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home of the week


WHAT: A detached three-storey Victorian close to Toronto's Yorkville district. The designated heritage building has three bedrooms and five bathrooms, and is built on a 27- by 138-foot lot.

LIVING SPACE: 2,900 square feet, excluding a 1,100-square-foot finished basement with seven-foot ceilings.

ASKING PRICE: $2.795-million

TAXES: $11, 242.76 (2008)

AGENT: Russell Pearsall, Forest Hill Real Estate Inc.

Anative Montrealer, Noni Rabinovitch grew up within walking distance of shops, restaurants and a vibrant night life. When she moved to Toronto years ago for work, she was determined to maintain a similar downtown lifestyle, opting for a house just steps away from the bustling cross streets of Bloor Street and Avenue Road.

"You're close to the best of everything the city has to offer," says Ms. Rabinovitch, who worked in advertising before recently making a career change to become an elementary school teacher.

Her real estate investor husband, Daniel Schonberg, adds: "It's why real estate here is so expensive. Lowther and [nearby]Elgin [Avenue]are said to be streets with the most expensive residential real estate, per front foot, in all of Canada."

Part of a row of houses built more than a century ago in what was then Yorkville village, now on the fringe of Toronto's coveted Annex district, the 1888 home occupies a posh tree-lined street with its own share of bright light city action.

This is where stars - staying at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel during the annual fall run of the Toronto International Film Festival - languidly stroll between screenings at neighbourhood cinemas, and where movies themselves are shot. It is where Keanu Reeves once lived, and where a number of other high-profile Torontonians in culture, sport and finance still call home.

Ms. Rabinovitch is no stranger to celebrity herself, being one of three daughters born to Jack Rabinovitch, founder of the Giller Prize literary award. Ms. Rabinovitch has played host in her house to publishers such as Anna Porter and critics such as Robert Fulford. On the mantel in her dining room is the bronze Giller Prize statue by Montreal artist Yehouda Chaki, a long-time family friend. One of his colourful paintings also decorates a wall, in addition to other original Canadian artworks.

The home's downtown vibe is in stark contrast to its origins as a rural property built on what was once a sprawling farmland estate, and said to have first belonged to the resident saddle maker. Little inside the house remains of the historic past. Soon after the birth of their child in 2001, Ms. Rabinovitch and Mr. Schonberg initiated an extensive renovation of the property, transforming the interior from a warren of tiny rooms into the open concept home it is today.

"It was a great house before," Mr. Schonberg allows. "But it was an adult house, filled with formal, compartmentalized rooms that my wife said prevented her from having an unobstructed view of our daughter from the front of the house through to the rear. She wanted a main floor as a family room, and so we opened it up, tearing down most of the back of the house."

Out went a second staircase, and in its place is a large (21- by 12-foot) eat-in custom Bellini kitchen with a walkout to a cedar deck, a side addition with a new main-floor powder room and a light-saturated mud room outfitted with radiant heat limestone floors.

In the adjacent family room are hardwood floors, as well as a fireplace, a built-in entertainment unit and custom desk topped with granite.

Interior designer Harvey Wise incorporated a large architectural arch into the open concept area, creating a sense of visual drama in a room whose purpose is utilitarian and family-oriented.

While new, the arch dovetails well with handcrafted details on the remaining original staircase, carved out of wood in the Arts and Crafts style.

Also created to look as if it could have been part of the original house is a stained glass window in the front foyer, sporting a Mondrianesque design of geometric coloured panels.

On the second floor, the master bedroom was expanded to include a large sitting room, once site of the laundry room, since relocated to the finished basement. The newly renovated master ensuite includes a tile-encased soaker tub, walk-in shower and walkout to a private balcony.

Also on this floor is the library, with a series of built-ins showcasing a blizzard of family photos, all behind glass.

"I call it my Hall of Frame," says Ms. Rabinovitch, seen in several of the photos holding her daughter.

She was the reason the couple renovated the house, and she's the reason they're now leaving.

The plan is to move uptown, far from the centre of Toronto's urban universe, where children can go out and play, shielded from city traffic.

"I'll miss the buzz, for sure," Ms. Rabinovitch sighs. "But I've reached the point where I want more tranquillity in my life. I don't want to see another taxicab idling outside my front door for a good long while."

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