204 Donlea Dr., Toronto
Asking Price: $2.499-million
Taxes: $9,501.27 (2019)
Lot Size: 29 feet by 135 feet
Listing Agent: Susan Krever, Chestnut Park Real Estate Limited
If you’re wondering what inspired the design of 204 Donlea Dr., detour around to the back of the house, through the lush garden and explore the potting shed with the bell-shaped roof. This was one of the first new things Dana Mallany and her husband built when they bought the house 28 years ago, long before they undertook an extensive renovation of the former bungalow in 2007.
“We loved the potting shed, we wanted the house to relate to that in some way,” said Ms. Mallany, and so the cedar shingle cladding that wraps around the house’s new second-floor borrows from it. The four-walls coverage of the cedar was intentional for another reason.
“I have a lot of trouble with builder’s houses when it’s just a façade, and the back and sides are completely forgotten,” she said, a quick look up and down Donlea finds newer-build homes that have such inch-deep stone façades and stucco for the rest. “It says something about our society that houses even have façades. Of course we want a beautiful front, but we live in the back yard and the back should be as attractive as the front.”
The house was designed by architect Mark Franklin, president of Baldwin & Franklin Architects Inc., with extensive input from the couple (Ms. Mallany works as an interior designer). “I had a wish list … I started with an image file I’d collected for 30 plus years. It was about a year-long process, working out the floor plans and the look of the house and sourcing product and so on,” before finally getting down to building. Ms. Mallany had been working in commercial interiors such as health care offices and had been developing “an aesthetic that would be conducive to healing,” she said. “That’s how people describe the house when they come in, they say it’s so calm, it brings in its own healing energy.”
Listing agent Susan Krever agrees: “I think it’s the most tasteful and interesting house I’ve ever listed.”
The House Today
For an area that has seen its share of boundary-busting renovations that squeeze every inch of square footage out of a lot, 204 Donlea is surprisingly modest: the two floors above grade are a little less than 2,000 square feet with another 1,000 square feet in the basement (currently a mix of workshop/office and storage and laundry).
“We tried to not over-create the space, I believe you can design well without supersizing,” Ms.. Mallany said. “This house isn’t larger than it needs to be, so the quality can be higher.”
Down the side of the house is the front door with its rectangular panes of frosted glass that “illuminates like a Japanese lantern,” said Mrs. Mallany, just inside is another set of windows on the wall opposite that look into the rear garden.
The entryway/foyer is larger than you’d expect and sits in the middle of the main floor next to the central staircase with doorways to the living spaces on either side. “I wanted the entrance to feel like a room itself, it doesn’t feel grand but it has its own function and it’s not just to pass through. I wanted the stairs to feel wider as well, to be more comfortable in their scale … sometimes we eat breakfast in the hall, we sit on the stairs,” she said. What’s missing – intentionally – is a powder room and a closet.
“I didn’t see [a powder room] as being so essential, there’s not a lot of privacy in powder rooms, and I also didn’t want a closet because I wanted to see the cloth of the jackets; I really love textiles,” she said. A row of sturdy pegs helps with that display (there is a closet and mudroom just below the staircase in the basement).
To the left the main living room, a 17-foot-by-17-foot room with oak floors and a large wood-burning fireplace and tall windows opening to the front yard.
To the right is the kitchen/dining space with mahogany stained wooden cabinets, a central island dividing the space, and a wall of windows with a walkout to the rear yard.
The steel-framed industrial windows here are repeated throughout the house in different formats, their rectangular panes of glass also reflects the French-style doors of the potting shed, and they enable some of the most impressive detailing.
“I had numerous pictures of that industrial steel window in different settings, and [Mark Franklin] has those very windows in his office,” Ms. Mallany said, “The sills are deep, that was a decision we made as we went along: I like thick walls, but it’s still a contemporary space, so I wanted the drywall return to wrap the window with a plain-wall finish.” A closer look finds the craftsmanship that allows such deep sills without window-framing trim to cover up any flaws. “The simplicity was really important: the frames are black and the black recedes so all you see is the garden.”
In another rebuke to builder basics there are no white ceilings in the house, and the kitchen especially is not white. “There are 12 colours throughout the house, it was a horror for the painter who must have thought ‘she’ll put in two or three.’” Ms. Mallany said. This kitchen is “a kind of kind of a brown eggplant … they may appear kind of peach, on the ceiling “elephant’s breath.”
“There’s an overuse of white, beige and grey, that neutral palate,” she said. “It’s easy, but its a kind of chromophobia. The house is a combo of masculine and feminine and I wanted to bring back colour.”
There are three bedrooms upstairs, a master suite on the rear of the house, and two spare rooms (one a very tiny space). None of the rooms are exactly the same, particularly the dormers. The house has a flat roof, so while dormer’s were not strictly speaking necessary, Ms. Mallany wanted uniqueness.
“Square boxes can be dull, but you don’t want to over embellish them. That’s a funny story: when we were constructing it, the site guy was starting to straighten the walls and take out the dormers. I had to call the architect and say wait, wait, put those back.”
The industrial frames continue, but now the windows on the front and rear walls have an arch in the transom that adds curvature, which is accented by those extra-deep sills and the inward curving dormer. “That arch was really [Franklin’s], which I thought was brilliant,” Ms. Mallany said. “That’s why it’s important to hire an architect, they have the training to scale the eye to properly proportion and scale a house.” The deep-set oval windows, which provide visual interest from the street, assist in keeping those rooms from becoming cut-out boxes.
The finishing touches
So much of this house is about avoiding bog-standard approaches: unlike most new-builds that have central air condition and HVAC, this house has flat-pack AC units in the second floor and radiators for heat throughout (a product imported from Britain). The doorknobs, too, have a specific intention.
“It’s a living finish, it ages as you use it: we have mostly bronzed finished downstairs and a lighter silvery finish – white bronzed – upstairs,” Ms. Mallany said. These touches, she says can be explained in part by works such as Alain de Botton’s, Architecture of Happiness, which suggests even something as simple as a doorknob makes a statement about building’s feeling. “The product is Rocky Mountain Hardware and it has such a weight, like fine cloth when you know the difference.”
Ms. Krever said the house has been challenging to market because it fits in-between what some buyers expect out of Toronto’s Leaside neighbourhood. The renovation is more than a decade old, but remains timeless, and while maybe not the house for a family with four children, it might fit another kind of bill.
“People who are working through this pandemic are seeing this is a good time that if the right house comes along they are ready to go for it,” Ms. Krever said. “The clients who were going to downsize [to condos], they are the ones rethinking: Sharing elevators, using shared gyms? People realize more space is going to be necessary.”
That’s what Ms. Mallany want’s too, but more space to garden.
“It’s been tough decision to sell, it’s been years in the making. My husband retired at the end of May so we don’t need to be in the city as much,” she said. “We’d like to move to a quieter place, we want more land and a new project too.”
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