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Ydessa Hendeles spent decades renovating her mansion. ‘I tried to make it look as if I did nothing to it, but I did everything to it’

Home of the Week, 5 Hawthorn Gardens, Toronto. Asking price: $15.9-million. Built as a country house on the edge of a ravine in the last years of the 1800s, the home was renovated in 1931 to add a ballroom. It is now owned by curator and art collector Ydessa Hendeles, who has spent 25 years perfecting it.

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In the traditional Rosedale manner, the home has an understated appearance from the street. While in reality it measures close to 15,000 square feet, much of that scale is hidden behind the neoclassical Georgian façade.

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With four bedrooms, seven bathrooms, grand principal rooms, an east and west library, a handful of sunrooms and several sitting rooms and studies under one roof, the rejuvenation of the house was a huge undertaking. All the while Ms. Hendeles kept in mind the original vision of architect Eustace Bird. 'I was busy getting into the head of the architect,' she says. 'I really wasn’t into gentrification or a socialite’s home.'

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Ms. Hendeles called on the help of an architect renowned for his work in the Georgian style, the late Gordon Ridgely. She envisioned a comfortable home where she could hold spirited salons with her artist friends. “I tried to make it look as if I did nothing to it, but I did everything to it.' She updated all of the wiring and plumbing but preserved the interior of the house, which combines the elements of the Arts and Crafts movement with Beaux Arts.

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'The materiality of the house is at such a high level, you can’t make a house like that anymore,’ says Ms. Hendeles. She kept the radiators but also added air conditioning and forced air. The former ballroom became the main living room. ‘The house has a very strong personality. It tells you what it wants and what it doesn’t want. It doesn’t put up with much frou-frou.’

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Ms. Hendeles wanted to retain the Arts and Crafts sensibility that places the kitchen and its hearth at the centre of the home. An addition was built to provide a new kitchen with soaring ceilings and a gallery above. The original walls of the house were so solid that she was able to have the kitchen cantilevered over the ravine. 'It’s just this majestic grand dame over the valley.'

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With experience in kitchen design and a love of cooking, Ms. Hendeles installed an AGA range, imported from Britain, which she prefers for baking, and a French-made La Cornue for broiling. 'It also spoke to the story of the house – that is, French and English,' she says of the two ranges.

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The five refrigerators are custom-made with the same technology used in sushi fridges. Food lasts longer and doesn’t dry out, she says. The actual systems are in the basement so that the kitchen remains quiet. The marble floor tiles match those found originally in part of the dining room, while the large island is topped with marble book-ended four ways.

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On the second floor, the master suite includes a sitting room, bedroom, sun room and a marble-clad bathroom. Ms. Hendeles built the bathroom around an antique shower, which she found in New York. 'It’s the most amazing thing to experience,' she says of the surrounding spray. 'It’s really magic.' The roomy solid porcelain tub takes only eight minutes to fill because of the new plumbing systems, she adds.

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One of two libraries.

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A secluded corner or the yard.

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