without feeling on top of each other," she says. "The Victorians were smart."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to