27 WELLS HILL AVE., TORONTO
Asking price: $2,495,000
Taxes: $9,000 (2012)
Lot size: 30 feet by 161.65 feet
Agents: Phyllis Keller, Sage Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage
The back story
With the multitude of cranes crowding Toronto's skyline, it's easy to forget that the city still has a number of beautiful old homes, tucked away in pockets. One of them is 27 Wells Hill Ave., which is nestled in Toronto's oak-studded Casa Loma neighbourhood near St. Clair Avenue West and Bathurst Street.
The home has an impressive history. The 21/2-storey building was built in 1911, the same year as the construction of Casa Loma began.
In 1959, the house immediately to the north was the residence of famed philosopher Marshall McLuhan, says agent Phyllis Keller.
The house has been occupied as a single family residence, except during two periods; in 1928-1929 it was vacant – deemed too expensive – and from 1955 to 1972, when it was divided up into apartments. Then a family headed by academics took ownership and returned the house to a single-family dwelling.
In 2010, the matriarch of the family was too old to remain in the house by herself and about a year later, Kate Prevedello saw the "For Sale" sign while riding down the quiet street on her bike.
"As soon as I saw the house, I called Phyllis," says Ms. Prevedello. "She told me she had just put the sign out an hour before."
Ms. Prevedello realized that the building, at 100 years old, would require some work. A good thing then that she also happens to be president of a construction company, Prevedello Design Build.
Ms. Prevedello has built several new homes, including an ultra-modern home on nearby Robert St., but 27 Wells Hill presented a new challenge: revitalizing a beautiful house without losing its sense of history or its external façade.
"Even though the house was very well kept, very clean, everything inside of it was old," says Ms. Prevedello. "The floors were all drooping, everything was sagging, but the bones were well maintained."
Getting to the good bones wasn't easy. The demolition part of the renovation took two months alone.
"The walls and ceilings were all plaster," says Ms. Prevedello. "And there were nails every inch along the lath and plaster, so taking all of those out took a lot of time."
Once the bones were bare, Ms. Prevedello reinforced them, replaced the wooden joists with steel ones and replaced the radiator heating system with forced air. She also opened up a lot of the spaces. On the main floor, she removed some walls to create a large, warm space that connects the living room, dining room, kitchen and family room.
All through the renovation, Ms. Prevedello struggled with how much of the old to keep, always wanting to preserve the house's Arts and Crafts aesthetic. But the definitive moment that tipped the balance towards a total rejuvenation was when she decided to remove the dark stained-glass windows from the stairwell.
"I felt like if I kept the stained glass by the stairs I would have kept a few more original pieces around the house to tie it all in, but just leaving them would have seemed so out of place," she says.
But even with the decision to go completely new on the inside, Ms. Prevedello paid homage to the original design with small details, such as the warm oak hardwood flooring, the handcrafted Algonquin and Escarpment stones in the front foyer and the square archway bridging the living room to the dining room.
Ms. Prevedello describes this blended style as "transitional" – not quite contemporary but not totally traditional either.
The best features
Ms. Prevedello also gave the backyard a facelift. The native plants that were overgrown and consuming the back half of the long, narrow property were trimmed back. The pea gravel was swept up and moulded to form a winding trail.
Small rocks were used to define discreet growing areas around the massive original oaks that provide not only beautiful foliage but also privacy to the backyard and the rooms on the east side of the house. Ms. Prevedello also added a walkout cedar terrace on the third floor and a spacious deck on the main floor.
Ms. Prevedello says the greenery surrounding the home is one of its best features.
The master suite takes full advantage of the beauty in the backyard with a picture window that runs almost the full length of the wall.
"The view and greenery outside the window [in the master bedroom] is gorgeous," says Ms. Prevedello. "To be able to wake up to that … would be fantastic."
"It's a lovely balance of internal and external space," says Ms. Keller. "It's what makes this home so unique."