Giving directions to a newcomer to his High Point Road residence, Robert Herjavec says to look for the big white house on the right. And then he pauses. "I mean, the really big white house." And he's not exaggerating.
Built on a three-acre lot in the prestigious Toronto enclave known as The Bridle Path, the 50,000-square-foot house that was custombuilt by developer Shane Baghai is grand in every sense of the word.
The ceilings are about as high as the Sistine Chapel's, the wrought-iron gate, imported from France, could dwarf a giraffe. There is a teahouse in the backyard bigger than most Toronto bungalows. Even the slabs of emerald travertine marble in the majestic circular foyer -- crowned by an elevated rotunda with a crown-like balcony -- are as large as elephant foot prints.
In the case of this house, built in the manner of a French chateau, size does matter.
It's what is enabling Mr. Herjavec, his wife, Diane Pelse, and their small children to accommodate the 500 guests expected to descend on their lavish property this coming Wednesday for a gala fundraiser to benefit Princess Margaret Hospital.
For $1,000 a ticket, patrons will listen to Grammy Award winning vocalist Michael Bublé sing to them from a stage being erected on the sprawling back
The yard has tennis courts, a gazebo and a neo-classical statue of a Greek goddess who often finds herself face down in the grass after a heavy gust of wind.
Guests will also be treated to a fashion show on a specially built outdoor catwalk that will feature the latest designs by Hugo Boss, one of the evening's sponsors.
The night is a highlight of the Toronto spring social calendar. But it will also have significant resonance for Mr. Herjavec whose involvement in the charity stems from the recent passing of his mother, who spent her final days at Princess Margaret, "extraordinarily well-cared for," says her son and only child.
Thinking of her, Mr. Herjavec, 43, who emigrated to Canada with his parents from his native Croatia in 1970, recalls that when she first saw the house, she thought it was a museum, not his.
Her reaction is understandable. So much in the house is of museum quality, from the cascading crystal chandeliers bought at auction in Italy to the 24 imported antique French fireplaces with their coloured marble surrounds and hand-painted gilt putti dancing as if it were still 1789. "It's beautiful," says Mr. Herjavec with a sigh.
Almost six years to the day that he bought the house for $10-million -- a price tag that was front page news because it made it, at the time, "the most expensive residential home in Canada" -- he is still over-the-moon about a property, which for him was a case of love at first sight. (Even with annual property taxes of $100,000 -- ouch!) Thirty-seven at the time, he had just sold his internet security business to AT&T Canada for a reported $100-million. Until that sale, he had been a struggling entrepreneur, sometimes waiting on tables at night to make ends meet.
His wife, meanwhile, an optometrist who grew up in Parkdale (looking at the house she can honestly say, "I think we've moved up in life") kept wondering when their old car would fail them. Now there are eight in the four-door garage.
Rich beyond his dreams, he wanted a house that would symbolize his Cinderella-like transformation from struggling immigrant to mogul. He asked real estate agent Elise Kalles to find him a house with a "wow" factor. She opened the door in the magnificent entrance, with its spiralling staircase fit for a king, and Mr. Herjavec said it: "Wow!" He bought it the next day, he says, "mainly because I could."
The wow reaction is seemingly universal. Mr. Herjavec and his family typically spend their summers outside Toronto at their Fisher Island property in Florida. During their absence, the house is rented out to visiting luminaries.
Among them is kittenish actress Nastassja Kinski, who adored her prolonged stay in the house a couple of years ago while shooting a film.
Showing off the indoor swimming pool with its glass doors opening on to a secluded patio for al fresco entertaining, the boyish and good-humored Mr. Herjavec still marvels that the starlet once photographed by Helmut Newton with a python coiled around her got wet in his house.
But his wife trumps that one. Walking into an adjacent ivory-coloured guestroom, just down from an apartment-size walk-in closet and a main floor bathroom with a Jacuzzi flanked by marble columns, Ms. Pelse points to the canopied bed and declares, "This is the bed Mick Jagger slept in."
Women visitors to her house, she adds with an impish smile, always beg her to let them see it. It is, admittedly, a conversation stopper.
The hip swiveling rock-and-roller stayed at the High Point residence two tours ago with a small entourage of about 17 people -- four kids, a significant other, three nannies and an assortment of techies and bodyguards.
Mr. Herjavec says that Mr. Jagger's kids used his children's computers, and when they returned, they could see their e-mail messages: "Oh mummy, we're living in such a wonderful house, a castle in Toronto!"
But the real kicker for Mr. Herjavec was what Mr. Jagger said. Even surrounded by so many hangers-on, he felt entirely at peace at High Point. " 'I never saw anybody,' " Mr. Herjavec reports him as saying.
That is the charm of the house -- big but intimate at the same time, a warm family home.
Observes Mr. Herjavec: "I always knew my house was big. But when Mick said that, that he didn't see anyone the whole time he was here, well then I knew just how big. Let's just say you'll never ever hear us complain about a shortage of storage."
The owners of the house on High Point Road featured on the front of last week's section are Robert Herjavec and Diane Plese. The photo of actress Nastassja Kinski mentioned in the story was taken by Richard Avedon.