Listing: 331 Walmer Rd., Toronto
Asking Price: $2.78-million
Taxes: $12,119.04 (2017)
Lot Size: 21-by-137-feet
Agent: James Warren, Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.
The back story
The homes on a quiet stretch of Walmer Road in Toronto were built in the 1920s and 1930s on land that once formed part of the grounds of Casa Loma.
The Toronto landmark was built as an opulent 98-room home for the industrialist and financier Sir Henry Pellatt.
But years before construction began in 1911 on the Gothic revival pile, the wealthy tycoon began assembling land on the brow of the escarpment above Davenport Road.
Walmer Road was the site of a hunting lodge and ornate stable complex where Sir Henry’s champion show horses were sheltered in mahogany stalls with Spanish floor tiles. The red brick complex included greenhouses, gardens, stables and orchards.
Sir Henry and his wife reportedly lived in the hunting lodge while Casa Loma was under construction.
The couple only lived in the house for about 10 years before Sir Henry’s fortune collapsed and he abandoned the property to his creditors. In the 1930s, the city seized Casa Loma for unpaid taxes.
In 1937 the stables were opened to the public as a heritage attraction.
In 1941, signs went up declaring the complex closed for repairs. The public didn’t know at the time that the stables were a top-secret facility and the workers coming and going were really engaged in work on an early form of sonar. After the original London production facility was bombed, the assembly of anti-submarine technology was moved to Toronto. Allied naval vessels used the technology to search for and destroy enemy submarines.
Today the stables are a tourist attraction once again – joined to Casa Loma by an 800-foot underground tunnel.
From the front porch of 331 Walmer Rd., owners Lewis Chesler and Fariba Cain-Chesler have a full view of the castle’s elaborate annex. Through the imposing gates, they often catch glimpses of the horses being led around the grounds in the summer months.
The house today
Many of the homes that were built on the tree-lined streets north of the castle were purpose-built to house more than one family or were turned into multiplexes later.
Real estate agent James Warren of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd. points out that the one-way stretch of Walmer north of the castle ends at a ravine and therefore receives very little through traffic.
“It’s almost a cul-de-sac.”
The Cheslers’ house was a four-plex until 2009, when a builder turned it into two semi-detached family homes.
The Cheslers purchased the semi at number 331 in 2014 and began their own redesign.
Mr. Chesler is a film and television producer who spent much of his early career working for a large Hollywood studio and then U.S. cable networks such as HBO and Showtime. Ms. Cain-Chesler, who was born in Iran and moved to Britain in her youth, studied landscape architecture and fashion design.
While living in the United States, she designed interiors for private jets.
Mr. Chesler and his partner were pioneers in Canada-U.S. co-productions, he says. They often produced holiday and romance-themed movies – using Toronto, Hamilton and surrounding areas as a backdrop.
When he flew into Toronto, Mr. Chesler often stayed at the Four Seasons in Yorkville in order to be close to the company’s development and financial offices. But over the years, he had grown increasingly exasperated with the Los Angeles traffic and sprawl.
“You’re so isolated in that city. The distances are just extraordinary.”
He saw his business partner arriving to work in Toronto after a short walk and decided he would like that lifestyle for himself.
When the couple decided to buy a house in the city, Ms. Cain-Chesler found a location within a quick walk of Yorkville – including the steep staircase from the top of the escarpment to Davenport below.
“I walk to work every day,” he says. “I do that staircase twice a day.”
The two were also attracted to the house for its high ceilings and plentiful wall space for hanging Mr. Chesler’s art collection. The contemporary interior suited the furniture and objets d’art the couple brought from L.A.
Mr. Chesler brought the furniture and Ms. Cain-Chesler added the hits of colour.
“Working with colour is my favourite thing.”
Guests arrive to a living room with a bay window facing the street. A gas fireplace was closed in to accommodate the couple’s curving, modern sofa.
The dining room, in the centre of the main floor, has a round table under a large chandelier.
“It’s got a New York vibe to it,” Mr. Warren says of the main floor layout, which includes a staircase in the centre. “It’s an efficient use of space.”
At the rear, a large kitchen and eating area overlook the garden.
The couple put in a new semi-industrial kitchen designed by the Italy-based denim and fashion label Diesel S.p.A. The design house collaborated with Scavolini to create the kitchen under the brand Diesel Living.
“It’s literally the people that make your jeans,” Mr. Chesler says.
Upstairs, two bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms. One large guest room at the front of the house has a cathedral ceiling and views of the stables and the streetscape.
“They went right into the attic here so you’ve got these lovely, tall ceilings,” Mr. Warren says.
The master suite at the rear of the house has a cathedral ceiling and doors opening to a Juliette balcony in the treetops. The ensuite bathroom has a soaker tub, walk-in shower, and a marble floor.
The lower level has a home gym, a bathroom and a cedar-lined sauna.
The media room has extra sound insulation and a walk-out to the garden.
Mr. Chesler says the couple has held screenings of his company’s titles there and at other times the two just relax on their own with a film on the big screen.
Outside, Ms. Cain-Chesler used her background in landscaping to create a backyard with a relaxing deck and perennial gardens.
“I experimented with the plants here,” she says, after years of living in California.
The back garden sits under the shade of two oak trees original to the area.
“This whole area was the forest for Casa Loma,” Mr. Chesler says.
Ms. Cain-Chesler says she enjoys learning the history of Toronto because she moved to Canada only eight years ago.
The best feature
At the rear of the house, the Chesler’s have a private garage in a line of brick garages along the back lane. The converted structure was once the stables for the “lesser” horses of Casa Loma, Mr. Warren says.
The lesser horses were the work horses that didn’t enjoy the same pampering as Sir Henry’s show horses, he explains.