The listing: 18 Fallingbrook Rd. Toronto
Sold for: $2.8-million
Taxes: $9,681 (2019)
Lot size: 50 feet by 122 feet
Agents: Shea Warrington, Royal LePage Estate Realty
The home at 18 Fallingbrook Rd. was built in 1852 but has been owned by just two families since 1933. When the house was remodelled in 2007, the current owners wanted to make sure the sweep of that history remained intact.
“We see people coming in and tearing down an old house and building a great brick and stone mansion – to me, it doesn’t fit in The Beaches,” Shelby Leeder said. That’s why she kept cedar shakes on the exterior and tried to keep the scale of the remodel modest. “We didn’t want a new home … I wanted to nod to the character of the Beach. We’re across the road from the water, we have lake views, we walk to the water every day – when we had a dog, three times a day. There’s something a little East Coast about it. I think the McMansions don’t relate to that at all.”
Ms. Leeder sold her first house in The Beaches while she was on honeymoon in Martha’s Vineyard with her husband in 1991. The couple hadn’t yet landed on a new house, but upon their return to Canada saw a newspaper advertisement for a rental house on Fallingbrook Road. “Character home for rent in the Beaches,” Ms. Leeder said. "We thought, we’ll take a chance and have a look.
"It was a very odd home. We understand it evolved that way organically. It had all sorts of doorways and in and out, and it was tiny. The landing for the main staircase entered into the bathroom, and you had to go through it to the bedrooms.”
The structure had started out as a coach house, then a hired-man’s house for a nearby estate. But for 60 years, it was owned by Marcus and Jeanne Adeney. Their son, Chris, was managing the property when the Leeders came along. In 1993, he agreed to sell them the house outright.
Along with the house, Ms. Leeder took possession of some of the Jeanne Adeney’s writings and clippings from local news coverage. In one letter, Jeanne Adeney describes “our house” as they first found it in 1928 (the Adeneys had also rented the house before agreeing to purchase it).
“The house sat in its garden as if it had grown there,” the letter reads. “This part of the city has neither proximity to the business centre nor the approval of society to recommend it, but artists, and people who love the water, parents who want healthy children, and old men who like to grow flowers in their gardens, live there.” Much of that remains true today, though “society” has more approval of the area now; it’s one of the most desirable districts in the city.
Prior to Ms. Adeney, one of the previous owners was an architect, Norman Robinson, who was the subject of Canadian artist Charles Comfort’s portrait The Dreamer. Ms. Adeney was so interested in her home’s history that she struck up a correspondence with Mr. Comfort, who had gone on to serve as a director of The National Gallery of Canada in the early 1960s and was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1972.
Buyers got wind that 18 Fallingbrook was coming to market, and the house sold before it was even properly listed. “Right now, homes have become more important than ever,” listing agent Shea Warrington said this week. She said she has already sold seven houses during the pandemic. Prospective clients began calling her, looking to trade up from simple “living space” to a “home base.”
“There have been people who maybe have lived conservatively and are facing two people working from home for a long time. A big new-build with a home office and a home gym is a lot more relevant now.”
The house today
From the street, you can see how renovations have maintained the house’s distinctive oddities. The chimney on the front of the house is an unusual sight, and the walkway through the landscaped front garden to the covered front porch takes you past the front room to the entryway.
Inside the foyer is a powder room and a short hallway leading to the rear of the house. On the left side of the hallway are two doors into the original sitting room and dining room, preserved to reflect the tastes of the Adeneys. The wide cedar planks on the walls, stained a rich red, and the original brick fireplace pull you backwards in time.
“It’s a great place for long chats when we get the fire roaring, and it’s also our Christmas room,” Ms. Leeder said. “That room informed every other decision, including the siding and beams in the new parts, the reclaimed barn-board elm floors. We took references from that space and tried to blur the lines between old and new and make it seamless.” The furnishings match the cedar, and even the trim on the windows and the shutters match.
This is the core of the house, and the 2007 additions wrap around it. The stairs leading to the upper level are at the back of the dining room, next to double doors that lead directly into the kitchen. A door on the left under the stairs takes you into the butler’s pantry, which runs between the garage past the mudroom into the kitchen.
“It’s my command post,” Ms. Leeder says of the new kitchen. “It’s been designed so that you can see in every direction what’s going on in the house. If you’ve got kids, it’s a nice thing to have. I love to cook, so it’s my dream kitchen because I don’t feel like I’m in the back corner of the house somewhere.”
The kitchen is central, with a sunny breakfast room with windows on three walls off to the left; behind that is the mudroom, with entrances to the attached garage and a side door. This is truly a room designed for mud, with a dog shower in the corner and a Dutch door connecting to the house – vital for beach-loving four-legged sand-magnets to rinse and dry off in comfort. On the other side of the kitchen is a living room with a television and fireplace to the right (just beside that is the stairs to the expanded basement). The wainscotting and beams throughout this space are in a similarly knotty cedar as the original sitting room to tie them together.
At the top of the stairs is the first of four bedrooms (one is currently a home office). The 13-foot-by-16-foot bedroom with windows facing the street has a walkthrough closet to the semi-ensuite bathroom. The second bedroom is just next to this bathroom, and is a more modest 10 feet by 16 feet. On the other side of the staircase is the laundry room, across from the office with its walkout to a balcony deck facing the backyard. The backyard is terraced, with a huge patio sitting area and a secondary patio up the terraced hillside toward the back of the lot.
The master suite occupies the remaining two-thirds of the rear portion of the house, featuring his and hers walk-in closets and spacious ensuite bathroom with standalone claw-foot soaker tub and separate shower, and two pedestal sinks and vanity.
The best feature
The house has a lot of praiseworthy features, but what drew the Leeders to it when it was a ramshackle affair and kept them there for decades was the neighbourhood.
Fallingbrook is one of those Toronto districts filled with lore and local legend. In the late 1800s it was a playground for railroad barons and other wealthy Torontonians. It sits between the art deco palace of the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant and the Toronto Hunt Club, and remains one of the few areas in Toronto that features homes with private lake access. At the end of the street was once a public beach access known as the One Hundred Stairs (closed for more than a decade) that crawled precariously down the Scarborough Bluffs to the beach and from the 1920s a waterside dance hall named Fallingbrook Pavilion. It had another name: The Bucket of Blood (thanks to semi-frequent brawls), and Chris Adeney regaled the Leeders’s with tales of his youth, riding the small radial railway installed to supply the pavilion, hanging out at the dance hall and on the beach (which also had a boat launch). The hall burned down in the 1960s, but Fallingbrook still draws the wealthy looking for a connection to the lake.
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