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the architourist

Revolutionaries usually have a signature look: a snazzy uniform or red beret, a jaunty scarf or maybe a cool scar. Their revolutions can take a few months or a few years, but the new order they seek is implemented within hours of victory.

Larry Gaudet and Alison Smith don't have cool scars and, if they do own scarves or berets, they don't wear them every day. And you might pass their architects, Superkül's Margaret Graham and Andre D'Elia, on the street without a second look. Yet this foursome is leading a street-level, real estate revolution that threatens the city's old, prim-and-proper order.

It may take decades, but, one by one, underutilized inner city commercial-residential buildings are being called upon to dust themselves off and join the front line wearing any number of uniforms - from architecture firm to fine furniture store to art gallery.

For Mr. Gaudet and Ms. Smith, it's the Alison Smith Gallery at 1410 Dundas St. West ( http://www.alisonsmithgallery.ca).

"We need much more of a culture of this," offers Mr. Gaudet, a novelist. "A culture of understanding about urban life that isn't romantic and driven by interior design and graphic design, it needs to be much more on the street and about how people really live and work [which is] a bit rougher."

Once a bulk food store, the ground floor gallery and its street façade are anything but rough. Rather, Superkül Inc. Architect has executed a slick teak-window-and-cement-board remake of a dowdy two-storey brick building into, says Mr. D'Elia, "a little point of pause" on a somewhat rough stretch of Dundas near Gladstone. What's actually rough is that the basement and second floor - where the couple and their two young boys live - have not been renovated and the "courtyard" between the main building and the two-car tandem garage on the long property is a weedy concrete wasteland.

But all that will change ... in time. For now, it's more important to get the building working for them (and the revolution) by spending "a good portion of the budget" on the public face. And while Mr. Gaudet is only too happy to show his dated living quarters to kindred soldiers - "You jerry-rig things up and it's totally fine since what life's about is who you're with; that little kitchen is 80 square feet and the best parts of the day are spent in there" - he'd rather wax poetic about how Superkül is going to transform the 3,400-square-foot building, slowly, as his family grows and changes.

There's talk of blowing the garage away completely and building a two-storey writer's retreat outbuilding that will connect to the main building by a bridge so the boys can play on its green roof. Adding a dual-balconied third-storey master bedroom to the main building, so the second floor can become one big living-cooking-dining space, is also a strategy. When the boys, now 7 and 10, become young men, perhaps they'll occupy the basement, since it's already equipped with a kitchen. And, decades from now, when Mr. Gaudet and Ms. Smith have retired to Nova Scotia and their kids are out conquering the world, the basement apartment and main floor retail space can be rented out while the family uses the upper floors as a pied-à-terre when they visit Toronto. Or maybe one son will run his own business here: "It's for them, ultimately," says Mr. Gaudet as he looks down and musses up his youngest boy's hair.

The mixed-use zoning makes this flexibility possible and, as any old warhorse knows, flexibility in battle keeps one's foes on their toes.

It also helps to have allies: In 2007, Chestnut Park Real Estate's Jill and Bill Parlee introduced Mr. Gaudet and Ms. Smith to Mr. D'Elia and Ms. Graham when they sensed the couple was looking to do much the same thing the Superkül principals (also their clients) had done with their own live-work building at 2208 Dundas St. West (profiled in this space in February 2008). The tools of the revolution were all there - the third-storey sleeping quarters, the cozy courtyard, the flexible future - so a partnership was forged between the foursome and a battle-plan was drawn up once a building two kilometres to the east of Superkül's was purchased.

This is, however, one coup that will meet with resistance from the cobwebby old order, as these things must. Much like Mr. Gaudet's and Ms. Smith's building, which tucks back into its long lot at about 75 degrees rather than the usual 90 (the new bay window follows this line), it's a cockeyed view of how residences will work in Richard Florida's creative-class city of the twenty-first century. Explains Ms. Graham: "I think there's a huge potential market for this kind of stuff because demographics are changing, more people are working out of their house, people have larger families, extended families - there are just a lot of different ways of living and our housing stock isn't set up to accommodate that."

But, as more and more savvy purchasers realize that what buys a downtown Victorian semi can also buy a piece of the revolution, they'll answer the call to arms.

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