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The Globe and Mail

Home of the Week: Architect Jack Diamond reflects on his home of almost 50 years

37 Glenrose Ave., Toronto
Asking price :
Taxes: $14,775.48 (2013)
Lot size: 54.25 by 138.67 feet
Agents: James Warren and Sheila Waengler (Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.)

The back story

In 1965, A.J. (Jack) Diamond and his wife Gillian were recent immigrants to Canada when they became the owners of a large Victorian-era house in Toronto’s Moore Park. The house, built in 1892, had been badly neglected.

“I thought I was going to go broke,” recalls Mr. Diamond, who was just setting out on a career in architecture at the time.

Still, to Mr. Diamond’s eye, the dwelling’s good bones were apparent beneath the decrepitude. The red brick structure was solid; the ceilings were 10 feet high, and the back garden faced south to the sun. He liked the fact that he wouldn’t be paying for a previous owner’s renovations.

“It was in terrible shape, which for an architect is ideal.”

Alex Rothe

A history of Moore Park shows that the house was one of the first two built by the chartered accountant John Thomas Moore. who set out to create a sub-division in a park-like setting “filled with roses and flowering shrubs”. The first owner of 32 Glenrose Ave., was Elizabeth McElroy, whose husband was a dry goods salesman. who went on to open his own shop, and The family stayed in the house until 1936.

The Diamonds later heard stories of the memorable parties held in the house through the years of the first World War. By the 1940s, however - during the time of World War II - it had been turned into a rooming house.

The Diamonds didn’t have a lot of money to spend on restoring the house during their early years they lived there. The renovations unfolded over time, as the couple raised two children and the firm of A.J. Diamond & Partners grew in size and prominence.

In 1975, Mr. Diamond co-founded Diamond Schmitt Architects, which has become known around the globe for signature buildings in cities such as Toronto, Montreal, Washington, Jerusalem and St. Petersburg. Mr. Diamond is also a resolute civic activist who takes on the urban planning issues shaping Toronto.

Over that time, the Diamonds have travelled the world, built houses in Nova Scotia and the Caribbean, and become grandparents to four boys. Mr. Diamond has been named a Royal Architectural Institute of Canada gold medalist and an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Throughout those 49 years, Glenrose Avenue has remained the couple’s Toronto home.

Alex Rothe

Alex Rothe

Alex Rothe

The house today

Guests arrive to a cobblestone driveway, a façade of brick and sandstone, a covered porch, and a genial Mr. Diamond opening the front door. The architect launches into a tour by explaining that home’s original footprint was much smaller.

The most substantial renovation was an addition that created a large living room with a door leading to an outdoor stone terrace. He had a large bay window taken from the west wall and repositioned in the new rear wall facing the garden.

When the house was built, there were no neighbours, and therefore no privacy issues, Mr. Diamond points out.

He reconfigured the house to create more privacy on the north side facing the street while opening up the south side to the sunlight, air and the garden.

The addition also allowed him to create a gallery leading to a coat closet and hidden powder room.

Alex Rothe

Alex Rothe

Alex Rothe

An earlier renovation had already removed a servants’ staircase that blocked the circulation on the ground floor. At the same time, Mr. Diamond slightly shifted the position of the main staircase. The change allowed him to create a passageway connecting the kitchen and the dining room.

The residence’s original living room is now the dining room, where Mr. Diamond placed two glass panels in the door. When the Diamonds hold catered dinner parties, the caterers can quietly keep an eye on things without interrupting.

“Somebody - without disturbing anybody - can see whether we’re ready for the next course.”

The kitchen was enlarged over the years and an old summer kitchen was replaced with a conservatory that serves as a breakfast room. Top-hung windows keep the rain out and allow the breeze to come in. A door leads to the garden terrace.

“Well, I call it a breakfast room but we have breakfast, lunch and dinner there,” he says. “We usually only use the dining room for dinner parties.”

He adds that the area could just as easily be used as a main-floor family room.

Alex Rothe

Alex Rothe

Whether he’s designing a hospital or a library or an opera house, the architect explains, he’s creating a building for a use outside his area of expertise.

When he refers to such buildings, he is talking about such projects as the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, the Life Sciences Complex at McGill University in Montreal and the New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“In that case you listen carefully.”

When it came to designing the kitchen, his wife is a very good cook, he says, so he listened closely to her.

The work triangle minimizes steps, the shelves are open for quick access to ingredients, and an island stands at the centre.

Mr. Diamond continues the tour on the second floor. On the way up the staircase, he points out a family portrait by Canadian realist painter Lynn Donoghue. Most of the artwork in the house is by Canadian artists, he says.

Mr. Diamond’s own watercolours – painted during his travels – are framed and hung throughout.

A second-floor bedroom opens to a secluded deck built atop the addition. It’s the best place in the house for early-evening cocktails, Mr. Diamond says. Tucked in between the two chimney stacks is an outdoor shower. “It’s wonderful,” says Mr. Diamond, who says he adores having an outdoor shower whenever he has the opportunity.

In the bedroom, he points out the genuine shutters that can be adjusted at the end of the day.

“The room will have lovely character with the western light. The old house has these wonderful properties I love.”

Also on this floor is Mr. Diamond’s study. It’s painted in a warm colour in keeping with his practice of choosing warm colours for north-facing rooms. He works in front of the window at a Victorian-era drawing board. He refurbished the original handmade tiles in the fireplace surround.

Mr. Diamond gestures towards a group photograph taken during his years at Oxford University and jokes that his career has been all downhill since then. Born in South Africa, he received a masters in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford, and also met his wife there.

The home’s third floor has become is the master suitenow that the Diamonds’ son and daughter have long since left. The husband and wife each have their own dressing room and there’s an ensuite bathroom.

“You can lie in the bath and watch the stars,” he says, gesturing to the skylight above. “I care about natural light and all of the ways of bringing it in.”

Back downstairs, Mr. Diamond heads outside to the garden. The 17-by-34-foot salt water pool is surrounded by red bricks to match the exterior of the house. A carved concrete diving board was taken from the original Dominion Bank.

From the back of the garden, Mr. Diamond looks back towards the house. For the addition, he obtained the last load of the red bricks used in the construction of the house from the Don Valley Brick Works.

The addition also allowed him to create an underground garage with access into the lower level of the house. That’s a true luxury in winter, he says, and also allows him to bring wine from the car straight to the basement wine cellar.

Mr. Diamond says the urge to renovate is “an occupational hazard,” but the house has evolved to serve a family well. “It’s been a wonderful house to bring up children. It’s been marvelous for that.”

The couple now finds it suits them well as empty nesters but they need to look to the future.

“We can sit on the deck upstairs for the evening sun. We can dine in a lot of places,” he says. “I think those choices really are what makes this house wonderful.”

The best feature

The large living room has beautiful proportions, says Mr. Diamond.

“Too often architects lay out rooms without considering the social dimension.”

In this case, the fireplace at one end of the room serves as a focal point, and the furniture is laid out to create an intimate group for conversation.

The secret, says Mr. Diamond, is to group the furniture around the fireplace at one end of the room so that no one will pass through and disturb the group.

“You can’t walk through that space so it feels cozy because it is a dead end.”

The other end of the room has a separate seating area with a door leading to the terrace, which is an extension of the living room.

The south-facing windows bring in the sun and the view of the garden.

“The natural light clearly is important.”

Now that the Diamonds have decided to move on, the architect hopes 37 Glenrose will become another family’s long-time home.

“I think whomever gets it is incredibly lucky – I hope they love it as much as we do.”

Alex Rothe

Sean Liliani

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