25 Ellis Park Rd.
Asking price: $5.5-million
Lot size: 366.5 X 98.4 ft.
Agent: Pro Sarbadhikari (Sutton Realty Systems Inc.)
The back story
Grenadier Pond in Toronto’s High Park is a cherished pocket of nature surrounded by the big city: Native plants have flourished and wild creatures have returned to nest since rehabilitation of the wetlands began in the 1990s.
These days, black-crowned night herons fish among the reeds in summer and golden eagles fly overhead in the fall. When winter freezes the 35-acre pond, Torontonians descend on skates and skis to glide across the natural ice.
A handful of Swansea residents can claim a slice of this natural preserve as their backyard.
The house at 25 Ellis Park Rd. is one of a few built on the wooded hills that slope down to the western shore of the pond.
Graham Smith, a partner at Toronto-based Altius Architecture Inc., was brought in three years ago to redesign the mid-century house, which has a very low profile from the street but expands to three storeys at the rear.
Mr. Smith said No. 25 was a well-designed single-family home when it was built in the mid-1950s, but through the years it had been divided up into a triplex. The systems and finishes were badly in need of updating.
“It was vintage 1950s,” he said. “Nothing had been touched.”
The building’s setting in the trees was extraordinary, Mr. Smith said, but it didn’t take full advantage of the views over the pond.
Mr. Smith said one of the most challenging aspects of the project was meeting the strict requirements of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, which oversees urban conservation. The dimensions of the house and its outdoor terraces were bound by the existing footprint.
“We were dealing with a 1950s house in a TRCA-controlled ravine area,” Mr. Smith said. “We could not change anything.”
Inside, Mr. Smith designed a new layout that uses contemporary building materials to open the interior to its surroundings while also increasing the privacy of its residents.
The house today
The rebuilt house has four bedrooms and four bathrooms in more than 3,500 square feet of living space.
From steep and winding Ellis Park Road, residents and visitors descend a heated driveway and walkway to arrive at a front door set below street level.
The large glass door provides a glimpse of the sassafras trees beyond. It pivots open so the interior can be opened up to the breezes on warm days.
Lining the walkway on the exterior of the building is a patterned cloak of weathering steel. Mr. Smith said the steel will change colour over time to a deep orange.
“The design is really inspired by the patterns of the sassafras,” said the architect. “It’s like looking through the tree trunks.”
The length of decorative steel hides the wing of the house devoted to vehicles: There’s a garage and a specialized motorcycle room. That room, with a tiled floor and a window overlooking the front yard, could easily be turned into a home office or yoga room, according to real estate agent Pro Sarbadhikari of Sutton Group Realty Systems Inc.
Guests who enter through the front door arrive to a two-sided fireplace which warms the entrance way and the living room at the front of the house.
“It’s a nice room divider, but it doesn’t dominate the space,” Mr. Smith said.
The open plan of the main floor combines living, dining and a modern kitchen with a large island and a wall of cabinets in a vivid green.
The dining area has floor-to-ceiling windows and a contemporary pendulum of lights imported from Italy.
“It’s called Mesh,” Mr. Smith said. “To have a light fixture of that scale but quite translucent is a neat feature.”
The planning bylaws did not allow any extension to the footprint except in height. Mr. Smith used that scope to create a ceiling that soars to about 12 feet.
“That was one thing we could do – we were allowed to get height out of this.”
More light was brought to the main floor by a skylight created after workers opened up the roof to bring in a large glass panel.
“We cut a slot in the ceiling because that piece of glass needed to be craned in,” Mr. Smith said. “We looked at it and said, ‘that would make a great skylight.’”
Throughout the main living area, the floorboards are of very rustic oak, Mr. Smith said.
A staircase with solid stainless steel treads descends to the levels below.
One level down, the master bedroom has a view into the forest and doors opening to a balcony.
The stand-alone bathtub in one corner of the bedroom sits beside an ethanol fireplace built right into the windowsill.
Mr. Smith said having the bathtub in the bedroom is a contemporary design that works well.
“It’s very boutique hotel,” he said.
The ensuite bathroom has a separate glass enclosure with a steam shower and a window. There’s also a double vanity and a water closet.
A second bedroom on that level has an ensuite bathroom.
The lower level has been maintained as a legal two-bedroom apartment, which the zoning bylaws allow because of the house’s history as a triplex. There’s a kitchenette and a living area with a door that slides open to a terrace. An exterior staircase from the top level allows the occupants to use the door as a private entrance.
Mr. Smith figures the space would work well for teenagers or older kids coming home from university. It could also be used as a guest suite or additional family bedrooms and a recreation room with summer kitchen.
Throughout the house, the heating, cooling and electrical systems have all been updated. “It’s a 1954 home that now performs to 2018 standards,” the architect said.
The house is more luxurious than the original dwelling, he added, but it also has an industrial aesthetic.
A focal point on the upper level is a sculpture created from the insulators used on hydro towers, Mr. Smith explained. “I’ve always wanted to try it and this was the project.”
The exterior panelling is made up of three different shades of grey-blue. A red vertical stripe at the rear is purely decorative.
The windows have energy-efficient low-E coatings, which Mr. Smith said may help to protect against bird strikes.
One window set into the side wall of the house is designed to illuminate the stairwell while also sheltering the view of the interior from the next-door neighbours. Frosting printed onto the glass at one edge gradually transitions from 100-per-cent opaque to clear.
“If anything, this house is a good experiment in new glass technologies,” Mr. Smith said.
Outside, the home’s massive oak and sassafras trees create a screen. The lot, which is 30 feet wide at the front, widens to 65 feet at the back.
The home’s location in the Swansea neighbourhood is a short walk to the subway, along with the shops and restaurants of Bloor West Village.
The best feature
An automated sliding-glass wall on the upper level moves aside to open the kitchen to the outdoors.
The custom-made frame and track came from Belgium; the motor that controls its movement was made in the United States and a single frameless swathe of glass was imported from Switzerland.
“It’s quite a spectacular piece of glass,” Mr. Smith said.
The effect is to allow residents and visitors to appreciate the life in the forest and on the water below.
“This house is a celebration of Grenadier Pond,” he said.