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Owners Catherine Moffatt and John Loomer and architect Barbora Vokac Taylor flipped the architectural script on dated 1970s-era condo in Toronto's Yorkville area.Riley Snelling/Riley Snelling Photography

A tall, bright green, mobile construction crane stands in as tombstone for the now demolished York Square development at the corner of Yorkville Avenue and Avenue Road. Designed in 1968-69 by Jack Diamond and Barton Myers for “with it” developer Ian Richard (Dick) Wookey, York Square’s quirkiness, charm, and “secret” courtyard could no longer withstand the development pressure facing Toronto’s toniest shopping district.

But, just a few metres to the north, another Wookey development, Hazelton Lanes (now rebranded as Yorkville Village) recalls the red brick warmth of York Square – at least the unrenovated upper portion – since it was designed just a few years later by architect Boris Zerafa of WZMH. It too stitched low-rise heritage homes, this time along Hazelton Avenue, into the new complex, and, to keep the gardens of the homes still occupied by people out of shadow, the residential portion was kept to mid-rise. Despite this, big units with deep terraces (for al fresco dining) meant these were nothing like today’s shoeboxes.

And, oh, those terraces! Standing on the one that belongs to Catherine Moffatt and John Loomer, architect Barbora Vokac Taylor can barely contain her enthusiasm: “These east-facing decks, could you imagine?” she says. “In our drawings, I [showed] a long table here, and, upstairs, I put two sun-loungers, and said ‘Catherine, you can do it!’”

But, as Ms. Moffatt is still working out of the country (with an eye firmly on a Toronto retirement) and Mr. Loomer is using the place only part-time until her return, that furniture plan will have to wait.

Not that it matters. Ms. Vokac Taylor, whose father, Dalibor Vokac, was a partner at Zeidler Partnership for more than 25 years, has taken what was a dark and dated 1970s/90s interior and completely flipped the architectural script. Without moving plumbing or stairs or enlarging windows – all things that are difficult if not impossible to do with a condominium – this 1,225-square-foot unit is now a celebration of natural light, air, and gold-tone woods.

“We were able to raise the ceiling,” says Ms. Vokac Taylor as she opens the front door to a white oak closet and adjoining shoe-removal bench. “So then this was a big wall with a closet backing onto it, and there was this small opening into the kitchen.” No longer. Today, after a few simple moves, light tumbles into the little foyer from the far, floor-to-ceiling glass wall of the living room, plus from the south-facing kitchen window.

  • Toronto home of Catherine Moffatt and John Loomer. Design by architect Barbora Vokac Taylor.Riley Snelling/Riley Snelling Photography

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This was made possible by transforming all of those sun-blocking walls into a ‘floating’ piece of millwork by Parallel General Contracting that partially separates the living area from the kitchen. The walnut cabinet may be big, but because it is covered with doors and recesses and leather-loop pulls, it never feels oppressive. Perched on drywall-clad legs, light passes above and below, and although exiting wiring had to be accommodated (the panel is inside), a rounded column has been clad in a chrome-look laminate for further light reflection.

“Both of us loved it,” says Ms. Moffatt during a Zoom call from rural Connecticut. “It was in the original drawings. … It was a brilliant solution to what we wanted to do, which was create light and openness but maintain the practicality of cupboard space.”

Keeping kitchen walls and cabinets white – with medium grey for the floors as well as ceramic countertop and backsplash – allows photons to continue their dance, as does the delicate furniture selected by Ms. Vokac Taylor: a Reverse dining table by Andreu World, and wooden Akademia Chairs by Nikari. The dining fixture, a cloudlike swirl of ultrathin wood, is a “Link” pendant by LZF. In the living room, whites, soft greys and warm leather do much the same for the light; in fact, there is so much of it that one wall has been painted a dark blue/slate.

The high wood content does much to create a homeyness that’s lacking in many modern condominiums. “That really was the intent,” Ms. Moffatt says. “We didn’t want it to feel like a hotel room; we really did want it to feel like home.” After the renovation was complete and they walked in for the first time, she continues, they “settled into it immediately.”

A simple reclad of the existing 1970s staircase changed its character immensely, and the removal of an odd and unnecessarily tall chunk of wood beside allowed for a little niche. And while Ms. Vokac Taylor was unable to bring in skylights, swapping the opaque wall at the top of the stair for glass means light can now travel from Mr. Loomer’s music room down into the stairwell.

On the second floor, while walls didn’t move, doors and trim were tweaked and the bathroom, of course, was given a complete overhaul with slick Corian and textured tile. Interestingly, if a guest sneaks a peek inside the medicine cabinet, he or she will be rewarded with a pop of colour (the same holds true with the kitchen cabinets and drawers); this, says Ms. Vokac Taylor, is a “cute little nod” to architect Howard Davies of Atelier Big City in Montreal. A long-time friend of Ms. Moffatt and Mr. Loomer, Mr. Davies not only uses bright colour in his work, but he also taught Ms. Vokac Taylor at McGill University (and recommended her for this job).

And while the big hole at Avenue Road and Yorkville Avenue will likely contain a light-eating 29-storey tower by the time Ms. Moffatt moves in permanently, it cannot take away the coziness that’s been created. “It’s not a word you would use for many condos,” Ms. Vokac Taylor says. “It was an old unit, it’s urban, can you actually make something that feels warm?”

“Not only has it been an exceptional outcome and we’re really happy with it,” Ms. Moffatt says. “Barbora was such a pleasure to work with.”

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