240 Sterling Rd., Toronto
Asking price: $2,675,000
Taxes: $7,827.08 (2021)
Lot size: 30.05 by 117.26 feet
Listing agent: Jill Parlee, Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.
Take a moment to consider the plants that can break through concrete or live in the cracks between paving and asphalt and resist the brutal seasons in Canada.
“Those urban wild plants that come through the cracks in our cities – they are not horticultural, they migrate, carried by birds or dogs – these are the plants that bust through low-nutrient soil and thrive,” said landscape architect Victoria Taylor, who has thought a lot about those plants since moving to 240 Sterling Ave. The house is located in the Toronto neighbourhood of Junction Triangle near Bloor Street between Lansdowne Avenue and Dundas Street West. It’s a transitional area that has a mix of industrial, residential and retail uses, and 240 Sterling is an embodiment of that mix: Once it was an auto repair shop, then it was the workshop for landscape architect Terry McGlade, then it was converted into a live-work studio by one of Canada’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Kent Monkman.
The Monkman studio was actually featured in The Globe and Mail when he sold it in 2013; Ms. Taylor was the buyer. Almost all of the finishes added by Mr. Monkman with architect Jason Halter were kept, and it remained a live-work studio for her own practice. And living in this space and this neighbourhood inspired some of her recent work, too.
“When I bought it from Kent, the building MOCA [the Museum of Contemporary Art, located at the end of the street] is in now was abandoned, and the whole lot in front was naturalized landscape, filled with spontaneous plants,” she said. When new construction swept away that landscape, she decided to start an experiment in the wide apron of asphalt in front of the house. “I cut a four-inch-wide puncture through it to see what plants would come through that crack. It was amazing: Soil goes in, water flows in, these seeds colonize and all the sudden you have this thriving green space.”
The result of this experimentation – done in concert with Jonas Spring of Ecoman Landscape Contractor – is a project that has started to show up in some of the city’s laneways, a greening project that replaces a centre concrete channel with castellated pavers that she seeds with her “crack mix” of tough urban plants: goldenrod, chicory, orange and yellow hawkweed, prairie smoke and a half dozen more she found could take the punishment of a high-traffic area.
To belabour the metaphor, the crack mix is a lot like 240 Sterling: Some pretty rough urban spaces can bloom into something special with time and intention.
The house today
The house sits back a little farther on the street than most of the other houses, and Mr. Monkman had planted birch trees and cedar fencing in the front garden to provide a privacy screen. The birches have since flourished, mostly concealing the wall of windows that covers the black-painted front of the house.
Through the glass door, it’s immediately clear this is something different: It’s one huge room with polished concrete floors, white walls and an exposed 16-foot-high ceiling, and the front area is filled with desks and tables and workspaces, making it feel like a cross between a classroom and a tech startup.
“I am lucky to be able to have a type of space that is open; there’s a professional design energy that inspires me when I’m at my drafting table,” Ms. Taylor said. During COVID-19 restrictions, the place has been less filled with co-workers and clients, but now that people are trickling back in, she can bring in samples of plants or stones or other materials and have the space to play with design ideas.
A series of high windows along the wall on the right side brings lots of light in, as do the large skylights. On the left is an area to hang coats and two small sets of stairs. One leads up to a powder room, the other to a wood-clad “sleeping basket” that is like a small loft landing with a bed that can host guests.
The kitchen is at the back of this room (separation is created by a wall of pass-through cubbies) and this is where the live starts to blend with the work. The original kitchen, with Douglas fir cabinets, is still here, but a new island has been added and a wood-burning Morso fireplace anchors a seating area that could be a high-end staff lounge or a modern family kitchen.
On the right is a flight of stairs leading up to the living quarters, anchored on the left side by a stack of cubbies that climbs with the stairs. The cubbies were a Jason Halter creation, and Ms. Taylor had Marek Kubat Fabrication build some more to add more function to the upstairs bedroom.
On the mezzanine, the biggest change by Ms. Taylor was the addition of a stunning lantern-like enclosure for the bathroom.
“What I wanted to do is create a few more elements that didn’t divide the space, but gave it a sense of different rooms. I worked with Andrew Jones Design to enclose the bathroom and give the mezzanine a little more character and warmth,” she said. Mr. Monkman filled the space with Douglas fir plywood finishes, and keeping that material in the curving bathroom surround (which is sort of like a floating fence with narrow and closely set slats) anchors that organic feeling to the polished concrete vanity counters and large white oval bathtub.
A large sliding wall panel can close off the bedroom for privacy, and the space is flooded with light by a huge skylight above the bed. The skylight is almost like a door; it should be inviting because there’s a green roof up there, installed by Mr. McGlade, as well as a wooden decked seating area.
The neighbourhood. This is ultimately a one-bedroom, one-bathroom converted industrial building with a huge open space; single-family-detached loft living. Ms. Taylor admits that living alone in the big space throughout COVID has at times been daunting, but that’s also what drew her outside and onto the West Toronto Railpath, which is practically in the backyard.
“All my neighbours would go for walks to get out of the house, and that space was so essential,” she said. “It’s this amazing linear greenspace along the UP Express line. People walk dog and kids, or bike to work in a car-free space.”
Ms. Taylor has spent many hours walking those paths with collaborators and has helped bring Nuit Blanche programming to the path. She even added her own improvements in a series of circular benches on top of capped wells behind a fallow industrial building.
The mix of urban and industrial, live and work, art and accident animates the neighbourhood and the studio at 240 Sterling.
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