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home of the week

Houssmax

692 Briar Hill Ave., Toronto

Asking price: $3,395,000

Taxes: $10,908.61 (2020)

Lot size: 63 feet by 113 feet

Agents: Susie Sheffman, Terri Sapera and Judy Sapera (Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., Johnston & Daniel Division)

The backstory

Houssmax

The sweeping central staircase has been used for bridal photos.Houssmax

Marla Buck had spent many years in Manhattan as a dancer and designer of vintage jewelry when she returned to Toronto 21 years ago and began looking for a home for her and her two young children.

Driving near her daughter’s school in the Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue West area, Ms. Buck spotted a “For Sale” sign in front of a 1950s-era house on Briar Hill Avenue.

Ms. Buck recalls visiting the house for the first time on a freezing day in February, with the security alarm going off the entire time and the heat inside the house turned down because the owners were away.

But she was immediately captivated by the Tarantino marble floor in the entryway and a winding open staircase.

The sunroom has striking patchwork marble floors.Houssmax

Moving through the house, she found the patchwork marble floor in the sunroom and colourful terrazzo in the basement.

The house, built in 1956 for a hotelier, had remained in the family ever since.

“The whole thing was out of a movie,” she says. “I just didn’t want anyone to ruin it because it’s so fantastic.”

The house today

The main floor has a large principal living space.Houssmax

Ms. Buck purchased the house and most of the furniture with it.

“I moved in with three beds and a couple of chairs,” she says.

With the lower level included, the home provides 5,890 square feet of living space.

The main floor has large principal rooms, with good flow for entertaining between the living area and dining area and lots of room for hanging art. Throughout the main floor she discovered interesting details, such as baseboards made of marble.

The large rooms allow for plenty of space to hang art.Houssmax

Ms. Buck calls the kitchen “straight out of the Jetsons.” The 1960s animated sitcom imagined a future filled with time-saving gadgets.

At one time, she contemplated renovating, but she couldn’t bring herself to do away with the linoleum floor and Formica countertop. The room also has fun innovations, such as a drawer with a built-in bread box built, a pop-up shelf for the Mixmaster and a cooktop that folds up against the wall to save counter space.

“Every single thing about it is so cool,” she says. “Not everybody would chime to those things, but I just thought it was so crazy.”

Each of the home’s five bathrooms has sparkling glass tiles in a different colour made from the material known as Vitrolite. There’s a dramatic black bathroom – and others in blue, pink, green and yellow.

Ms. Buck says even the grout was coloured to match the tiles, which look retro and modern at the same time.

Each bathroom features sparkling tiles of a different colour.Houssmax

“I marvel at everything every day,” she says.

The second floor has a master bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows, an ensuite bathroom, a dressing room and a door to a private terrace. There’s a second bedroom with an ensuite bathroom and two others share a jack-and-jill bathroom.

Over the years, the home has often served as a set for films and television commercials. Photographers like to pose models in bridal gowns on the sweeping staircase.

“There have been lots of beauty shoots on those stairs,” she says.

During some productions, Ms. Buck recalls, her children would head outside at 5 a.m. to pick up breakfast from the craft service truck with the crew.

Houssmax

Houssmax

Bold colour is found throughout the home.Houssmax

“I always loved that it was appreciated,” she says. “Everyone in the film business loved this house.”

Outside, the home’s position on a high point on the street provides views towards the city. Tall trees surround the gardens.

Ms. Buck is an empty nester now and she is starting a new phase. But she would love to see the house find another conservator.

“I feel like this house is a personality – almost like a friend.”

Soon after moving in, Ms. Buck recalls, she would sometimes look out the window and see one of the original family members slowly driving by at night.

“I used to feel so sorry for him,” she says. “And now I think I might become that person.”

The best feature

Houssmax

The basement rec room's 1950s finishes include an orange vinyl sofa and terrazo flooring.Houssmax

The recreation room with its curvy bleached oak bar, colourful terrazzo floor and prized orange vinyl sofa has been the setting for many great soirees, Ms. Buck says.

“The parties always started in the basement,” she says.

On one occasion, she hired bartenders dressed in vintage uniforms and invited her friends to wear 1950s frocks.

“I found this dress right out of a Lucille Ball film.”

It was also a fun setting for children’s birthday parties.

Ms. Buck says that her kids and their friends always reacted with amazement to the home’s retro style. But that wasn’t always the case with her own peers, who sometimes questioned why she didn’t rip out the 1950s finishes.

In the years since she seized on the mid-century treasure, the style of the era has experienced a major renaissance.

“Today they say ‘now I get it – wish I had done it.’”

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