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Toronto Real Estate Home of the Week: This Modernist house shows off the cutting-edge of mid-fifties living

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The listing: 15 Citation Dr., Toronto

Asking Price: $2.838-million

Taxes: $8,389 (2019)

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Lot Size: 60 feet by 178 feet

Agent: Geoff Joyner, Sothebys International Realty Canada

The backstory

The house is hidden from the street behind mature trees at the foot of a deep driveway.

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If Toronto ever organized a mid-century Modernism house tour, 15 Citation Dr., would be a strong candidate for a stop.

Designed and built in 1955 by architect John Bonnick, who was to become a young partner in Adamson Associates, it was the only home he ever owned and he lived there until his passing in May.

This is a house of wood, brick, bronze glass and light. There’s also a lot of fabric, including carpets all over the place and an office sheathed in a refined burlap (you can still see the outlines of Mr. Bonnick’s many awards and citations, removed by the family for keepsakes). It’s a little like a museum of the cutting edge of home living from the mid-fifties.

The vast panelling – Douglas fir stained a dark honey colour – blunts the impact of the 12-foot ceiling.

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As his son, Brian Bonnick, says now, his father saw little need to try and update things: “I think to be honest with you … when you get it right, don’t screw with it.”

Everywhere you look are examples of Mr. Bonnick’s thinking: no spaces are wasted. The cabinetry is extensive and expertly executed: There are very few doors or drawers that stick or need anything more than a little WD-40 after six decades of use.

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The living room has a concealed bar; in the dining room there are spaces for platters and serving plates, shelves for glasses. All the doors in this house have fixed transom windows above them, allowing light to and from the central rooms to the outer rooms. There are unique couches, magazine racks, chairs and floating steps – designed by Mr. Bonnick and fabricated by metalsmith Court Noxon.

The dining room has spaces for platters and serving plates and shelves for glasses.

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Don’t get attached to any of the furniture – the family is taking every piece he had a hand in (many of the best pieces are already gone). Mr. Bonnick said the woodwork was all finished by the family, an incredible feat because there’s not a room without a complex piece of woodwork in it.

Granted, in some places it is showing its age; the landscape brick could use some work, the electrical system could likely use an update, the furnace is oil (actually there are two furnaces, one for the huge backyard pool, that also needs some repair).

The Douglas fir panelling on the ceiling is both spectacularly cozy and of its moment, but also keeps the place feeling a little dark and blunts the impact of the 12-foot ceilings.

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The master bedroom, top, is 22.5 feet deep and 14 feet wide, with a window wall looking into the backyard and an ensuite bathroom.

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The flat roofline slopes from the front of the house to the back, and so too does the interior ceiling. Every one of those transom windows had to be custom made to fit the slope.

Homes with this atomic-era austerity and optimism often times have had their edges softened away by new trends over the decades. Not here. As the architect told Globe and Mail columnist Dave LeBlanc in a 2010 feature about his MCM gem: “You’ll find the bedrooms very small. … The whole house was designed on the concept of entertainment."

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The House Today

The kitchen is equipped with ample cabinetry for storage.

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The house is practically hidden from the street behind mature trees at the foot of a deep driveway. A separate garage has a giant stylized 15 on the door. A walkway between the garage and a low wall brings you into a small overgrown courtyard framed by windows: four separate spaces look into this courtyard, and you have to go a little deeper in to find the front door, set in between more windows.

In the foyer the first impression is how much house is hidden behind that modest opening. To the left is a dining room separated from the foyer by a floating wall, straight ahead is the living room, to the right is a hallway to three bedrooms. Directly in front is the first of many built-ins designed by Mr. Bonnick, this one intended to serve the dining room as a china cabinet (with a rack for serving platters).

Overhead, the ceiling is panelled in Douglas fir stained a dark honey colour. And it’s a vast amount of panelling: The living room is almost 27 feet wide by 26 feet deep. From the hall/foyer you can see into the backyard via the window wall. To the right is the master and two bedrooms, the smallest is 10 feet by 10 feet, the middle-sized room is 15 feet by 10 feet, it is set at the front of the house and has a floor-length window that looks into the entry courtyard.). The master is deep, 22.5 feet and 14 feet wide, with a window wall looking into the backyard. It has two more unusual window features: There’s a floor-length window looking into the living room and over the cutout to the basement with its spiral staircase; there’s also no wall or glass between the ensuite bath and the bedroom, there are blinds, but you can be soaking with reasonable full view of the backyard if you draw them back.

The spiral staircase takes you down to the basement, two bedrooms and a rec room.

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The original staircase brings you to a basement with a lot of headroom, lots of storage and two more bedrooms and an oversized rec room with glass wall walkout to the yard and the pool. The hallway with the two downstairs bedrooms is lined with large storage closets (another hall off this brings you to a storage and workroom, laundry room and utility room).

One of the bedrooms down here was Mr. Bonnick’s office; you can still see the outlines where the numerous awards lined the walls. In the rec room there’s a vast collection of hanging plates, which has a story attached, as told to Dave LeBlanc: "All those plates represent different countries we’ve gone to; I couldn’t get anything from Cairo, so I took an ashtray from the hotel.”

The backyard with an in-ground pool is exceptionally private, thanks to the shape of the landscape.

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Through the sliding door is the backyard, with an in-ground pool. The space is exceptionally private, there is a park behind the house, but the shape of the landscape offers total privacy. This yard has seen many events; networking, Rotary club, costume balls and even a few weddings. “They were some pretty cool parties, we would help out with decorations,” the younger Mr. Bonnick said. “Typically the police would come by around 11 [we had a problem neighbour]. They always wanted to come in and see it. If the police didn’t show the party wasn’t good enough.”

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Those were some of Mr. Bonnick’s happy memories, and then over the years as the family expanded he many more moments, many while the family nestled in the dining room surrounded by windows. The communal table was designed by his father, an imposing and solid sheet of tempered glass on two semi-circular pedestals that may be available for sale.

Restore or teardown?

Pulling up to 15 Citation Dr. demonstrates the dual marketplace for a house such as this one. There are other ranch-style bungalows on the street, but sandwiched here and there are gigantic, recently built mega-mansions.

Agent Geoff Joyner says this is an attractive area for buyers based in Asia – but those markets have dried up. What’s left is renovators who look at the lot coverage and don’t see a architectural gem with 2,100 square feet of living space upstairs and another 1,700 downstairs with an at-grade rear walkout. They see a 10,000-square-foot lot they could put a three- or four-storey palace suitable for Toronto’s one-percenters. Two doors down one such hulking structure appears to be in the final stages of construction.

“I’ve been very surprised by the number of ... people coming in saying, ‘We would renovate,’” Mr. Bonnick said.

“We’re not in need; we don’t have to sell it next week," Mr. Bonnick said. "I’d love to feel good selling it and I’m not going to feel good selling it to a builder.”

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