Globe Real Estate is following the construction of a new 2,700 sq.-ft home in an Etobicoke neighbourhood that’s become, like many Toronto residential enclaves, a hotbed of demolition and rebuilding activity.
Over a month after they moved in, Tory Crowder and Shawn Thomas’s almost-completed Etobicoke home definitely has that new house smell, although the early scuffs and imperfections – a mysteriously scratched bit of kitchen flooring, a smear of fingerprints on the glass railing upstairs – still kind of jump off the page.
Elsewhere, an inadvertent splatter of cheap craft paint on the Cambria counter top in the kitchen ably proved the counter manufacturer’s claim about stain resistance.
As Ms. Crowder says brightly: “We haven’t wrecked anything yet.”
But besides the necessary confrontation between life with kids and the cool perfection of an unused house with a minimalist modernist feel, Ms. Crowder, a communications consultant, and Mr. Thomas, a wealth adviser, have found themselves grappling with another inevitability: how and where their old furniture finds a place in these crisp new spaces.
At the moment, the centrepiece of the should-it-stay-or-should-it-go debate is a scratched but nonetheless elegant mid-century modern sideboard, which has landed, for the time being, in the middle of their living room/family room.
Low slung and made from a sensuously grainy auburn wood, the sideboard is anything but an heirloom or an antique store treasure, Ms. Crowder admits. “Not much of a back story. It came from Goodwill.”
She loved to frequent the thrift shop for precisely these kinds of interesting cast-offs. Of the sideboard, Ms. Crowder shrugs. “People either hate it or love it.”
In some newly built homes, decisions about predecessor furniture, particularly objects destined for the most public spaces, are straightforward. Either the old furnishings make no sense in their new surroundings, or the upgrade presents an opportunity to get rid of objects that have grown long in the tooth.
But as Ms. Crowder points out, the decision is more complicated when that older furniture has become trendy again, as is the case with mid-century modern, or unexpectedly sort of works in a new space.
The couple did order a large custom-made dining room table and got a set of sleek modernist dining room chairs as a house-warming gift from Ms. Crowder’s parents. Both express or amplify the modernist feel of the architecture and interiors.
Elsewhere on the open-concept main floor, an old area rug, with an abstract geometrical design, is a keeper because its black-and-white edges match the colour scheme in the kitchen.
The low-slung couch in the living room is a place-holder, although the decision about its replacement has yet to be made.
“I can’t help but think this room is screaming for an old-school black leather sectional,” Ms. Crowder muses as she takes in the tableau. “But we’re staying away from that because when people come over, no one ever knows where to sit.”
The sideboard’s fate, in other words, is up in the air. It could be sanded and refinished, with an eye to remaining at ground zero of their main floor. It could get a somewhat less full-throated refurbishment and land in Ms. Crowder’s office. Or it could follow the well-trodden path of a lot of cast-off furniture and head downstairs.
Ms. Crowder would prefer to keep it upstairs. Mr. Thomas, not so much.
“He does not like this,” she says. “He’s one of the haters.” (So are her parents.)
They’ve taken a more practical, and cost-conscious, approach to upstairs rooms, which are less expressive of the home’s main aesthetic ideas. Mr. Thomas stripped and repainted some of the furniture in the children’s bedrooms so it matches newly painted walls. Several other coveted thrift store finds – like Ms. Crowder’s desk and vinyl covered office chair, which will end up in a pool-house/home office in the backyard – won’t be affected by the furniture triage.
What’s clear is that the fraught process of moving in is like breaking in a pair of new shoes: time-consuming, and accompanied by a certain amount of discomfort. In the interim, many other items from their previous home are still waiting to learn their fate. For now, much of that stuff lives next to the furnace downstairs, either temporarily or in that form of domestic perpetuity encouraged by spacious storage rooms.
Says Ms. Crowder: “There’s a lot of junk down here right now, that’s for sure.
Because the front of the house has broad basement windows and a low driveway, there wasn’t space for terraced landscaping around the entrance; nor did Ms. Crowder and Ms. Thomas want a “heavy,” front porch, says architect Graham Smith, a principal at Altius Architecture.
His proposed solution: a set of three slabs that appear to float up to the glass front door, supported only by the plantings beneath these steps.
The light structure is supported by so-called “helical” tubes that are effectively screwed into the disturbed ground outside the front foundation wall, with enough depth and torque to stably support the weight of the steps.
Each square slab is constructed from a steel frame pan that contains poured concrete and pavers – in the case of this home, exterior porcelain tiles. Because the ground beneath this structure is built up slightly, the height remains less than two feet, so a guardrail isn’t required. (Two light handrails will be affixed to the steps.)
The one construction wrinkle was that the first two steps had a slight wobble, so Mr. Smith suggested a welding link between them to add stability. With the planting beneath, the steps will retain their gravity-defying appearance.
More in this series
Part 1: The first stages