The listing: Please contact agent
Asking price: $2,987,500
Taxes: $10,330.15 (2018)
Lot size: 57.94 by 121.41 feet
Agents: Rebecca Keyzer, Sales Representative, Sage Real Estate
In 2006, before Yannick Bisson became famous for being Detective William Murdoch, star of Murdoch Mysteries, he was a struggling actor looking for a new home. He, his wife, Shantelle Bisson, and their three daughters were living in the Pape and Danforth area of Toronto, but they wanted something smaller and in a quieter neighbourhood.
"There was a little, tiny house for sale with a little, old couple in it,” Mr. Bisson said. “But this little, old couple wouldn’t sell to just anybody.”
Ms. Bisson was shooting a commercial the day Mr. Bisson discovered the house, so she hurried over and took a look at it as soon as her work at the studio was done. They returned twice the next day: once on their own and once with their daughters. This seemed to seal the deal for the previous owners, who were looking to sell the home to a family – and not builders who would flip the place, according to the Bissons.
“She didn’t want the home to be treated as a profit,” Ms. Bisson said. “She wanted a family to live in it and love it.”
The back story
The house they purchased backs onto a ravine in Toronto’s East York neighbourhood. It was one of the many postwar bungalows that are found in this part of the city. Inside, it hadn’t changed much over the years.
“There was that roll-out linoleum flooring everywhere and where there wasn’t, it was pink carpet,” Ms. Bisson said. “And the walls were green.”
This didn’t deter the Bissons from buying it. They had a vision to transform it to their tastes. This meant some preliminary changes to the house before they moved in. This renovation involved modernizing the kitchen and the bathrooms, as well as a reconfiguration of the basement to create more space. They lived in the house like that for five years before the Bissons realized that they wanted to something more dramatic.
The decision to stay in the house coincided with an important career development in Mr. Bisson’s life: He landed the lead role on the hit CBC show Murdoch Mysteries.
They began the renovation in 2012 and consulted with architect Gordon Ridgely and interior designer Eric McClelland of Fleur-de-lis Interior Design. Together they re-imagined the house, envisioning a modern home to be built on the same footprint as that of the little bungalow that then stood on the ravine lot.
The layout of the house also changed. The main floor was opened up to include an entrance with a powder room, living room and dining room, as well as a walkout to one on the back decks. The second floor features two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. Up on the top level is the master suite, which includes a private deck and master bathroom with two showers. The basement features another bedroom and bathroom as well as a large family room, where the Bissons would gather to watch movies together.
“It’s actually the part of the house that I am going to miss the most,” Ms. Bisson said, remembering warm family moments shared in the space. “But it’s one of the saddest parts of the house now [with the girls gone]; I hardly go down there anymore.”
Over all, it took exactly a year to complete this transformation, but it was worth the wait, according to the Bissons.
“We built exactly what we wanted,” Mr. Bisson said. “We got shared space for everybody, bright sun where we wanted it, privacy where we wanted it. … We made it into a 100-per-cent custom home.”
Agent Rebecca Keyzer acknowledges that this isn’t the only custom-built modern house in the area, but says that from what she has seen, it’s in a class of its own.
“There is nothing like this out there,” she said. “They went above and beyond.
“I was expecting this to be one of those cold, minimalist modern homes. But it is the exact opposite,” Ms. Keyzer added.
The warmth was added by Mr. McClelland’s suggestion to inject texture, colour and detail into the home. Specifically, wood features were used, such as the 11-foot walnut front closet. The wood motif is incorporated throughout the home, including some barn wood – which Mr. Bisson found after shooting a Murdoch Mysteries episode in the Cambridge, Ont., region – that is added to the three-sided fireplace on the main floor. The other way Mr. McClelland added some texture to the home was through the use of embossed wallpaper, which is found in the bathrooms, the basement and the living room.
“He was able to make you feel at ease and cozy inside this cubist, modern structure,” Mr. Bisson said.
The back yard was also transformed and features three tiers; one off the kitchen featuring an outdoor dining area and a gas fireplace. The next level down – which is on grade with the basement walkout – has a ‘spa’ pool, another seating area and a shed. The furthest tier features a lot of greenery including some the plants cultivated by the previous owners.
The ravine lot and quality of the renovation are two key factors that contribute to the cachet of the Bissons’ house, according to Ms. Keyzer. It also helps the home distinguish itself from other new, modernist builds in East York.
“It feels like every other home is being torn down and built into something modern [in this part of Toronto],” Ms. Keyzer said, adding that most come across as cold and clinical. “I’ve seen people try to fix that by throwing down rugs, but this is different.”
“It’s very zen in this house; it has a great mix of modern and warmth,” she said.
With a price tag of $2,987,500, the house fits into Toronto’s luxury home market, especially for its area – where the average price (for all types of homes) was $944,064 in August.
Mr. Bisson’s favourite spot is a corner in the kitchen that is all windows and overlooks the tiered backyard and forested ravine below. He jokingly calls it “the helm of the Starship Bisson.”
“You feel like you’re hanging out in the trees,” he said. “But you can also see the kitchen, living room and back deck from that spot.”
It’s a spot that has been enjoyed by the entire family, Ms. Bisson said.
“When the snow blows around and you’re standing there, our girls have noted that it’s kind of like you’re in your own personal snow globe,” she added.
The Bissons are sad about leaving, given all the effort they put into their home.
“I helped build and design a lot of this home,” Mr. Bisson said. “So there is a lot that I’m leaving behind here.”
This includes a secret time capsule that the family made and put into one of the walls of the home. Mr. Bisson says he doesn’t remember where it is. But inside of it are bits of history – both of the country in that moment and of the Bisson family, as well as why the family loved the house.
“There was always talk that this could be the home that our girls and the grandkids would come back to,” Ms. Bisson said.
She explained that life has taken them in a different direction and the house is now sitting empty a lot of the time.
“This is a beautiful home – it should be completely loved and honoured,” Ms. Bisson said. “It should be lived in.”