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Home of the Week, 310 Oriole Parkway, Toronto. Owners Philip Levine and Sheila Katz said the home 'needed work' when they bought it, but they saw its potential. (Caroline Bokar)
Home of the Week, 310 Oriole Parkway, Toronto. Owners Philip Levine and Sheila Katz said the home 'needed work' when they bought it, but they saw its potential. (Caroline Bokar)

Multiple renos yield an urban retreat Add to ...


List price: $2.1-million

Taxes: $11,324.83

Lot size: 50.08-by-135 square feet

Agent: Caroline Bokar (Forest Hill Real Estate Inc.)

The back story

Philip Levine and Sheila Katz first met long ago, when both were teenagers at summer camp. They liked each other, but ended up marrying different people with whom they had children. But, and as if guided by fate, when they met again later in life, when both were in their 50s, they both realized that they were meant to be together. They married six years ago, after living together for five years, and in 2000 bought their first home together in Toronto. Neither has roots in the city. Mr. Levine is a Montrealer who had moved to Vancouver to pursue a career as an urban planner. Ms. Katz, whose birth name is O’Leary, heralds from Ottawa where her grandfather was a noted senator on Parliament Hill, Gratton O’Leary, editor of the Ottawa Journal and friend of Sir Robert Borden. Her father was the journalist Dyllon O’Leary who, in the 1930s, briefly worked for this newspaper. Classically trained at McGill as a pianist, she took advanced degrees in art therapy and social work eventually settling in Vancouver, which is where she eventually became reacquainted with her old boyfriend. After reuniting the couple moved east drawn by Mr. Levine's work as a partner in IBI Group, the architecture and urban planning firm responsible for the development of Liberty Village in the city's west end. Ms. Katz, meanwhile, took a job at Toronto Western Hospital as a social worker. The need, then, was a for a home in a central location, within easy access to both their places of work. But to find it, they had just a week before packing their bags to make the move from Vancouver.

Why they bought

This house on Oriole Parkway was one of several seen in a constricted period of time. It instantly had a number of things going for it: Situated just south of Eglinton Avenue and on a major thoroughfare it satisfied Mr. Levine's desire to be within reach of both Richmond Street and the airport, as he travels often for business. For Ms. Katz, the five-bedroom home was also roomy enough to accommodate the couple's respective children, in particular her daughters who decided to pursue post-secondary education in Toronto. (They have since moved out, which is why the couple is now selling. They feel the house is now too big for just the two of them.) Sealing the deal was the presence of Mr. Levine's cousin, who spearheaded the creation of a central meridian on Oriole Parkway to control traffic flow and noise. He lived in a house across the street. These advantages helped the couple see past the tiredness of a house that still retained the dark wood, small windows and outdated knob-and-tube wiring from its origins in the 1930s. “'It needed work,” says Mr. Levine, who nevertheless liked the old look of the place: it reminded him of the houses he knew growing up in Montreal's Westmount neighbourhood. “I remember him turning to me and saying, ‘I like the bones,’ ” adds Ms. Katz. “I loved it. I saw the potential. Anyway. we preferred something old that we could re-do.”

What’s new

Re-doing the old house eventually entailed a series of renovations executed with a mind of lending an old house the functionality and comfort of a new home. “As a therapist, I'm always saying you retain what's important and you throw away what's not,” says Ms. Katz in describing the approach the couple took in re-working their home. “So here we retained the central plan but made it more efficient.” Everything was done according to code, emphasizes Mr. Levine. “I work in a building full of upteen architects who understand building permits and codes and so it wasn't difficult to sit down with a designer to figure out what we wanted to do.” Duly prepared to meet the challenge at hand, the couple initiated the first renovation in 2000, soon after purchase, which was basically a clean-up job: “We did what we needed to do to be able to move in, updating all the wiring, for instance,” Mr. Levine says. In 2001, the couple added a new roof and in 2003 created a basement in-law suite with a separate entrance and above-ground windows. Then, in 2004, they introduced a series of large structural changes, including a new two-floor addition in place of a garage that they demolished to accommodate a new custom Downsview kitchen with Travertine backsplash and flooring. As well, they introduced a light-filled main-floor family room with a rear wall of windows overlooking a pre-existing 20-by-36 in-ground pool. Last year, the couple renovated again, focusing on the home's four bathrooms were extensively remodelled, including the second-floor master ensuite that was newly outfitted with a glassed-in walled shower with rainfall shower head and Robern mirrored medicine cabinet. Also introduced last year was the Brazilian Tigerwood hardwood flooring in the living and dining rooms. At the same time, the dining room was also wired for sound, even though on the second floor is a media room with a an Epson TV projector and 108-inch screen. “That was the room located above the garage and it's about the only thing left of the old house,” says Ms. Katz. “I didn't want to get rid of it because the sun shines so beautifully through its windows. It's one of the things I first loved about this house.”

Best feature

Mr. Levine says it's the main floor of the addition where the open-concept kitchen and eating area can accommodate up to 25 members of his and his wife's combined family for Passover and other communal gatherings. “The kitchen is really the focal point of the house,” he says. “When the kids are here, when guests are here, everyone always seems to gather in this place.” But one of the reasons the kitchen is so compelling is because it offers unobstructed views of the landscaped backyard. The eye instantly lights on the brightly coloured flowers, the lush leaves on the trees, the sparkling blue waters of the swimming pool. “I had someone walk through on a recent open house who said it was nicer than the Four Seasons,” says agent Caroline Bokar. “This home's our cottage,” adds Ms. Katz. “On a Saturday morning he gets Starbucks and then cleans the pool while I dead-head, listening to JazzFM. That's our weekend retreat.”

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