The listing: 35 Winchester St., Toronto
Asking Price: $1,640,000
Taxes: $6,056.37 (2017)
Lot Size: 20.35-by-138.25-feet
Agents: Jen Tripp, sales representative, HomeLife/ Realty One Ltd., Brokerage
The house today
The first impression walking into 35 Winchester St., is that this is a house that isn’t going to pretend to be something it isn’t. The semi-detached, built in 1915, is not an Edwardian shell with gutted interior filled with the latest shelter-mag approved finishes. The first rooms on the main floor retain much of the faintly austere features of its era: Tall baseboards, huge ornate grated vents of early forced-air systems, a shallow fireplace (designed for peat, not logs), coved ceilings, original wide-plank floors (though refinished in dark walnut stain), sliding (still functional) pocket doors to separate sitting and dining rooms, and a business-like staircase leading upstairs directly off of the foyer.
The lot is 20-by-138-feet, so the house also a little wider than you expect from a Cabbagetown semi-detached and the big 14-by-13-foot living room – which you must walk through to access the kitchen and powder room to the rear – is crying out for programming (it once had a piano before the stagers removed it). The kitchen is similarly sized, but has been updated with modern cabinets and appliances, nothing overly fancy and the cozy space has room for the breakfast table and a weatherized rear porch/TV room has been opened to augment the available space.
Step into the backyard, onto a surprisingly large and even theatrical deck (600 square feet) covering almost the entire back of the house, with benches and steps for an audience: “I wanted to stage a play on it,” owner and actor John Jay says. Mr. Jay is also the former proprietor of Parliament Street cocktail bar the Cobourg, known for its Nuit Blanche participation, jazz trios and occasional Michael Ondaatje sighting. Behind the stage deck is a shocking amount of garden/lawn space, with still more room for two-car laneway parking. One can see why realtor Jenn Tripp mentions this might be a perfect site for a laneway housing addition.
Two stops on the way to check the bedrooms, the narrow but bright two-piece powder room with window and the basement. It has been prettied as much as you can, kitted out like a proper man-cave with wine tasting area and big-screen TV, but while clean and dry it’s a low-ceilinged space with open rafters with lots of room to improve in the laundry/utilities room.
The second floor has three bedrooms and three-piece bathroom with glass-stalled shower. The smallest rear bedroom – 11-by-9-foot – has no closet, but the master and second bedroom do (another relative rarity in century-old homes). The master occupies the front of the house, 16.6-feet wide and 13-feet deep, with a bay window facing Winchester Street, and the floors here are a lighter dark honey-colour finish.
Leaving the master and heading to the third floor is a small linen closet on the right, and one odd note worth addressing: practically every door in the house has a bright brass dead-bolt key-lock on it. Mr. Jay says the family has long-since lost most of the keys to the locks that came with the house; the former owners once ran a bed and breakfast, which explains the subdivided rooms. “Years and years later, we get German tourists that turn up at our door,” he says.
The best feature
Mr. Jay and Ms. Tripp agree that in a charming and excellently maintained house the best rooms are on the third floor: the library and maid’s quarters. This whole level could be a set for Downton Abbey (or a granny suite, as it has a recently redone four-piece bathroom). Light streams in from tall rear windows, and the big backyard tree would provide a lush vista in summer (Mr. Jay has his desk facing these windows).
This is the one room Mr. Jay stopped the stager from doing her work. “She started taking books off the shelves and I asked ‘What are you doing?’, ‘I’m going to colour coordinate the books.’ I told her this isn’t decorative, you just mixed poetry with Canadian fiction! You spend your whole lifetime reading and collecting books and someone wants to put the blue ones together,” he says ruefully.
The maid’s quarters are close in size to the master, 16-by-10-foot, and while the ceiling slopes down in the front there’s another charming original feature with a gabled window nook for sitting or standing to watch the neighbourhood go by. No closet here either, but what sort of luxuries do the help expect?
Mr. Jay says he and his wife, who bought the house in 1998, have always appreciated the close proximity to Parliament Street and the character of an area that has been slowly gentrifying. Winchester Public School is down the block and the well-regarded Cabbagetown Co-op Nursery School is just a laneway stroll away. At all times, the street is full of life.
“There was a character who hung out in the neighbourhood who never wore pants, never even underwear – I still don’t know if it was a man or a woman. I would just let the kids know on their way to school: ‘The bare-bum person is on the corner, just so you know.’ We never had any incidents.” Both kids are off to university now and the parents say they are ready to downsize.
While one can expect to spend $1.9-million or $2-million on a four-bedroom house east of Parliament (the part of Cabbagetown where neighbours lose their minds in opposition to a new daycare) this house is on the west side of the high street, where the historic ‘hood can be a touch more reasonable. There’s not much on adjacent streets that has sold lately, except for one house on Ontario Street that was significantly more renovated and did reach a higher asking price than 35 Winchester’s $1.6-million.
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