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  • 2 Ava Cres.
  • What: An art deco-influenced, five-bedroom mansion built in 1931 in Toronto's Forest Hill neighbourhood for Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris.
  • Living space: 7,850 square feet
  • Lot size: 60 by 195 feet
  • Asking price: $6,995,000
  • Taxes: $25,414 (2007)
  • Agents: Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd. (Elise Kalles) and Slavens & Associates Real Estate Inc. (Barbara Kaplan)

Amenities: The house's European modern design is strongly influenced by Parisian art deco. Large lanterns line the stairs leading to the front door. The foyer features a coffered ceiling and travertine marble floors bordered in black granite. The focal point is a curved staircase leading upstairs.

The library has textured walls and built-in bookcases, while the large living room has a wood-burning fireplace, 12-foot ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows. Curved walls add drama in the dining room.

The renovated kitchen has granite countertops, a Miele double wall oven and Sub-Zero refrigerator. At the rear, the family room has a gas fireplace with marble surround, an entertainment centre, walls of windows and French doors to the garden.

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Upstairs, the master suite boasts a dressing room with custom-built closets and a four-piece private bathroom. Each of the three other bedrooms on the second floor has an ensuite. A large family room takes up the third floor. French doors lead to terraces outside. A nanny's suite has a sitting room. There is a home theatre and wet bar in the downstairs entertainment room.

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As world-renowned as the Group of Seven became, the artists who formed the group were not wealthy when they were painting in the 1920s. With one exception: Founder Lawren Harris had family money behind him.

His father owned a farm machinery company in Brantford, Ont., that became part of the international corporation, Massey-Harris Co. Ltd.

So Mr. Harris had means when he set off in 1930 to tour Europe and gather inspiration for the design of a new house. He ultimately commissioned Russian-born architect Alexandra Biriukova - one of the rare women working in the field at the time - to design a residence at 2 Ava Cres. in Forest Hill.

The result was a white, geometric dwelling with a modernist design unusual for the traditional neighbourhood.

In a 1995 lecture sponsored by the Toronto Historical Board, architect Olga Williams named the house as one of the most beautiful and historically important ones in Forest Hill, The Globe and Mail reported at the time.

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The front hall, which provided ample space for social gatherings, became a gallery for Mr. Harris's paintings. The walls rise to a high cove ceiling with concealed lighting. Throughout the house, light floods in and large expanses of wall provide ideal space for hanging artwork.

(Despite her work for Mr. Harris, Ms. Biriukova never could overcome the bias that made practising difficult for female architects, according to Ms. Williams. She finally gave up the career to become a nurse.)

The home's original windows have been retained, along with the mouldings and fireplace surround, explains real estate agent Elise Kalles of Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd.

"I love the shape of the rooms," she says, referring to the curving walls in the foyer, dining room and other areas. "The oval. It's really art deco," she adds.

Ms. Kalles also points to the home's unique vantage point on a hill that overlooks the street.

"Look at the height of it compared with other houses - the elevation."

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The grounds are the work of well-known landscape architect Janet Rosenberg.

Ms. Kalles points out that the home has been remodelled over the years, but the changes are in keeping with the original design.

The house had another well-known resident in former Bay Street superstar Mark Valentine, who purchased it with his wife in 1998.

Mr. Valentine, the former chairman of defunct brokerage firm Thomson Kernaghan & Co., was swept up in a massive operation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. He pleaded guilty in U.S. court in 2004 to securities fraud in a case involving the manipulation of several penny stocks and received four years of probation.

The house was listed in the name of Mr. Valentine's wife, with ownership transferred to Windarra Trust in 2005.

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