10 ELLIS GARDENS, TORONTO
ASKING PRICE: $2.575-million
TAXES: $11,645.13 (2013)
LOT SIZE: 47 by 120 feet
AGENT: Andrea Morrison (Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd.)
The back story
Many Torontonians have visited High Park's Grenadier Pond to see the swans and their cygnets in the spring or to skate on the frozen surface in winter.
But far fewer have made the hop across Ellis Road to the more secluded West Pond.
Like Grenadier Pond, the small and slender body of water is surrounded by parkland and houses. It also accommodates skaters in winter and nesting families of swans in the spring.
On Ellis Gardens, the houses on the north side of the street sit along the curve of the pond's southern tip.
For years, Melanie Wickens and Paul Marchildon lived on the south side of Ellis Gardens, waiting for a house to come up for sale on the north.
Eventually, they gave up and moved out of the neighbourhood, but they always kept their eye on the little enclave in Swansea.
One house came and went while they were adjusting to life with a newborn baby.
But when a second house arrived on the market a couple of years later, they were ready to move.
They bought the small bungalow and had it torn down to make way for a new four-bedroom house.
The house today
The couple didn't look far for an architect: Not only is Tim Wickens Ms. Wickens' brother, he had previously designed the couple's cottage on Georgian Bay.
Mr. Wickens, who specializes in residential architecture, faced a couple of significant challenges.
One was the building site's location next to a pond, which means that the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority had to approve the project, along with City of Toronto's department of Urban Forestry. Acquiring permits was a lengthy process.
"There are a lot of rules around water and slopes," Mr. Wickens said.
The backyard's gentle descent to the water's edge is actually considered a ravine, he explains.
To ensure that the house would never shift or sag, they built it on the type of helical piers that more typically support a commercial building or condominium tower.
"There's a fortress underneath the building," Mr. Wickens said. "It's kind of an indestructible thing."
The second challenge Mr. Wickens faced was combining Ms. Wickens' love for traditional elements with Mr. Marchildon's preference for a modern residence.
Since Mr. Wickens also has a bent for Modernism, the house was always going to be tilted that way, but he also wanted to make his sister happy.
The two spent a lot of time driving around together, looking at the grand Edwardian and Arts and Crafts houses of High Park.
"That's part of my job, to look at what the inspiration is for them," says the architect.
Mr. Wickens talked with his sister to find out what she found appealing about traditional houses.
When she said "traditional," she was envisioning a house that would feel warm and welcoming and domestic and protective, he interpreted.
In traditional houses, rooms are more often closed off and separate from each other. Traditional houses don't have walls of floor-to-ceiling glass.
Ms. Wickens agreed that she wanted openness and spaciousness and light and, in that sense, she did prefer the interconnected dining room and living room and kitchen typical of modern architecture.
"These are things that everyone wants these days," Mr. Wickens said.
The architect satisfied her desire for a modern house with a warm feeling by adding elements such as a wooden staircase and banister instead of steel and glass, for example.
"It's a very clean version of a traditional way to make a stair."
He had a wall of closets built into the front hallway but the doors have Shaker-style panels instead of flat. The fireplace was placed at the centre of the house and surrounded by cut field stone instead of the large slabs of polished stone that Mr. Wickens first presented.
"The double-sided fireplace is extremely traditional but in a way very modern," he says.
A separate family room can be left open as part of the main floor space or closed off with sliding pocket doors.
"I think that part of building a good, open space is knowing when to close off a room."
The U-shaped kitchen provides an outlook over the pond and into the dining room. Ms. Wickens finds that the marble-topped counters feel warm and modern at the same time and blend well with the stainless steel.
Tall wood cabinets and a built-in china cabinet also provide lots of storage.
"We spent a lot of time planning the kitchen," Ms. Wickens said. "It's very efficient."
Hidden behind the kitchen is a side entrance to a mud room with many more built-in closets.
"The mud room seems to be high on the list of priorities for families," Mr. Wickens said.
Upstairs, the master suite occupies the back of the house. A wall of windows has a view of the trees, pond and parkland, but a low bookcase below the window prevents the room from feeling too exposed.
"The master suite has that kind of privileged view down this long length of the pond," Mr. Wickens says.
The bathroom and closet are combined in one volume to keep it separate from the sleeping area.
The large spa bathtub under the window provides a place to relax while taking in the view. A door leads to an outdoor terrace where Ms. Wickens and Mr. Marchildon can feel as if they're stepping outside into the treetops.
The couple's children, Sophie and Sam, each have bedrooms at the front of the house.
Those bedrooms were designed to feel special in their own way, Mr. Wickens says, with built-in desks and large play areas. The dormer in Sam's room creates a sloping ceiling that makes the bedroom feel more cozy, he adds. "The dormer drops down to make you feel a little more protected on the inside."
Outside, the exterior was also made to appear more traditional so that it would blend in with other houses in the neighbourhood and also let the occupants feel less exposed.
"Some of it was about a big roof that kind of protected the house," Mr. Wickens said. "For the street it's a very big house but it doesn't feel as big."
On the lower level, the basement provides space for a recreation room and home gym, along with a laundry room and a room that could be a fifth bedroom.
Now that the house is complete, Ms. Wickens finds that the wood trim, pocket doors and banister give the modern house the warmth that she yearned for.
"Those are reminiscent of my grandparents' place growing up," Ms. Wickens said.
She enjoys spending time in the kitchen while Sophie and Sam do their homework or work on crafts at the dining table nearby.
Looking out, they often spot lovely birds, including the great blue heron and the night heron.
"We actually see quite a lot of really beautiful wildlife," Ms. Wickens said.
Real estate agent Andrea Morrison of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd. believes the house is best suited to a family that wants to be close to High Park and the waterfront. She points out that the kids can put on their skates in the backyard and step right onto the ice. "It's really designed for family living."
The best feature
Visitors arriving to the front door immediately catch a glimpse down the hallway to the large room at the rear of the house and the water beyond.
"There was an idea to give a preview of what's going to happen. You get a slice of it," Mr. Wickens said. "As you come down the hallway, it becomes very horizontal and panoramic."
The hallway leads to the sunken living space at the rear.
"The back was all about giving them as much overlook as possible of the pond."
With the kitchen, dining area and living room all facing the rear, the family always feels connected to the landscape. A walk-out leads to a large deck with an outdoor fireplace.
"In some ways this room manages the topography," Mr. Wickens said. "Instead of walking outside and dropping into the landscape, there's no significant disconnect from the landscape and I think that's an important thing."