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Toronto Real Estate Home of the Week: Designer turns Cabbagetown house into a creative laboratory

Home of the Week, 188 Berkeley St., Toronto

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188 Berkeley St., Toronto

Asking Price: $2,195,000

Taxes: $6,247.85 (2018)

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Lot Size: 13.67-by-130 feet

Listing Agents: Christian Vermast, sales representative and senior vice-president of sales, and Paul Maranger, broker and senior vice-president of sales, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada

The backstory

The owner avoided using glass and stainless steel in the home's redesign.

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When a designer buys a home, it becomes a creative laboratory. And for Julien Robillard, of the design firm the Linear Workshop, that meant he could take risks and try new ideas.

Take for example: glass and stainless steel. These are staples in most modern homes and renovations. But when Mr. Robillard bought 188 Berkeley St., in Toronto’s downtown east side, he did everything he could to avoid them, limiting stainless steel’s presence to only the elements on the cooktop, and glass – with the exception of the rear addition – to the shower stalls.

“I tried to do something different,” he said. “And because it’s my own house, I knew I could go for it.”

The house today

The kitchen and lounge spaces are on the first floor of the house.

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Mr. Robillard found the semi-detached home – originally built in 1868 – in 2014. Initially attracted to its long backyard, well-preserved brick front and the neighbourhood, he knew right away that this was a property he could work with.

“I liked … the history behind it,” Mr. Robillard said. “I thought, ‘This is perfect; I’ll keep the front how it is and hide the addition off the back.’”

The addition of which he speaks is a soaring, three-storey-tall, black cube inspired by commercial mid-century modern design, such as the TD Centre in downtown Toronto.

“Because the lot is so narrow, I knew that I needed to keep [the shape of the addition] simple,” he said.

The entire back of it is made out of windows: an intentional choice made to bring as much light as possible into the long and narrow house.

The rear addition is almost all windows, maximizing the light flowing into the house.

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In terms of layout, Mr. Robillard made sure that the rooms he and his partner spend the most time in were at the back of the house, so they could soak up the most light. As such, the master bedroom occupies the addition’s third floor, the room that doubles as a living room and office is on the second and the kitchen and lounge spaces are on the main floor.

While he was always set on building the extension, Mr. Robillard did play around with some variations on his layout before settling on a plan that provided three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms, across three above-ground levels and a finished basement.

At one point, he toyed with opening up the ceiling at the back of the first floor so it became a two-storey space with a mezzanine looking down.

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“But we needed to be careful about the square footage,” he said. “It was a beautiful design, but then you start taking numbers – like price per square foot – and it didn’t make sense.”

Mr. Robillard can explain every detail in the house, from the colour scheme to the addition of some camouflaged doors built into the staircase. The areas he concentrated on most were the kitchen and lounge.

The dining room is down the hall from the kitchen.

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He is quick to explain that he always tries to design a lounge off the kitchen for entertaining purposes. Even if it means sacrificing something – in this case, the dining room, which is down the hall in a separate space at the front of the house.

Mr. Robillard also made sure that the layout of the appliances were configured to help with entertaining. For example, the cooktop is on the kitchen island, so you can engage with guests while you cook. Whereas the oven, microwave and dishwasher are in a “prep kitchen” – basically a galley-style second kitchen – that is separated from the main kitchen space by a pocket door.

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Having the cooktop on the kitchen island allows the host to converse with guests while preparing food.

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“Many people associate style and luxury with large houses. But here you have style and luxury on steroids,” said Paul Maranger, who is a listing agent along with Christian Vermast.

The level of design detail was one of many factors the agents considered when coming up with the $2.195-million asking price.

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Their process involves each of them coming up with a price point independently. They start off by looking for comparable houses, but in a very broad way.

The master bedroom is on the third floor.

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“We went far beyond the traditional geographic area,” Mr. Maranger explained. “We looked at resale values in a turn-key, modern loft or a luxury condo. And what is sold in contemporary homes.”

Turnkey – meaning a home with a full renovation – was an important element in their calculation, as time is more valuable than money for buyers in this price point, they said.

“The price tag may at first be daunting,” Mr. Vermast said, but it is justified when you consider the scope and length of the renovation and the finish of the materials.

The bathroom in the master suite has its own beverage station.

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“I don’t think you could replicate this house,” Mr. Vermast said.

They also considered what a buyer will pay for the many unique and high-end details, such as the hand-painted mural in the kitchen done by a Parisian artist, the beverage centre in the master suite bathroom (meaning you can have a coffee or a cocktail without leaving your bedroom) and the heated the porcelain tiles in the backyard, so that snow never collects there.

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The best feature

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The second-floor living room doubles as a home office.

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Everyone’s favourite room in the house is the second-floor living room, which Mr. Robillard also uses as his home office. With a view of Toronto’s towering financial buildings in the downtown core and featuring built-in cabinets and a desk, the room is large enough to accommodate a big, comfy couch.

“The lower ceiling makes it feel a little bit like a man cave,” he said. “It’s a very comfortable room.”

“I was tempted to put a fridge in there, but I was told it was too much,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. Vermast agreed that it is a space that puts you at ease.

“It embodies this mix of modernity and comfort,” he said. “It feels like sitting in a treehouse.”

Despite the level of customization that went into the house, Mr. Robillard is excited to pass it on to the next owners. Given that this is the second time he has sold a home that he designed and lived in, he is getting used to letting go.

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“I was emotional then, but I’m ready to move on now,” he said.

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