20 Edwin St., Guelph, Ont.
Asking Price: $979,000
Selling price: $979,000
Taxes: $5176.05 (2020)
Lot Size: 51 feet by 79 feet
Listing Agent: Irene Szabo, Home Group Realty Inc.
The development of Bob Desautels house on 20 Edwin St. in Guelph, Ont., mirrored the development of his restaurant business: it has come together in fits and starts, but the final product just works.
Mr. Desautels found the house in 1990, stopping in to check out an open house on his way home to nearby Exhibition Park. Liking what he saw – and comparing the price to recent renovation quotes he received – he was preparing to inform his wife when he saw she had also decided to stop and take a look. “I said: ‘Don’t say anything! We don’t want them to know we like it!’ We put in an offer and it was accepted.”
This was right around the time he was in the process of taking a second stab at the restaurant business. Mr. Desautels had been teaching hospitality at the University of Guelph when in 1985 he opened a French bistro in a Victorian mansion on Woolwich Street on the edge of the city’s downtown. He sold that restaurant, “for a pretty good price,” and was carrying on teaching when the new owners ran into some trouble with their landlord and liquor licence. The attached wine bar had been outpacing the French food sales, so Mr. Desautels agreed to take back control, but this time he converted the whole space to a pub, and so The Woolwich Arms – one of the city’s favourite pubs – was born.
“When I did it, the micro-brew and craft beer industry was just getting launched. We did an all craft brewery lineup and it just took off. It was doing about $385,000 volume and within two years it was $1.4-million. I used it in a live case in my fourth-year seminar,’ he said.
He eventually quit teaching to run the pub full time, and after years of success decided to renovate his house on 20 Edwin St., in 2006. Shortly afterward he brought his son, Court, to help launch two more restaurants under the brand Borealis Grille and Bar in 2008. In 2010, Bob took a step back from managing the company to write (he has a wine book, and the former philosophy student also writes essays on social change), but has remained a committed environmentalist and a booster of local conservation authorities and community organizations. Indeed, he was an early proponent of buy local for his pub’s menu.
His Neighbourhood Group of Companies has continued expanding – Miijidaa Café and Bistro in 2015; Park Grocery Deli & Bar in 2019 – and while The Woolwich Arms was once rebranded The Arrow, it now goes by the name locals have been calling it from the beginning: The Wooly. They’ve even managed to make it work through the pandemic restrictions. “We’ve been fortunate with Wooly; we own the parking lot so we made it a beer garden. It’s been full virtually every night,” Mr. Desautels said.
The house today
The street is a mix of house types: some ornate, some simple, Victorian’s here, post-war there, there’s a stone cottage across the way. It’s all walking distance to downtown, and of course, The Wooly. “We go weeks sometimes without ever getting in our car,” Mr. Desautels said. The rich orange brick of 20 Edwin St., is almost the same as the brick on The Wooly.
The entryway is a short hallway that ends below the curve in the stairs leading to the second level, there’s a closet in the back wall. The rest of the main floor is accessed to the right through a long a living-room (with built-ins) that opens up to a dining room. Off the dining room is Bob’s office, formerly the kitchen now virtually a library packed with books. These three spaces make up the original floorplan of the house, but through the dining room is the 2006 extension that doubled the size of the ground floor.
The centre of the addition is the kitchen, set up with features Mr. Desautels likes in restaurant kitchens – chest-height dishwasher for efficient loading, tile countertops that you can rest boiling hot pans on – and country/cottage feel thanks to the wood cabinets and trim, and ship-lap on the fridge and island. A large pantry room sits off to the side of this space, just past a wine-fridge flush mounted in the wall (next to this is the access to the mostly unfinished basement). A breakfast nook with a brick wall looks ready for your bistro brunch.
One gets the sense this is the working entrance to the house, coming through the double French doors from the extra-wide side yard that is covered in interlocking brick (hiding behind a fence and gate off the driveway). “This is probably within a few feet of being severable, I’ve seen lots for sale smaller than our side yard. … We literally live out there in the summer,” Mr. Desautels said.
The brickwork on this side of the house mimics the original home almost perfectly, using some of the brick borrowed when they took down the back wall, right down to the decorative soldiering above the windows. “This street was once called the garden street of Guelph, we set up our backyard as perennial plants and keep a little fish pond out there as well,” Mr. Desautels said.
Behind the kitchen is the house’s primary bedroom, to access it you slip past the laundry room and a powder-room-size washroom with an open shower stall (tiled with decorative pieces from a local artisan). The primary bedroom is simple, with high ceilings and new strip oak floor and the ensuite bathroom has another exposed brick wall as well as soaker tub and separate shower stall.
Upstairs are three more bedrooms, the smallest of which is L-shaped and perhaps better suited as an office. The other two are comparable in size, though only one has a closet (Victorian homes!). There is a large updated bathroom on this level complete with claw-foot tub and shower ring, next to a deep walk-in closet. Skylights have been added in several rooms, pouring lots of light into rooms first laid down in 1880.
Location, location, location. This close to downtown Guelph there is fairly low inventory, and a number of the buildings are listed as heritage protected by the historical society making it difficult to add modern scale to the hot area. There were only six other houses listed in the city’s core, priced between $600,000 and $1-million. Mr. Desautels house sold for its asking price of $979,000 within three days of hitting the market this month, agent Irene Szabo said. “This is the lowest inventory in about 20 years in Guelph … but this [price] would be in the higher band, not much in downtown goes for more than a million,” she said.
Mr. Desautels and his wife are downsizing to a condo in town, but will probably be spending their summers at their cottage until they can travel again (he misses Provence, his favoured vacation getaway). When he’s in town he’ll always have a comfortable spot to bend an elbow.
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