16 Inglewood Dr., Hamilton
Asking price: $2,297,000
Taxes: $11,695 (2020)
Lot size: 75 feet by 144 feet
Agent: Stella McCollum, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada
It’s not easy to find 16 Inglewood Dr. A GPS map tool would deliver you to the right street address, but unlike some of the mansions in Hamilton’s Durand neighbourhood, it doesn’t loom over the street. This house is below the grade of the road, and a set of steps takes you down to the front door.
Looking down from the sidewalk, it is something to behold. With its flat roof and stark white stucco over concrete walls, it manages to be both rectilinear and curvy, almost like a grand ship (in fact the style is called paquebot in France – literally, ocean liner). Classified as art moderne architecture in Ontario, or sometimes streamline modern, it was once a popular form for commercial buildings. It is rare to find a residential home made this way.
The home was built in 1935 for Vernon Hale by local architects William Souter and Gordon Hutton.
“I posted it on my socials, and this is the most amount of likes I’ve ever had,” listing agent Stella McCollum said. “‘OMG the Hale House!’ It’s a house that people know.”
“This pocket is very special, these are the houses of the old bosses who ran the factories in town. They are some of the older housing stock in Hamilton.”
Larry Holzheu, an HVAC technician, visited the house on a service call about two decades ago and told the owner, “I’m going to take good care of the furnace, because this is going to be my house one day,” a quip over which the two shared a good laugh. In 2017, Mr. Holzheu and partner Terry Venerus made good on the pledge and purchased the house. Their goal was to modernize its amenities, while not losing its historic character. That, they were soon to discover, was not an easy task.
“The house was in incredibly good shape, but it had not been updated in the least,” Mr. Holzheu said. For instance, rooms would often have only one electrical receptacle. The windows, replaced at some point in the previous 80 years, were falling apart and were found to be almost four inches smaller than the originals thanks to extra trim. Some of the floors had the original 1936 linoleum (huge sheets of the stuff, made with linseed oil), but the colour, while period appropriate, was a minty green that would jar a contemporary sense of taste.
“We’re not nuts enough to do a perfect historical restoration; we took some liberties,” Mr. Holzheu said. “When we think of 1930s, everything is taupe and black and white; the original exterior was pale green with dark green windows. The walls in the kitchens and bathrooms were canary yellow and the cabinets were blood red.”
Nevertheless, very little of the internal or external structure has been changed. The new colour palette is a nod to the past but tones down the boldness considerably. “If you stay true to the architecture, it’s a better investment,” Mr. Holzheu said.
The house today
The front entrance (which homeowners are unlikely to use, since the two-car garage on the back of the house is accessible from Aberdeen Avenue) is under a flat awning that floats off the curving wall to the right of the doorway. Inside, a small vestibule opens to the front hall, on the left is a guest powder room and on the right is the curving stairwell done in sand-coloured terrazzo. A long window follows the stairwell upstairs, and inner and outer front doors are mainly glass as well.
Directly ahead is a large living room with original parquet floor and a wood-burning sandstone fireplace (that had to be rescued from many layers of paint, including some 70s-era turquoise). The shape of the chimney travels up the wall, and then across the ceiling and down the opposite wall to frame a double-French door onto a rear terrace. Set into this arch is what looks like a grated vent, but is actually a long rectangular light fixture (original) filled with tubes of glass that add a warm glow to the room.
“It is incredible; mathematically perfect,” said Mr. Holzheu, who says Hale House was built to the ideal “a house is a machine for living.” The term was coined by modernist master Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, in his 1920 book Toward an Architecture. The second part of the famous tag is “beauty in the sense of good proportion,” which the house has in spades.
To the right, through a set of pocket doors is a formal dining room, with another set of double doors onto the terrace, and an entrance to the kitchen.
The kitchen has been entirely redone with blonde wood cabinets (with some high, narrow uppers), a basket-weave-patterned tile floor and dark stone countertops. At the edges of the counter runs are some open rounded shelves that borrow art-moderne flourishes, so too does the sweeping curve of the stove hood. An L-shaped peninsula creates a breakfast bar behind which is a floor-to-ceiling glass display cabinet filled with vintage crystal and china. There’s more pantry storage beside.
Just next to the kitchen is a den, with original wood-paneled walls, and beyond that the stairwell.
There were four bedrooms in two wings upstairs in the original configuration. They could be closed off with doors at the end of the short hallway. Currently, it’s more like two suites: One for the primary bedroom and one for a guest suite. In the guest wing, a three-piece bath sits in between the two bedrooms, one of which is now an upstairs lounge or TV room. The floors here are original chevron-style parquet.
The primary suite is significantly bigger, about the same size as the downstairs living room, with a massive wooden feature wall (with inset television) that curves at the corners. The fourth bedroom was converted completely to a walk-in closet and dressing room.
The primary bathroom has a huge shower tiled in white and grey marble with a solid three-quarter-wall enclosure (not glass as is current today), but the tiles in both bathrooms do not extend to the ceiling, and it was a fight to keep them that way.
“We just pulled out our hair sometimes trying to get people to do what we wanted,” Mr. Holzheu said. “The tilers are looking at you like you’ve got four heads … even the [black and white checkerboard] patterns on the floor, they’d say, ‘That’s old fashioned.’ Yes! You’re in a 1935 house!”
The walls are painted an olive green, chosen to reflect the original palette. “The original porcelain tile in the ensuite was that colour,” said Mr. Holzheu, same too of the other bathroom on this level, the blue wall paint matches its original tile colour.
But it’s not just cosmetic. “We have heated towel racks, heated floors, electrical outlets in the medicine cabinets so we can charge razors [or phones] so you don’t see them on the counter,” Mr. Holzheu said. He’s seen a lot of homes in his 30-year career, and he’s learned a few tricks of the trade. “I added a third return line for hot water. Anywhere there’s a sink it has a motion sensor, and when you walk in it turns on a pump, and the tap has instant hot water.” These kind of return pumps are common in apartment buildings; a residential home, not so much.
Mr. Holzheu’s favourite space is the den next to the kitchen. “This is where the man of the house would go and light a little fire in the fireplace, read The Wall Street Journal,” Mr. Holzheu said. “People talk about a man-cave; I go in there watch an old movie and have a cup of tea. It’s such a nice warm, calming room.” It’s also almost entirely intact; the wood panelling on the walls is original.
The lower level is also fairly original but is relatively unfinished. There are two more potential bedrooms, as well as laundry and a possible media room or entertaining space with a walkout to the lower yard. This was where the couple both ran out of steam on renovations. But they have decided to make a virtue of that by letting the next buyers put their stamp on a space.
“We are at the top of the price range in Hamilton,” said Ms. McCollum, but she argues there’s a virtue in that as well. “This would be a $5-million house in Toronto.”
That may be conservative, as Mr. Holzheu discovered when changing plumbing and electrical. The structure of the house is almost absurdly over-built, and it’s impossible to imagine how much it would cost in materials alone today.
“There are steel I-beams every four feet,” Mr. Holzheu said. “There’s no wood; it’s all steel and reinforced concrete. There’s four inches of cork insulation in the walls.”
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