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In the late 1800s architect Eustace Bird designed 5 Hawthorn Gardens as a country house on the edge of a ravine.

Photos by Mitch Fain


Asking price: $15.9-million

Taxes: $55,520.38 (2013)

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Lot size: 100 by 287 feet

Agents: Elise Kalles (Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd.) and Jimmy Molloy (Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.)

The back story

The house that stands at 5 Hawthorn Gardens in Rosedale was built as a country house on the edge of a ravine in the last years of the 1800s, says the current owner, artist Ydessa Hendeles.

The architect, Eustace Bird, was also the designer of 2 King St. East and the Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Factory on Dufferin Street.

In 1931, the house was owned by Arthur White, who hired the firm of Mathers and Haldenby to do some renovations, including the addition of a ballroom.

"The Whites put on a layer of glamour," says Ms. Hendeles.

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The house was featured in Saturday Night magazine that year.

The house today Ms. Hendeles first visited the house in a secluded Rosedale cul-de-sac when she attended a party in honour of the artist Guido Molinari in the 1970s.

The atmosphere made her think of Cinderella at the ball, she recalls. Car jockeys ferried automobiles, musicians played, revellers moved from room to room, and the music flowed through the open doors into the courtyard.

"It was really decadent," she recalls.

Ms. Hendeles was born in Germany and moved to Canada at a young age. Her late father was a builder. "He built the first skyscrapers in Toronto."

During her youth, she says, she rebelled against her affluent upbringing by becoming an artist.

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By the late 1980s, Ms. Hendeles says, she tempered her rebellion and established the Ydessa Hendeles Foundation in Toronto. Her exhibitions and her collection of avant-garde works by international artists established her as a curator known around the world.

In 1988 she bought the house at 5 Hawthorn Gardens, which she remembered from the grand party she had attended there. Over the years, the house had become somewhat tired.

"It was a grande dame. I just wanted to rescue her somehow," recalls Ms. Hendeles.

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.

Ms. Hendeles spent the next 25 years on the refurbishment. All the while she kept in mind the original vision of Mr. Bird. "I was busy getting into the head of the architect," she says. "I really wasn't into gentrification or a socialite's home."

She liked that the house, in the traditional Rosedale manner, had 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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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. I painstakingly did it in a 19th century way."

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.

"It has the best of the two movements," she says, explaining that the main kitchen and bathroom provide both French glamour and English exactitude. "I like the charm and the rigour."

She points to the sternness of the coat hall, which reminds her of a school's cloakroom. Wood panelling, wooden radiator covers and ceilings have all been preserved. In some rooms, the ceilings are carved from solid blocks of wood.

"The materiality of the house is at such a high level, you can't make a house like that anymore."

Ms. Hendeles kept the radiators but also added air conditioning and forced air. The former ballroom became the main living room.

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"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."

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.

Ms. Hendeles did hold many of the gatherings of artists that she had imagined. But she found that visitors were so intrigued by the residence that they often wanted talk about its history and her renovations instead of exploring the world of ideas. "The house itself became so much the object that the salons changed. The house became a work of art that people had questions about."

One conversation piece is the secret third-floor studio. To reach it, Ms. Hendeles would climb the twisting staircase to a gallery overlooking the west library. There, a gentle push on a wooden bookshelf would open an entranceway to the sanctuary hidden behind a wall of books.

"I was able to be in a separate world in the treetops," she says. At the end of the day, "there was a kind of a magical feeling coming down the spiral stairs."

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Ms. Hendeles now splits her time between the storied Dakota co-operative in New York and her studio in Toronto, where she is working on her next art installation. The New York apartment's architecture and character have the feel of the Rosedale house on a smaller scale, she says.

During her time at Hawthorn Gardens, she says, she felt embraced by the house, which also served as her muse. "There's a kind of lyricism in moving from room to room."

The best feature

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."

With experience in kitchen design and a love of cooking, she 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.

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.

She imagined entering the kitchen as a breathtaking experience. "I wanted that cathartic 'oh wow'. Not in an intimidating way, but welcoming. The arms open up."

As the sun moves around the house, it illuminates the kitchen and ends the day with its light beaming into the adjacent dining room.

"The sun just shines right in on that table – an actual shard of light. That used to make me very, very happy."

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