520 Manning Ave., Toronto
Lot size: 21.67 by 123 feet
Taxes: $6,200 (2013)
Asking price: $985,000
Sold for: $1,200,000
Agent: Lucais Shepherd, sales representative, (Right At Home Realty Inc.)
The back story
In a lot of ways, 520 Manning Ave. was as typical a Victorian semi as you’d find in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood.
It had many original features, such as the big bay front windows, but had suffered many repairs and a poorly done back addition. The backyard was like a sad school playground: absent of grass but abundant in cement.
So it was no surprised, that the owners of the house (who did not want to be named in this piece) sought the help of architect and principal of Building Arts Architects, Jason Smirnis, to breathe some life back into the home.
The house today
“Given the amount of space [the owners] needed and wanted, I suggested that instead of adding more and wasting your budget, let’s fix up what you’ve got and make it better,” Mr. Smirnis said.
So the renovation crew went about demolishing the “saggy” back addition and fixing the foundation of the house, before they opened up the first floor by removing the wall that cordoned off the living room and dining room from the unnecessary hallway that ran alongside the staircase. In its place, they built a bookshelf “to keep [the space] more transparent” and to add some much needed storage. They also added a wall of cupboards that extends from the kitchen to the staircase and hides the entrance to the basement.
Upstairs, Mr. Smirnis kept the classic layout of the three bedrooms and one bathroom. But he made a few updates to the space, such as the large windows to the third bedroom that faces west and gets great late afternoon light and the new dark-stained oak floors. He also added an ensuite bathroom with a translucent Japanese privacy door, where there used to be a closet. To compensate for the subtraction of storage, he added birch in-built closets.
“The bathroom door is not a solid door … it lets light through,” said real estate agent Lucais Shepherd. “It’s a different theme but it gives the room a nice yellowish light that matches the birch in-built closets.”
The best features
The master suite is a striking room because it is a great example of how one space can perfectly balance old and new.
“In every project, we try to pick some stuff that’s worth saving and it becomes a nice contrast with the new,” Mr. Smirnis said. In this case, they kept the original aged hardwood floors and an exposed beam that gives the space a modern rustic feel.
“That room has a weathered quality that people like,” he said. “When you go into a house that is wall-to-wall Home Depot finishes, you know. It feels completely different from one that still incorporates some aged, weathered details.”
Mr. Shepherd agrees that whether it’s the beam or the original floors (which were also restored on the first floor) or the original door with arched windows, buyers appreciate the telltale signs of a Victorian home.
“I think Victorians are like heirlooms, like jewellery,” he said. “They can’t be replaced.”
The aesthetic of the home has a distinct flow to it. The front end has an antique feel to it – especially in the living room where there is a floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace – and then the decor seamlessly transitions to modern and minimalist once you get to the back, especially in the kitchen.
“[That flow] is really a product of the focus of the project: the back of the house, which was completely rebuilt,” Mr. Smirnis said.
As such, it’s no surprise that both Mr. Smirnis and Mr. Shepherd agree that the kitchen and adjoining outdoor courtyard are the crown jewel of this Victorian.
“The front of the house is subtle. The back is a secret,” Mr. Shepherd said. “No one knows what has been done here.”
The kitchen occupies the lower part of the new addition that Mr. Smirnis and his team installed off the back of 520 Manning. To get it to fit the space, they decided to flip the kitchen so it runs along the north wall. This allowed them to add a long island with stainless steel countertops, as well as a huge picture-frame window that looks out into the backyard.
“I really like sunlight so I love the bold windows,” Mr. Shepherd said.
The south end of the kitchen flows out to a courtyard that Mr. Smirnis made out of iron-spot brick, to match the exterior of the home and the unique fireplace on the first floor. The first tier of the courtyard has enough room to comfortably seat a large patio dining set and umbrella. The second area, which is a step up, opens up to a fenced-in grassy area and leads to the back shed (with a green roof) and two car spots (accessible from a laneway that exits onto Harbord Street).
“The courtyard space is not common. It’s typically an area that becomes full of garbage cans and air conditioners,” said Mr. Smirnis. “So we’re proud of how much [functionality] we got out of it. It’s a great place to have breakfast.”
Given these features and the house’s prime location, Mr. Shepherd wasn’t surprised that 520 Manning lasted less than a day on the market and sold for $215,000 over asking.
“You can see that an architect was here. It’s not your typical flip job of a renovation,” he said. “I knew people would want that architectural flair in a neighbourhood where there are a lot of houses that have yet to be fixed up properly.”
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