The listing: Sunflower Farm, 165 Concession Rd. 5, Sunderland, Ont.
Asking Price: $2,999,999
Taxes: $12,773.33 (2019)
Lot Size: 160 acres
Agent: Hannah Math Slan, Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd.
In 2005, Florence Minz purchased 100 acres of undulating farmland north of Toronto and began making plans to build a country house. Ms. Minz conferred with architects and explored the potential for building an environmentally-friendly dwelling that would make use of the latest green technologies.
During that process, a parcel came up for sale directly to the south. That property offered 60 acres of scenic countryside – and an existing circa 1870 farmhouse.
The yellow-brick Victorian provided a lovely vista towards the rolling hills on the land she already owned.
“You get a wonderful view with that 100 acres,” Ms. Minz says.
Ms. Minz learned that only four families had owned the farm over the years. She decided to acquire the property and refurbish the century home.
The farm had become incredibly rundown under the most recent owner Ms. Minz says, but she admired the layout and such Victorian details as the contrasting brick inlay and gingerbread trim. The lady who owned it had also been a wonderful gardener.
“Nevertheless, I was a little delusional,” Ms. Minz says.
She figured she could cart away the quirky assortment of plastic swans and other collectibles that filled many of the rooms, then freshen up the interior with lots of paint.
But when Ms. Minz decided to replace an ill-suited addition, the engineers discovered that the entire structure was unsound. The wood trim on the porch was rotting and a couple of the farm’s outbuildings were dilapidated.
“My original idea of just painting was not on,” she says.
The house today
With a more ambitious project ahead of her, Ms. Minz brought in the prominent heritage architect Gordon Ridgely.
“What I loved about Gordon’s work is he created a real sense of comfort,” Ms. Minz says.
She also knew he would respect the provenance of the original house.
She recalls seeing Mr. Ridgely standing for hours in front of the house as he contemplated where to place the garage.
Their collaboration would last four years – until Ms. Minz moved in in the summer of 2009.
Today, the five-bedroom house has two additions, which are artfully hidden so that the original house appears little changed from the front. Ms. Minz installed geothermal heating and cooling, and the interior was completely revamped by the architect.
“The way he reorganized the floor plan was amazing,” she says of the 5,000 square feet of living space. “It’s really a new house.”
The original staircase at the front of the house was removed, for example, and an elevator was installed. Mr. Ridgely designed a new stairwell with a skylight framed in copper above.
In the expansive new west wing, Mr. Ridgely created a large kitchen with a vaulted, beamed ceiling and a lounging area around the two-sided fieldstone fireplace.
Ms. Minz enlisted the help of a trained chef to design the kitchen so that she can provide meals for a crowd. At Thanksgiving, for example, Ms. Minz’s annual celebrations include up to 70 people.
The main floor also includes a living room, dining room, family room and a private home office with views over the landscape.
Mr. Ridgely was very talented, she says, and that meant he could also be very bossy. The only area where they disagreed was in choosing some of the materials.
But Ms. Minz knew what she needed in order to create a restful retreat.
Throughout the interior, Ms. Minz used reclaimed wood floors and heritage paint colours. For the bathrooms, she chose pale grey marble.
“The house is very comfortable,” she says. “There were places where he wanted more formality, but it’s a country house.”
Upstairs, the master suite has a luxurious bathroom and a bedroom with vaulted ceilings and doors opening to a deck. There are four more bedrooms on that level.
For the exterior, Mr. Ridgely was able to find bricks to match the original colours at a brickyard in Toronto, and Ms. Minz found a local bricklayer who skillfully matched the century-old methods.
Tucked behind the house, a large deck made from Brazilian hardwood provides a peaceful place for al fresco dining or gazing at the pond.
Ms. Minz has spent many years working to improve the landscape at the 160-acre property she christened Sunflower Farm.
Cornfields were replaced with red clover in order to nourish the soil. There are pear and apple orchards and a 5,000-square-foot organic produce garden.
“I wanted to encourage birds and butterflies,” Ms. Minz says. “I don’t use pesticides anywhere.”
The property has a spring-fed pond and waterfall, perennial gardens and stands of mature trees. Landscape architect Neil Turnbull nestled a root cellar with a green roof into the contours of a rock garden.
A stone silo draped in vines stands near the vegetable garden and a horse barn is fitted with beautiful stables, Ms. Minz says.
“There are a lot of places that somebody could ride right on the property.”
For additional rusticity, there’s a circa-1800s log cabin, which the third owners acquired in upstate New York and transported to the farm on a flatbed truck.
It takes a little more than one hour to drive from Toronto to the tranquility of the farm and surrounding countryside, Ms. Minz says.
“By the time you’re halfway through your drive, you’ve started to relax. “It’s not on the cocktail circuit – that’s not what I wanted. I wanted a place to really get away.”
The best feature
The farm provides serenity in all four seasons, Ms. Minz says.
With so much organic produce coming from the garden in summer, Ms. Minz has vegetables preserved and stored in glass jars with the Sunflower Farm label. Those become her favourite host and hostess gifts in the winter months, she says.
Winter visitors can ski or snowshoe or just stay cozy in front of the wood-burning fireplace.
Every October, pumpkins from the fields are made into pies for the Thanksgiving festivities.
“It’s beautiful in the fall,” Ms. Minz says. “I’ve had really wonderful times.”
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