68 DOVERCOURT RD., TORONTO
The back story
This narrow townhouse in the Beaconsfield Village neighbourhood comes with an oversized pedigree. It is the birthplace of Beatrice Lillie, the late great Tony Award-winning actress who made her name on both sides of the Atlantic playing on stage and in films during the early part of the 20th century. Among her friends were Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. Her husband was Sir Robert Peel, great-grandson of the former British politician of the same name. The marriage enabled Beatrice Lillie to be known in her private life as Lady Peel, a considerable step up from her humble origins in this house at the corner of Dovercourt Road and Queen Street West.
For almost a century, her birth home has hardly boasted of its connection to either fame or grandeur. It has exited as it might been in Lillie's day – as a dark and dank Victorian with a warren of tiny rooms.
Last year, after being purchased for around $565,000 by Ahmadreza Rouhani and Mahyar Nourbakhsh as a tear down, the property underwent a transformation finally making it worthy of a grand dame. Agent Laleh Rouhani is the daughter of the owners and she says her family wanted to take a traditional home and make it new again.
"It belonged to an actress," she says. "It's got history and is an up-and-coming area."
With the support of architect Reza Aliabadi of Toronto firm RZLBD, the family gutted the building down to the brick before rebuilding it into a 2,500-square-foot residence with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a finished basement with kitchenette. The objective was a loft-style contemporary family home nodding ever so slightly in the direction of the building's Victorian origins: exposed brick combined with an open-concept interior.
"The house was bought from a Portuguese family who lived there at the time. It wasn't derelict, but basically they tore down the whole house and built it from scratch," explains the couple's other daughter, Pouneh Rouhani. "Everything except for the exterior walls is new in this house. Everything from the electrical to the joists was changed." The renovation spanned almost six months, and cost approximately $400,000. Hardwood flooring was added throughout in addition to reclaimed lumber finishes such as the sliding barn doors located in the basement. The new custom kitchen has a CesarStone countertop and built-in Sub-Zero appliances. To fill the house with light, the Rouhani family introduced large, condo-sized windows to the interior as well as custom built floor-to-ceiling glass walls and corridors. "It's now very bright and open," continues Laleh Rouhani. "Before, it was closed and old and musty."
"My favourite part of the house is definitely its dreamy master bedroom and its access to the private deck," says Pouneh Rouhani. Her sister, meanwhile, likes the finished basement: "Originally, I wanted there to be a separate apartment, but the architect said the basement should connect to the whole house, and so it now plays two roles." Which might just be as Beatrice Lillie would have wanted.