77 Forest Hill Rd., Toronto
Asking price: $7,295,000
Taxes: $20,582.00 (2023)
Lot Size: 185.8 by 58 feet
Agents: Elise Kalles and Jordan Buchbinder, Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd.
In the early 1900s, growing prosperity in Toronto inspired community leaders to enhance the cultural landscape with new houses of worship, libraries and public housing projects.
One of the influential architects during this period of expansion was Eden Smith, who was born in Birmingham, England, and moved to Canada in the late 1800s.
Mr. Smith rose to prominence as a proponent of the arts and crafts movement led by Briton William Morris.
Eden Smith & Sons buildings still standing today include the Toronto Public Library’s High Park, Beaches and Wychwood branches, along with Grace Church on-the-Hill in midtown and the Bain Apartments Co-operative in Riverdale.
In his 2003 book Eden Smith, Toronto’s Arts and Crafts Architect, author W. Douglas Brown writes that Mr. Smith’s uniqueness lies in the way he adapted the movement’s principles to Toronto’s climatic and social conditions.
Mr. Smith’s planning for snowy winters and confined city sites influenced domestic architecture in Ontario over the next quarter century and helped provide the groundwork for 20th-century housing design, according to Mr. Brown.
The City of Toronto Heritage Register includes Eden Smith houses in High Park, Rosedale, Forest Hill, Poplar Plains, Wychwood Park and the Annex.
One of those listed properties, 77 Forest Hill Rd., has changed little in its appearance to the street since Michael McLaughlin became the first owner in 1916.
The steep gable, tall chimney and multi-paned windows are hallmarks of Mr. Smith’s work.
John and Lessia Tkach were living in Toronto’s west end when they first saw the house in 2007.
The couple had lived in London for several years and they were immediately drawn to the charm of the arts and crafts elements in the home, including the three-level staircase, high ceilings, plaster mouldings and a glass conservatory.
The Tkachs purchased the house and set out to add some modern comfort while preserving the original character.
The house today
The arts and crafts movement came about partly as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. Followers valued craftsmanship and the beauty of nature while rejecting the ornamentation of Victorian architecture.
In England, houses built during that period were often set on country estates and oriented to take in views of lush gardens.
On Forest Hill Road, ivy climbs the red-brick walls of the 2 1/2-storey house, and guests arrive to a vestibule with a peaked roof. Inside there’s a welcoming entryway with marble floors and a side staircase, and traditional principle rooms on the main floor.
“It’s a very English house,” says Mr. Tkach. “Our London friends say, ‘this is like being in a part of England.’ Our New York friends say, ‘this is like a pre-war on Park Avenue.’”
Inside the 4,660-square-foot home, the living room has an oak floor, a wood-burning fireplace and a bay window overlooking the front garden.
The formal dining room has a fireplace, oak floor and French doors leading to the conservatory.
The couple has held family events, receptions for up to 100 people and charity fundraisers with the dining room at the centre, says Mr. Tkach.
“Our annual Christmas dinners have been quite legendary,” he says.
The kitchen was renovated by a previous owner with face-framed cabinets painted white, glass doors, a built-in pantry and marble countertops. The terracotta tile floor is laid in a herringbone pattern.
The family room at the rear includes a breakfast area for casual dining and a wall of French doors overlooking the patio.
“There are windows on all four sides of the house, which is hard to come by,” says Mr. Tkach.
The interior is also illuminated by the light that streams through the staircase open to three levels.
Throughout the house, the couple upgraded the plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling systems but they kept the layout largely intact.
Their aim was to maintain the original vision of Mr. Smith and the principles he adhered to.
“The house inspired us,” says Mr. Tkach.
On the second floor, a library has wall-to-wall bookshelves and cabinets, a recessed area for a desk and a fireplace with a surround of arts and crafts tiles.
Mr. Tkach says previous owners combined two smaller bedrooms to create a larger one at the rear. The couple has turned the space into a luxurious primary suite with a bedroom and separate sitting area with a gas fireplace.
There’s an ensuite bathroom with a stand-alone oval bathtub and a glass-enclosed shower and a walk-in closet with built-in cabinets.
The bedroom has a French door opening to a secluded balcony in the treetops.
“It’s just so nice to sit up here because it’s private, but it’s right in the city,” Mr. Tkach says.
A second bedroom is currently used as a study and television room, and there’s a large family bathroom.
The third floor, with two bedrooms and a renovated bathroom, was taken over by the couple’s sons as they were growing up.
The lower level has a recreation room, a sauna and a large laundry room.
The enclosed backyard has been landscaped with mature evergreen and deciduous trees and garden beds.
“It’s like being on a small country estate because of the size of the property,” Mr. Tkach says.
Mr. Tkach, who spent much of his career on Bay Street, says Avenue Road provided a quick route to the financial district.
He points out that the home is close to many highly ranked private and public schools, with Upper Canada College, Brown Junior Public School, The Bishop Strachan School and Forest Hill Junior and Senior Public School all close by.
The restaurants and shops of Yorkville and St. Clair Avenue are within an easy stroll, he adds.
The best feature
The Tkachs restored the conservatory and its original wood-framed windows, transom and skylight.
“During COVID-19 we discovered it was quite nice for a 5 o’clock glass of wine,” says Mr. Tkach.
When the couple entertains, they often have the bar set up in the glass-enclosed room, which is set just off the dining room.
“Nobody wants to leave the conservatory,” says Mr. Tkach.