452 Montrose Ave., Toronto
Asking Price: $2,899,999
Taxes: $5,600 (2021)
Lot Size: 17.9 feet by 120 feet
Agent: Evan Wright, Plex Realty Corp.
Mani Mani was immersed in building new laneway houses in the Bickford Park area when the coronavirus upended life in downtown Toronto.
“It was an interesting time for seeing how we behave,” the founder of Fishtnk Design Factory says. “It turned out to be a case study on what we need as a society.”
Mr. Mani recently completed the project, which created three two-bedroom houses on one property just south of Bloor Street West.
The transformation began about four years ago when he purchased a traditional 1890s house with a 1980s extension on the back.
The detached, two-storey house had been renovated over the years, but Mr. Mani figured he could make some additional improvements to create a home for him and his partner.
At the time, the City of Toronto was holding consultations with the community about creating more housing in the city’s laneways.
Mr. Mani closely followed the conversation. He began thinking about how he might add another suite to the property on Montrose.
When city council amended the official plan to allow for the creation of more laneway suites, he decided to take part in building a new topography for the city.
Mr. Mani had been a practicing architect for several years before turning entrepreneur. He launched Fishtnk in 2008 to manufacture wood furniture and architectural components.
As an architect, Mr. Mani had spent some time working for condo developers. He always needed to be conscious of the fine balance between making a comfortable space for people and making money for the builder, he says.
In March, 2020, when Toronto went into lockdown and people fled high-rise towers and tightly-packed spaces, Mr. Mani saw that many urbanites wanted to remain in the city, but they also craved access to the outdoors.
For his own project, the entrepreneur looked to cities such as Montreal for inspiration in creating density.
“Let’s make it dense; let’s live in the city,” he decided. “We have bike lanes, we have parks.”
Throughout Ontario’s various stages of lockdown, Mr. Mani continued building. He felt even more firmly that he was on the right path.
“The pandemic was a reaffirmation of what good urban living can mean.”
The house today
Mr. Mani’s single-family property has turned into three residences – each with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a private courtyard.
The concept offers an alternative to condo living with each dwelling providing 800 to 900 square feet of indoor space and an outdoor garden.
“It essentially feels like three separate townhouses but they share a lot,” he says.
Mr. Mani and Jolien Benjamin live with their son, Noah, in the original part of the house, which faces Montrose Avenue.
Residents and visitors who enter from the front arrive to a garden of tall grasses and a courtyard surrounded by hanging baskets of flowers. The use of ipe on the façade was inspired by a tall fir tree standing on the property next door, he says.
“We used wood almost like a veil,” he says. “With that tree, we used the vertical lines as a guide.”
He can slide portions of the hardwood screen across the front of the home to create more privacy for the second-floor balcony or slide them away to bring in more light, he adds.
“Depending on how you move these screens to the left and right, the building will change.”
The tiny garden provides Mr. Mani enough space to grow cucumbers and herbs.
Inside, the ground floor accommodates the living space and kitchen with a stairway in the centre.
In the white kitchen, Mr. Mani surrounded the central peninsula with a sunken maple table that he made in Fishtnk’s workshop in the Junction.
The idea is to allow family members and guests to gather around the chef, he says, because that typically happens anyway.
Meals can be served straight from the kitchen to the assembled diners.
“It’s a new take on the living rooms that we have and the way we dine and entertain,” he says. “It’s a more comfortable, casual eating arrangement. We embraced that.”
Upstairs, there’s a bedroom for Noah, a primary suite and a family bathroom.
In the primary suite, a gallery light above faces south to capture the sunlight during the day. Doors open to a generous balcony at the front of the home.
At the rear of the primary residence, Mr. Mani reinforced the back wall to create fire separation, and built a second suite on new foundation.
There’s a courtyard outside and three stories of living space, including a lower level with a door to the exterior.
Inside, there’s a living area and kitchen on the main floor.
Mr. Mani drew on his specialty in advanced wood manufacturing to build a twisting staircase that allowed him to pull back the landing at the top in order to have a more generous bedroom.
“I do enjoy getting into the nitty-gritty of things – figuring out how to maximize space,” he says. “When it’s your own project, you do spend that extra time. It’s like playing Tetris.”
The third suite was created on the footprint of the old garage.
“We tore it down and built a new structure,” he says.
The bylaws allow him to build right to the property line without a setback, he says. That allowed him to take advantage of the lot’s full width.
The dwelling has a small courtyard with space for growing vegetables, he says. Inside, the main floor has a kitchen, living room and powder room. Upstairs, there are two bedrooms with a bathroom between them.
Mr. Mani says the ideal scenario would be to have the unit accommodate two parents and a child.
“We built it for a family,” he says.
Mr. Mani says the entire property would work well for a family that wants to live in one residence and rent out the other two. Or it could be purchased as a low-maintenance, boutique property for an investor.
A third possibility is that an owner could live in the dwelling facing the street and use the rear portion as a business with a separate address.
“Your clients come and visit you through the laneway,” he says.
Mr. Mani says the only parking on the property is for bicycles. The subway is close by, he points out, and eliminating vehicle parking makes moving through the planning process go much more smoothly.
“The parts that make it complicated for most of these projects is the parking,” he says.
The best feature
Laneways provide quiet places where communities can come together, Mr. Mani says.
He will be interested to see how the laneways themselves change in future years to become more beautiful and welcoming to pedestrians.
Recently he was outside watching one neighbour teach a three-year-old how to ride a bicycle in the laneway while another was picking cherries from a tree.
“As people see it as part of the city, they’ll plant more trees, enjoy the space more, and see the sunset and western light in their little place,” he says.
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