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New homes a dash of flair for a hum-drum Toronto ‘hood

Once you’re off the main thoroughfares, the residential fabric near the intersection of Mount Pleasant Road and Eglinton Avenue East tends to be a low-rise mix of bungalows and semi-detached and detached dwellings in interwar suburban styles. Good schools, interesting shops and quick access to downtown have made the area a magnet for young, affluent home buyers – ones, in any case, who don’t mind some of Toronto’s most hum-drum domestic architecture and vanilla streetscapes.

But for those drawn to the district by its non-architectural attractions, yet inclined to live in something contemporary, Toronto developer Ron Herczeg is offering a suite of four three-storey homes with a dash of modern flair. They stand, ready for move-in, on little Elvina Gardens, north of Eglinton. Price per unit: around $1.77-million.

Don’t misunderstand: While the roots of their modernism lie in the clean-lined, efficient, urbane housing that Germany’s Bauhaus and friends influentially promoted in the 1920s, Mr. Herczeg’s homes are not startling or avant-garde. Toronto architect Peter Gabor, who designed this complex for Mr. Herczeg, has drawn off a modern-looking scheme, but it’s hardly pure or dogmatic.

The general outline of Mr. Gabor’s façades, for example, is trim, squared-off, rational, and well tailored. The roofline is flat. The upper levels of each street-side face express two vertical, well-windowed (but not transparent) volumes. One is slightly higher and more prominent than the other, which generates an attractive formal rhythm on the exterior. The lower of these elements is clad in charcoal-black Belgian brick, while the other is surfaced with durable wood panels stained rusty red. The juxtaposition of black and red is bold, but it doesn’t shout.

The quiet, modern clarity of the façade’s upper storeys has been muddled a bit, however, by the architect’s decision to dress the in-set ground level with rugged light stone. This conservative treatment is a touch of fustian in an otherwise restrained, neat composition. Surely, the overall sense of the front would have been better served by extending the simplicity of the upper storeys right down to the ground.

But the interior of the house doesn’t really unfold on the stone-clad entry level. Upon entering the building from the internal garage or through the front door, you find yourself in a small corridor with an subtly curved staircase. At the end of this hallway – at the rear of the house – is a room that could usefully become a home office. It’s at grade, after all, so visitors or clients would not need to traipse through the family’s living area to reach the compartment. Since it had to accommodate the garage, and there wasn’t much space for anything else, the ground floor has sensibly been turned into a semi-public, uncrowded transitional territory between the city and the main living areas.

These areas are above. Coming up the staircase from the garage level – the stair’s curvature is an old-fashioned note that does not mute the modernity of the scheme – one enters the sociable, spacious open-plan place where family members will spend much of their time together.

This room, 50 feet long and 22 feet wide, features a sleekly crafted kitchen positioned mid-deck, and ample space fore and aft for a breakfast nook, a dining table and a living-room ensemble. The ceiling stands nine feet, six inches off the engineered wood floors, and tall, operable windows open the clear-span room at both ends.

Because the principal living level doesn’t have to make room for a front door and foyer, its orientation and layout is largely up to the owner. And because little in the design decrees that the living-room set or dining table has to be in such-and-such a spot, this level lends itself flexibly to whatever kind of furnishing and decoration the owners might prefer.

But who might these owners be? Mr. Herczeg told me his homes are pitched to sophisticated customers in three market categories. One target is the young professional couple starting a family – probably veterans of the towers, certainly people who like the convenience of mid-town living. Another is the family with teenagers, seeing as how public schools are a stone’s throw away. And a third is the Rosedale or Lawrence Park couple who don’t need the big house any longer, but who want room to stretch out a bit. (Each of the homes is about 3,000 square feet in area, not counting the finished basement.)

For such clients, Mr. Gabor has created a well-lit, handsomely proportioned, thoughtfully detailed modernist box that is suitable for quite traditional outfitting, but would probably be happiest were its owners to make it the setting for smart, cutting-edge interior design.

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